Our legal director, Marco Simons, was interviewed this morning by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. The topic? The Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell case, one of two human rights cases that will go before the U.S. Supreme Court next Tuesday. Here’s the video:
The stakes on Tuesday are very high, and Marco summed it up nicely:
“This case is really about whether a corporation that participates in serious human rights abuses, such as crimes against humanity or genocide or state sponsored torture, can profit from those abuses and shield those profits from the victims when the victims come to take them to court.”
A favorable ruling will not only bring the Kiobel plaintiffs closer to a small measure of justice for the terrible abuses they suffered, but it will also firmly establish the principle that victims of serious human rights abuses may bring suits against corporations under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) in US courts. A ruling in favor of Royal Dutch Shell, on the other hand, would be an enormous setback for corporate accountability and human rights litigation, and help immunize corporations from liability for complicity in some of the worst abuses imaginable, including forced labor, genocide, and other crimes against humanity.
In addition to the Kiobel case, the Supreme Court will also be hearing arguments in Mohamed v. Palestinian Authority, which raises similar questions about human rights lawsuits against organizations, including corporations, under the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The stakes in this case are also high. With our partners, we’ve been campaigning around both cases at the newly launched website, Corporate Accountability Now.
The Obama Administration has weighed in on both cases as well, and earlier this week my colleague Rick sent me some notes on the government’s positions:
“In Kiobel, the government argued that corporations can be held liable under the ATS. The Obama Administration took a strong stand that corporations are not somehow immune from suit for acts like genocide and crimes against humanity, simply because they are corporations. This is a big change from the position advocated by the Bush Administration, which often filed amicus brief in lower courts seeking the dismissal of ATS cases against corporations on various grounds. Worse, they argued to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Sosa case that no human rights claims should proceed at all under the ATS, no matter who the defendant is. Thankfully, the Court rejected that position, finding that the ATS allows courts to hear federal common law claims where there has been a violation of well-accepted and defined international law.
“The Obama Administration should be commended for its position in Kiobel. Our courts should not grant immunity when corporations engage in acts that are universally condemned. The Supreme Court of course, does not have to agree with the government’s argument. But the government’s views are often accorded weight, and in this case, the fact that the government has argued that cases against corporations should be permitted puts the lie to the bogus argument that corporations often make that such claims interfere with U.S. foreign policy.
“In Mohamad, by contrast, the government argued that corporations cannot be held liable under the TVPA. Obviously, we wish they had not done so, but the government’s two positions are not necessarily inconsistent, because the laws are different. Under the TVPA, only ‘individuals’ can be defendants. So the only question before the Court in Mohamad is the narrow legal one of whether the definition of ‘individual’ includes corporations.”
Both cases will be argued next Tuesday, February 28th, and a decision is expected by the close of the term in June.