Kiobel Case to Determine Whether Corporations Can Be Held Accountable for Rights Abuses Abroad
New York City – In response to today’s oral argument at the Supreme Court in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Human Rights First urges the Court to uphold the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) as a vehicle to provide remedies for gross human rights abuses committed abroad. “Though some Justices on the Court expressed skepticism that the ATS could apply extraterritorially, there’s nothing new or controversial about U.S. courts holding corporations accountable for human rights abuses committed abroad,” said Human Rights First’s Gabor Rona. “Key international law instruments that the United States has signed on to—including the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention against Torture—require the United States to provide a forum to address war crimes and gross human rights violations wherever they are committed.” “The opponents of the ATS have framed it as a unique law under which the United States is imposing its standards on the rest of the world,” said Rona. “This is untrue. The ATS merely provides a forum for victims of gross human rights violations to enforce their rights under universally applicable international law. Many other countries also have laws allowing their courts to enforce these universal and minimal standards.” The alleged facts of the Kiobel case are shocking: the plaintiff Esther Kiobel, for herself and on behalf of her late husband, Dr. Barinem Kiobel and 10 other Nigerians, claims that Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Co.—along with one of its subsidiaries, and a British firm, Shell Transport and Trading Co.—aided and abetted the Nigerian military dictatorship’s use of murder and torture against opponents of oil exploration in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta between 1992 and 1995. “At a time in which the Supreme Court has taken steps to establish free speech rights for large multinational corporations, it only makes sense for the Court to establish that these same corporations can be held accountable for gross human rights abuses,” said Rona. The Supreme Court originally heard oral argument in Kiobel on whether corporations could be held liable for human rights abuses under the ATS. The Court then ordered a second round of oral arguments—completed today—on whether the ATS could reach human rights abuses committed in the territory of another state. Human Rights First filed amicus briefs prior to both rounds of oral argument. The briefs can be found here and here. In addition to its amicus brief, Human Rights First urged the United States Government, which is not a party to the suit, to file an amicus brief in support of extraterritorial application of the ATS for human rights violations. Earlier this year the government, at the urging of Human Rights First, filed a brief in support of corporate liability under the ATS. The United States did file a brief prior to the second round of oral argument, but unfortunately it opposed the use of the ATS in this case for human rights violations occurring abroad.