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A Preview of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum

October 1, 2012 — In 1983, Professor Carlos Mauricio was teaching a class at the University of El Salvador — during a civil war in that country — when a group of army officers dragged him screaming from the classroom. He was beaten, blindfolded, handcuffed and later tortured by police in the national police headquarters.

“I was a very lucky guy; I survived,” said Mauricio who, with the help of the Center for Justice and Accountability, would later sue two Salvadoran generals and win under a 1789 statute that permits aliens to bring cases in U.S. court for torts committed in violation of international law.

Victories like Mauricio’s may be in jeopardy, however, as the Supreme Court considers whether the Alien Tort Statute can be applied extraterritorially. And on September 27 — just four days before the high court heard oral argument in the case on October 1 — a group of experts gathered at Georgetown Law to discuss the ATS and the future of human rights litigation if the law is struck down.

The case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, was brought by a group of Nigerians suing foreign corporations in U.S. courts for alleged human rights violations committed in Nigeria. The plaintiffs alleged that the corporation supported the Nigerian government in international law violations including torture, extrajudicial executions and crimes against humanity.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case last year on the question of whether corporations may be held accountable for human rights violations under the ATS, then ordered a rehearing on the question of whether the statute applied to incidents conduct occurring outside the United States.

Rachel Taylor, director of Georgetown Law’s Human Rights Institute, introduced the event, which featured moderator Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Carey R. D’Avino, who worked on the case; Katie Redford of EarthRights International; Professor Ralph Steinhardt of George Washington University; and Peter Weiss of the Center for Constitutional Rights. 

A Webcast is available here: http://apps.law.georgetown.edu/webcasts/eventDetail.cfm?eventID=1814

The conference was sponsored by the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute, Center for Constitutional Rights, EarthRights International, Center for Justice and Accountability, Human Rights First and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable.

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