Supreme Court to hear two human rights cases

  • October 17, 2011 - 9:35 PM


WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a pair of cases on whether corporations and political groups may be sued in U.S. courts for complicity in human rights abuses abroad. The Supreme Court has offered only limited and tentative guidance on the general question of what sorts of human rights lawsuits may be brought in federal courts in the United States. The lower courts in both cases drew a clean line, saying that only individuals and not artificial entities like corporations are subject to being sued.

One of the cases was brought by 12 Nigerians, who said oil companies affiliated with Royal Dutch Shell had aided and abetted the Nigerian government in torture and executions in the Ogoni region of the country in the early 1990s. The plaintiffs sued under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that allows U.S. district courts to hear "any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."

The law itself was largely ignored until the 1980s, when federal courts started to apply it in international human rights cases.


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