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Gilberto Torres v. BP, p.l.c.

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Summary:

Gilberto Torres brought claims under the ATS and Colombian law against oil giant BP because of his kidnapping and torture by paramilitaries collaborating with military forces funded by BP. 

Factual Background:

BP, p.l.c., through its former Colombian subsidiary, BP Exploration Company (Colombia) (BPXC), paid the Colombian army for years to protect its oil operations.  BPXC provided millions of dollars to the notorious 16th Brigade of the Colombian army, which was well known for its collaboration with paramilitaries in the area where BPXC operated.

Plaintiff Gilberto Torres was a prominent union leader who worked for BPXC’s partner, Ecopetrol, in Casanare. In February 2002, Mr. Torres was kidnapped on his way home from work by paramilitaries. An OCENSA security vehicle was involved in the abduction. (OCENSA was a joint venture formed by BPXC, Ecopetrol, and others.)  After 42 days of captivity, which included repeated interrogations and unspeakable conditions, Mr. Torres was finally released. On the day of his release, and while still in paramilitary captivity, Mr. Torres met with a Colombian army officer. The paramilitaries knew the officer and even addressed him as “my Commander.” At one point, the officer told Mr. Torres that he would have to share what happened to him so he would serve as a lesson to other unionists. Mr. Torres was released that day—but his life never went back to normal. Because of continuing threats to his life, Mr. Torres and his family fled to Spain. 

Just a few years before Mr. Torres was kidnapped and exiled, BP was warned by Human Rights Watch of the risks of relying “on the Colombian military, an institution with one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere, to provide security.” Human Rights Watch also noted “the apparent intimidation of company critics by paramilitaries” and “the perception among many in Casanare that the company tolerates paramilitary activity.” Shortly after Human Rights Watch wrote to BP about its concerns, BP’s CEO admitted that BP had made “mistakes” in Colombia in the area of human rights. Yet despite widespread knowledge of the military’s violent record and its collaboration with illegal paramilitaries, BPXC continued to fund the 16th Brigade in the years that followed.

Legal Proceedings:

In February 2012, Mr. Torres filed a complaint in federal court in Washington, D.C. against BP asserting claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and Colombian law. The litigation was stayed pending the resolution of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, in which the Supreme Court considered the extraterritorial application of the ATS. The Supreme Court issued its decision on April 17, 2013 and, on January 28, 2014, Mr. Torres voluntarily dismissed the case without prejudice.   

Cooperating Attorneys:

  • Conrad & Scherer, LLP