Kiobel Case: Groups Urge Supreme Court to Uphold Human Rights Statute

On 13 June 2012, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation in the USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), filed an amicus brief on behalf of human rights organizations in the United States Supreme Court in the case Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (Shell), arguing that U.S. courts are appropriate forums for hearing claims over serious human rights abuses committed abroad.

Kiobel Case - Joint NGO Amicus Brief - 13 June 2012

The outcome of Kiobel could lead to a severe narrowing of the 1789 Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows non-U.S. citizens to sue in U.S. courts for violations of international law when perpetrators are present in the U.S. The case was originally argued in February 2012, on the limited question of whether corporations could be sued under the ATS. On its own initiative, the Supreme Court broadened the question to whether and under what circumstances the ATS allows violations of international law committed outside the United States to be heard in U.S. federal courts.

On the amicus brief with FIDH and CCR were seven leading human rights organizations: Canadian Centre for International Justice, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Commission for Labor Rights, RAID, REDRESS and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The organizations argue that, because the ATS allows federal courts to hear international law claims, and international law imposes a duty on national courts to redress serious human rights violations, U.S. courts are an appropriate forum for litigating such claims.

Kiobel was filed on behalf of Nigerian activists and their families from the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta who, in the 1990s, opposed Shell’s degradation of their land. In 1994, nine activists were detained, tortured and tried by a special military tribunal, convicted of murder and executed ten days later. Human rights groups and political leaders around the world condemned what they say were spurious charges, and procedures that violated international fair trial standards. The Kiobel plaintiffs allege that Shell bribed witnesses to give false testimony and otherwise cooperated with the special tribunal.

The case will be reargued during the Court’s next term, which begins in October.

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