On March 10, 2005 a federal court in New York dismissed an action brought by Vietnamese villagers allegedly harmed by agent orange, a herbicide used by the U.S. government during the Vietnam War. The plaintiffs brought the suit against a number of U.S. companies that manufactured the herbicide. ERI, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law filed an amicus or “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the plaintiffs.
The suit was filed in part under the Alien Tort Claims Act. The court dismissed, concluding that the use of agent orange did not violate international law. Nonetheless, the decision was in many respects a major victory for proponents of corporate accountability and international human rights law. The court explicitly agreed with amici that corporations are proper defendants under the Alien Tort Claims Act, and that they can be held liable if they aid and abet human rights abuses. Moreover, the court held that claims involving actions of the U.S. government can be heard by a court if they challenge how the U.S. conducted itself during war. In so doing, the court rejected contrary arguments by the defendants and the U.S. government, which submitted an amicus brief supporting the defendants.
These holdings are particularly gratifying to ERI, because the court quoted and therefore adopted as its own opinion large sections of our amicus brief addressing these points. Thus, our exact words are now precedent on these issues.