Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Corporate Personhood before Supreme Court Today in Kiobel v. Shell

Energy
Corporate Personhood before Supreme Court Today in Kiobel v. Shell

Human Rights First

On Feb. 28 the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will determine whether the U.S. truly supports the principles of international law for human rights accountability. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum will examine whether corporations enjoy impunity when they are complicit in torture, extrajudicial executions and genocide, or whether they can be sued in the same manner as any other private individual under U.S. law for such egregious violations. Human Rights First submitted an amicus brief in the Kiobel case urging the Supreme Court to rule that corporations can be held liable for human rights violations they commit abroad.

“The idea that non-Americans should be able to use U.S. courts to sue non-Americans for international law violations committed abroad is not new,” said Human Rights First’s Gabor Rona. “’Universal jurisdiction is not only a well-established practice in international law, it is required for grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, such as murder and torture, and by the U.N. Convention against Torture.”

The alleged facts of the case are gruesome—Esther Kiobel, for herself and on behalf of her late husband, Dr. Barinem Kiobel and 10 other Nigerians, claims that Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Co.—along with one of its subsidiaries, and a British firm, Shell Transport and Trading Co.—aided and abetted the Nigerian military dictatorship’s use of murder and torture against opponents of oil exploration in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta between 1992 and 1995.

The case is brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a U.S. law that has in recent times developed into a means for foreign victims of international law violations committed by non-Americans to sue in U.S. courts. The idea of corporate legal responsibility has been well established since Nuremberg, where the U.S. aggressively, and correctly, championed the prosecution of I.G. Farben, the German corporation that made Zyklon B gas for use in the Nazi gas chambers. The only procedural difference is that this case is a civil lawsuit, rather than a criminal prosecution.

Human Rights First has long advocated that U.S. courts should comply with international legal norms and principles that prevent the worst human rights abusers from enjoying impunity. In addition to its amicus brief in the Kiobel case, the organization engaged in intensive advocacy with the U.S. government, urging it to weigh in on the case in favor of corporate liability. For example, in a letter to the Solicitor General last November, Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino noted that for the Court to interpret the ATS narrowly “fails to take into account the emerging global consensus regarding the responsibility of corporations for the human rights impacts of their global operations.” The government then submitted its own brief in support of the victims’ right to sue.

“The case takes on a particularly poignant meaning in light of another recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Citizens United, that treats corporations as people under the U.S. Constitution when it comes to matters of First Amendment rights,” concluded Rona. “If corporations are people for purposes of rights, they should also be treated as people for purposes of responsibilities. And requiring them to be responsible for complicity in murder and torture is the least our judicial system should demand. Anything less would imply that no corporate atrocity is so great that it requires accountability.”

For more information, click here.

Ningaloo Reef near Exmouth on April 2, 2012 in Western Australia. James D. Morgan / Getty Images News

By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge

In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A 3-hour special film by EarthxTV calls for protection of the Amazon and its indigenous populations. EarthxTV.org

To save the planet, we must save the Amazon rainforest. To save the rainforest, we must save its indigenous peoples. And to do that, we must demarcate their land.

Read More Show Less

Trending

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivers a video speech at the high-level meeting of the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council UNHRC in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 22, 2021. Xinhua / Zhang Cheng via Getty Images

By Anke Rasper

"Today's interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The report, released Friday, looks at the national climate efforts of 75 states that have already submitted their updated "nationally determined contributions," or NDCs. The countries included in the report are responsible for about 30% of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions.

Read More Show Less
New Delhi's smog is particularly thick, increasing the risk of vehicle accidents. SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP via Getty Images

India's New Delhi has been called the "world air pollution capital" for its high concentrations of particulate matter that make it harder for its residents to breathe and see. But one thing has puzzled scientists, according to The Guardian. Why does New Delhi see more blinding smogs than other polluted Asian cities, such as Beijing?

Read More Show Less
A bridge over the Delaware river connects New Hope, Pennsylvania with Lambertville, New Jersey. Richard T. Nowitz / Getty Images

In a historic move, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted Thursday to ban hydraulic fracking in the region. The ban was supported by all four basin states — New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York — putting a permanent end to hydraulic fracking for natural gas along the 13,539-square-mile basin, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Read More Show Less