Photo courtesy of Huffington Post
On the 17th of April 2013, the US Supreme Court released its decision on the case of Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum. The unanimous court decision found that “acts committed on foreign soil by foreign entities against foreign citizens typically cannot be resolved in American courts.” It limited the scope of the Alien Tort Claims Act by finding that “corporations are often present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices.”
EarthRights International campaign website Too Big To Punish? summarized the case as follows: “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. […].”
Although a sad day for many human rights groups and activists fighting for corporate liability for human rights abuses, the US Supreme Court has not completely closed the door on the possibility of bringing cases against corporations in US courts.