UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT TO CONSIDER WHETHER CORPORATIONS CAN BE SUED REGARDING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
The Supreme Court was to begin hearing arguments last week in the appeal of the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum case, whereby Royal Dutch Petroleum and subsidiary Shell in America were sued over business connections to a barbarous past Nigerian regime, and revolving around the issue of whether corporations can be held liable for human rights violations committed by ruthless regimes to which they are linked. The former Nigerian government’s military police were guilty of the torture, rape, and executions of denizens of the oil abundant delta. The 2010 ruling being appealed was handed down by the United States Court of Appeals in New York, which found by a 2-1 margin that nations, but not corporations, were accountable for violations of international law, and consequently dismissed the Royal Dutch action. The Obama administration along with human rights activists oppose the blanket immunity that decision confers on corporations, setting in motion the current proceedings.
Other multinational corporations are embroiled in similar actions, including Exxon-Mobil for its purported role in the torture and murder of Indonesians ten years ago. California was the jurisdiction where suit was brought against the British mining company Rio Tinto, over claims of atrocities perpetrated against residents of Papua New Guinea more than two decades back. Each of the aforementioned cases turns on the Alien Tort Statute of 1789, a little known law resurrected by human rights attorneys in the 1980s, and employed to an ever greater extent against corporations with ties to brutal governments. Specifically, said legislation invests federal courts with the authority to adjudicate suits initiated by an alien asserting violation of the “law of nations.” The exact significance of the preceding phrase remains unclear, as the sole Supreme Court decision pertaining to the statute declared its lone applicability to very restricted types of well established violations of international law, perhaps encompassing torture, enslavement, and genocide. Corporate attorneys dispute the validity of a law permitting foreigners to resort to American courts as a forum for suits involving deeds of foreign origin under the aegis of foreign regimes. Corporations as well as the British, Dutch, and Australian governments have argued that the American judiciary is without jurisdiction over proceedings relative to foreign companies with dealings in foreign countries.