On behalf of several human rights organizations, EarthRights International filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the Romero v. Drummond Company case. The case involves allegations that Drummond, a U.S.-based coal mining company, conspired with paramilitaries to assassinate members of a trade union at Drummond’s mine in Colombia. The brief deals with the question of “state action,” which is an important issue in human rights litigation because some abuses only violate international law if they were committed with the involvement of governmental officials. The brief explains that private parties (such as paramilitaries or corporations) can be considered state actors in a variety of circumstances involving cooperation with state officials.
Plaintiffs in a later, related case alleged that Drummond provided funding to focus the AUC on driving guerillas out of the areas of Drummond’s operations, that Drummond’s collaboration with the AUC brought a surge of AUC combatants, and that hundreds were killed as the AUC conducted cleansing operations in these areas. The district court dismissed the case on grounds that it lacked sufficient contacts to the United States under Kiobel. Prior to that, the court held that the plaintiffs had not adequately alleged crimes against humanity, finding that although plaintiffs alleged that the decedents were civilians and that none of the decedents were guerillas or guerilla supporters, widespread and systematic killings are not crimes against humanity where the killers “regarded [their victims] . . . as military targets suspected of” supporting the guerillas. ERI submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of 12 leading crimes against humanity scholars that demonstrated that under international law, a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population is a crime against humanity, even if the perpetrators suspect that the victims support an opposing armed group.