CorpWatch reports: The Obama administration is backing Shell Oil after abruptly changing sides in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that could make it even more difficult for survivors of human rights abuses overseas to sue multinational corporations in federal courts. The case will be heard on October 1.
Lawyers at EarthRights International, a Washington-based human rights law nonprofit, say they suspect that a new legal submission – which was signed only by the U.S. Justice Department – reflects tensions inside the government on how to deal with multinational corporations do business in the U.S. Significantly, neither the State nor the Commerce Department signed on to the brief, despite their key roles in the case.
“It was shocking,” Jonathan Kaufman EarthRights legal policy coordinator commented to Reuters. “The brief was largely unexpected, based on what they had filed previously, and pretty breathtaking.”
At issue is the Alien Torts Claim Act (ATCA) – an 18th century U.S. law originally designed to combat piracy on the high seas – that has been used during the last 30 years as a vehicle to bring international law violations cases to U.S. federal courts.
Lawyers began using ATCA as a tool in human rights litigation in 1979, when the family of 17-year-old Joel Filartiga, who was tortured and killed in Paraguay, sued the Paraguayan police chief responsible. Filartiga v. Peña-Irala set a precedent for U.S. federal courts to punish non-U.S. citizens for acts committed outside the U.S. that violate international law or treaties to which the U.S. is a party. ATCA has brought almost 100 cases of international (often state-sanctioned) torture, rape and murder to U.S. federal courts to date.
In recent years, a number of ATCA lawsuits have also been filed against multinationals which has angered the business lobby. [Continue reading…]