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Nigerians banned from taking human rights abuse cases to American courts

By News Express on 18/04/2013

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Nigerians who believe they could run to foreign courts to obtain justice from multinationals deemed to have violated their rights in Nigeria have had their hopes shattered after the United States Supreme Court ruled that such cases could not be pursued in America.   

The American apex court ruled yesterday that “Nigerian plaintiffs who said foreign oil companies had been complicit in violating their human rights may not sue in American courts,” reports The New York Times. “The decision limited the sweep of a 1789 law that had been used to address human rights abuses abroad,” the paper adds.

The decision was unanimous, but the justices divided along ideological lines in their reasoning, according to the report, adding: “Human rights groups said the decision was a sharp blow.”

“This decision so severely limited a law that has for decades been a beacon of hope for victims of gross human rights violations,” said Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First. “This decision cuts a hole into the web of accountability. Human rights abusers may be rejoicing today, but this is a major setback for their victims.”

Business groups however said the ruling would help put an end to baseless lawsuits.

“The US Supreme Court’s decision today ensures that trial lawyers cannot continue to use the American judicial system to expose global businesses to frivolous and costly lawsuits,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said a general presumption against the extraterritorial application of American law barred the suit.

“All the relevant conduct took place outside the United States,” he wrote.

He added that even some minimal contact with the United States would not be sufficient to overcome the presumption. “Even where the claims touch and concern the territory of the United States, they must do so with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application.”

He gave an example: “Corporations are often present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say mere corporate presence suffices.”

The New York Times report says that the case involved a joint subsidiary of Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, based in the Netherlands, and Shell Transport and Trading Company, based in England. The subsidiary, incorporated in Nigeria, was accused of aiding and abetting in atrocities by Nigerian military and police forces against Ogoni villagers in Rivers State, South-South Nigeria.

“After being granted asylum in the United States, several Nigerians sued the parent companies under the 1789 law, the Alien Tort Statute, which is brief and cryptic,” says The New York Times. The Alien Tort Statute allows US federal courts to hear “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

The law was largely ignored until the 1980s, when federal courts started to apply it in international human rights cases. A 2004 Supreme Court decision, Sosa v. Álvarez-Machain, left the door open to some claims under the law, as long as they involved violations of international norms with “definite content and acceptance among civilised nations.”

•Photo courtesy sweetcrudereports.com shows devastation caused by oil spill in Ogoniland. The man in the photo has been stripped of the right to sue in any American court.

Source News Express

Posted 18/04/2013 11:40:44 AM

 

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