Supreme Court ex­pands look at abuses of rights abroad

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY MARK SHER­MAN

The Supreme Court agreed Mon­day to con­sider elim­i­nat­ing the right of for­eign­ers to use Amer­i­can courts to sue those they claim are re­spon­si­ble for hu­man-rights abuses abroad.

In an un­usual move, the jus­tices put off a decision in a case they heard last week ask­ing whether busi­nesses could be sued un­der a 1789 law for their pur­ported com­plic­ity in war crimes, killings and other atroc­i­ties that take place in for­eign coun­tries.

In­stead, the court said it wants to ex­plore the broader ques­tion of whether any­one — in­di­vid­u­als or busi­nesses — can be sued un­der the Alien Tort Statute for vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law that oc­cur in other coun­tries.

The out­come of Kio­bel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum now has the po­ten­tial to re­verse a strat­egy lawyers have used for 30 years — pur­su­ing civil cases against in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies who may be re­spon­si­ble for or com­plicit in tor­ture and other atroc­i­ties in coun­tries with poor hu­man­rights records.

The Alien Tort Statute, adopted in part to deal with piracy claims, went un­used for most of Amer­i­can his­tory un­til lawyers dusted it off be­gin­ning in the late 1970s. The Supreme Court cau­tiously en­dorsed the use of the law in 2004 but left unan­swered pre­cisely who could be held li­able and in what cir­cum­stances.

The case in­volves claims by 12 Nige­ri­ans against Royal Dutch Shell claim­ing that the oil gi­ant aided a gov­ern­ment crack­down in the oil-rich Niger Delta in the 1990s.

Last week, sev­eral jus­tices said they doubted the law ever was in­tended to ap­ply to con­duct by a for­eign gov­ern­ment against its own cit­i­zens within its own borders.

“What busi­ness does a case like that have in the courts of the United States?” Jus­tice Sa­muel An­thony Al­ito Jr. said dur­ing the ar­gu­ment ses­sion. The case will be ar­gued again in the fall. Other cases pend­ing in U.S. courts seek to hold ac­count­able Chiq­uita Brands In­ter­na­tional for its re­la­tion­ship with para­mil­i­tary groups in Colom­bia; Exxon and Chevron for abuses in In­done­sia and Nige­ria, re­spec­tively; Bri­tain-based min­ing com­pany Rio Tinto for al­legedly aid­ing the Pa­pua New Guinea gov­ern­ment in a civil war; and sev­eral com­pa­nies for their role in old racial apartheid sys­tem in South Africa.

A half-dozen multi­na­tional com­pa­nies al­ready had urged the court to deal with the broader is­sue in this case. BP Amer­ica, Cater­pil­lar, Cono­cophillips, Gen­eral Elec­tric, Honey­well and In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Ma­chines said the court should make clear that the law does not ex­tend abroad.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.