On September 13, 2010, ERI filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Doe v. ExxonMobil Corp., a case alleging human rights abuses against Indonesian villagers by security forces working for ExxonMobil. The district court initially found that claims could not be brought for aiding and abetting human rights abuses under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), and in 2009 dismissed all claims in the case.
ERI’s brief addresses two key issues that are important for the future of transnational litigation as a vehicle for obtaining justice for victims of human rights abuses. First, ERI’s brief argues that claims brought by the victims under state law, including D.C. law, should not be dismissed due to supposed interference with U.S. foreign policy. There is no barrier for a court to hear a case alleging assault and wrongful death, whether the abuses occurred in Washington, D.C., or in Indonesia, and ordinary tort claims typically do not implicate serious foreign policy concerns. Second, ERI’s brief addresses the question of liability for aiding and abetting abuses under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a law that allows victims to bring cases for violations of international human rights law. The district court in the ExxonMobil cases dismissed claims brought under the ATS, finding that those who aid and abet human rights abuses could not be held liable. ERI’s brief argues that established federal law doctrines, including aiding and abetting liability, apply in ATS cases. Anyone who knowingly provides substantial assistance to the perpetrator of a human rights abuser should be equally responsible for the abuse.
The ExxonMobil case is a significant and closely-watched lawsuit, and several other groups also submitted amicus briefs. Two groups of scholars submitted briefs, arguing that there is no barrier to foreigners seeking justice in U.S. courts, and that the plaintiffs’ claims are well-established under international law. Finally, the University of Minnesota Human Rights Clinic also submitted a brief, arguing that corporations can also be sued under the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows suits for torture and extrajudicial killings.
On July 8, 2011, the D.C. Circuit reversed the district court, finding that claims could be brought for aiding and abetting human rights violations and that corporations could be sued for such abuses, and agreeing with ERI’s brief that the standard for aiding and abetting under the ATS is knowing, substantial assistance.