On October 1st, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell Oil), a case which will determine whether corporations complicit in human rights abuses overseas can be sued in U.S. courts. Shell, through their work alongside the brutal military regime in Nigeria, is accused of complicity in the execution of nine peaceful protesters and the torture of many others in the Ogoni region of Niger Delta.
The case hinges on a law called the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows foreign citizens to bring lawsuits in U.S. courts for violations of international law. Shell says the ATS doesn't apply to them, simply because they are a corporation. Only two years after the Supreme Court used corporate personhood to grant corporations unprecedented influence over U.S. elections, Shell is asking the same nine judges to give corporations immunity from human rights litigation under the ATS.
But it gets worse. In March, after the first Kiobel hearing, the Supreme Court decided to rehear the case and ask whether the ATS applies outside the U.S. at all. Now the court could strike down all international ATS cases, wiping out human rights cases against individuals, too! The United States aspires to be a world leader on human rights and the rule of law, and we cannot allow corporations to dodge responsibility for their complicity in human rights abuses, or to tear down the laws that offer justice to survivors of human rights abuses and the families of human rights victims.