By Francisco J. ZAMORA CABOT, Professor of Private International Law at the University Jaume I, Castellon, Spain.

The issue of extraterritoriality is currently envisaged as one of the keys to the resolution of the well-known and crucial Kiobel case, before the Supreme Court of the United States, which we are expecting any time now. However, the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) has nothing to do with extraterritoriality. That legislative text and its judicial practice must be maintained in the field of international torts on human rights, they are special illegal acts that have to be solved through the interplay of the Conflicts of Laws and Public international law. In no way, that legal text and its practice portray an imperialistic position on the part of the United States in front of other States, or an excess of jurisdiction vis-a-vis the Law of Nations. Quite simply, the attempt to place ATCA out of its scope should be rejected, and has to be considered as mischievous and/or arbitrary.

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By Robert Grabosch, Attorney at law

Claimants from all over the world have brought various lawsuits against non-US companies because of human rights being violated outside of the United States. Currently, a supposed clash of extraterritorial jurisdiction of civil courts with the international law principle of state sovereignty, or non-intervention, has put all litigation under the US Alien Tort Claims Act to a halt. The Notepad repeatedly commented on this kind of litigation (see the ATCA / ATS tags). In a post over at grabosch-law.eu, I try to explain that provisions of extraterritorial jurisdiction – i.e. jurisdiction in cases which have no or hardly any connection to the forum state – are well known in legal systems outside of the United States. At least from a German understanding of international law, civil courts’ jurisdiction is not at odds with the principle of non-intervention. Read the rest of this entry »

ImageThe full extent of the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) which allows non-U.S. citizens to file suits in the U.S. for international human rights violations has been the subject of many debates in recent U.S. cases (Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain,KiobelBoimah Flomo I and IIExxon). This comment looks at the key points relied upon in recent decisions to reject the existence of a corporate liability principle under customary international law. The concurring observations of Judge Leval, who argued that the Kiobel decision might have kept the door open to major corporate abuses and created a precedent of corporate impunity, are especially relevant because they have been confirmed by more recent decisions. This comment also considers the arguments presented in the Kiobel re-hearing rejection regarding the policy impact of the decision and the policy-making role of U.S. tribunals. Finally, this comment questions whether U.S. courts should be expected to get involved in international justice, thereby risking being characterized as imperialist, self-appointed world judges.

The paper is availble here, and as a pdf version

Further arguments in the Kiobel case on the liability of transnational corporations under ATCA were presented yesterday (28th February 2012) before the US Supreme Court. The case was commented a moment ago on this blog (see here as well as the ATCA / ATS tags for more comments)  and it seemed at the time that the Court was reluctant to aknowledge the existence of a principle of corporate liability under international law. Well, it seems that the argument persists.

For those interested in the debate, a very informative post by Lyle Denniston can be found on the SCOTUSblog:

” When Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in the opening minute of a Supreme Court argument, tells a lawyer that his entire case is in jeopardy, it is extremely difficult for even an experienced counsel to recover.   And, though he tried, Venice, Calif., attorney Paul L. Hoffman did not appear on Tuesday to have resuscitated his argument that foreign corporations should be held to account in U.S. courts for human rights abuses in foreign lands.  At least a majority of the Justices looked notably unconvinced […]”

In line with our previous posts on the evolution of corporate liability under ATS (See the list of the comments here), it is worth noting that the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has rendered a decision on the John Doe v Exxon Mobil Corporation on the 8th of July. The decision interestingly seems to confirm the decision rendered on July 11th 2011 by the US Court of Appeal for the 7th Circuit in Boimah Flomo (see here).

Contracting with the Indonesian government, Exxon Mobil and its subsidiaries operated a large natural gas extraction and processing facility in in 2000–2001. Eleven villagers filed a complaint in 2001 alleging that murder, torture, sexual assault, battery, and false imprisonment committed by the Indonesian military could be attributed to Exxon under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (“TVPA”) because they were committed by a unit dedicated only to Exxon’s facilities and placed under Exxon’s authority (p5).

Corporate liability as a new type of claim (Sosa v Alvarez Machain argument)

The Exxon Court first rejected the Sosa tribunal’s finding that ATS tribunals should not recognize private claims under federal common law for violations of any international law norm which did not exist when paragraph 1350 was enacted (See here). “The fact that the law of nations provides no private right of action to sue corporations”, it held, “addresses the wrong question and does not demonstrate that corporations are immune from liability under the ATS”(p56).

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A decision on the Boimah Flomo case was reached on July 11th 2011 by the US Court of Appeal for the 7th Circuit (The decision can be found here). It is worth mentioning because it significantly contradicted the findings of the Indiana’s District Court which dismissed the claim on the ground that the plaintiffs had “failed to establish a legally cognizable claim because no corporate liability exists under the ATS” (See my previous note here). The case is also noteworthy because of its conclusions on child labour.

On corporate liability

Establishing corporate liability was a major issue for the tribunal, which nonetheless provided a fairly clear reasoning and achieved a very acceptable conclusion. It overall rejected Firestone’s (the respondent) argument that “conduct by a corporation or any other entity that doesn’t have a heart-beat can never be a violation of customary international law, no matter how heinous the conduct” (p5), and by the same token clearly rejected the analysis of corporate liability provided in Kiobel, which it clearly deemed ‘incorrect’ (p6).

The Court overall suggested that there had to be a first time for litigation to enforce a norm, especially considering that there is no compelling reason to justify that corporations have rarely been prosecuted criminally or civilly for violating customary international law (p7-8)

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By Robert Grabosch, Attorney at law
A recent decision of a U.S. appellate court has quenched much hope for the availability of legal redress at U.S. courts for corporate misconduct in the Global South. As this post explains, the jurisdiction of civil courts in the European Union over European corporations’ conduct in the Global South is significantly less problematic than the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. Read the rest of this entry »

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