Our most promising new strategy uses the Foreign Legal Assistance (FLA) statute to assist public interest lawyers in other countries with their cases. Under this statute (28 U.S.C. § 1782), “interested parties” may ask a U.S. federal court to obtain documents and testimony from people or companies located in the U.S., when that information is relevant to a foreign legal proceeding. We’ve brought FLA actions against several U.S. corporations to seek and acquire evidence for use in human rights cases abroad.
While the post-Kiobel world has seen several disappointing decisions that make it more difficult for victims of human rights abuses to seek justice for corporate complicity, there are still bright spots in the U.S. courts. This strategy assist public interest lawyers in other countries in obtaining information which may be useful for their proceedings against a corporation. Under this statute, “interested parties” to an action in a foreign domestic proceeding can ask a federal court to obtain documents and testimony from people or companies located in the U.S. who may have relevant information.
Corporations or individuals in the United States sometimes have information that is useful or necessary to a case in a court or tribunal outside the United States. Section 1782, a U.S. law, allows those with an interest in the case to obtain that information.
A section 1782 request is a request to a federal court in the United States. It asks the court to help a foreign court, or a participant in a foreign legal case, to obtain information which can be used in a legal case in another country. The process of obtaining information is known as “discovery.” The foreign legal case can be either ongoing or under preparation. The discovery can be in the form of testimony, documents, or physical evidence. While section 1782 assistance is often granted, the U.S. court is not required to comply with a section 1782 request. This means that even if all the legal requirements for the request are met, the judge may still reject it.
In the past, getting information through FLA requests has been done mostly by multinational corporations – in fact, more FLA cases have been filed by Chevron than by anyone else! ERI works with local lawyers throughout the world to make this tool available to them, so that victims have the same access to legal remedies as multinational corporations and other powerful actors.
To spread the word about this potentially useful tool, ERI has created FLA guide which informs communities, foreign lawyers, and other organizations about the existence, availability, and benefits of this strategy. The guide gives an overview of what the statute is, how it could be helpful to foreign domestic human rights lawyers, and answers frequently asked questions. We’ve already had tremendous interest in this strategy from many partners, so we’re trying to spread the word!