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Kiobel Decision: Supreme Court Limits US Courts’ Ability to Use Human Rights Law to Address Human Rights Abuses Committed Abroad

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Questions Remaining Leave Doors Open


April 17, 2013, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released the following statement in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a case that raised the question of whether corporations could be held accountable for human rights abuses and whether U.S. federal courts can hear claims arising from human rights violations committed abroad under the Alien Tort Statute. The Center for Constitutional Rights brought the ground-breaking case Filártiga v Peña-Irala, which first launched ATS human rights litigation in 1980. 

The Center for Constitutional Rights is deeply troubled by the Supreme Court’s decision to undercut 30 years of jurisprudence to limit U.S. courts’ ability to hear cases on human rights violations committed outside the United States.

In the last three decades, we have seen the Alien Tort Statute shine a light on global human rights violations and serve as a beacon for victims seeking redress. Today’s decision moves one step closer to shutting the court room doors to victims of war crimes and torture. However, those cases brought against defendants, including corporations, whose actions “touch and concern the territory of the United States…with sufficient force” should remain on notice they can still be held accountable for their abuses outside the U.S. This ruling is not a grant of immunity from liability.
The Court has left many questions open for another day, and we will work to ensure that the basic purpose of the ATS – reflected in the Filártiga decision – to provide a place for all victims of human rights abuses to seek justice and accountability. 
We will continue to challenge corporate human rights abuses and abuses by individual torturers and war criminals, no matter where they are committed.
For an overview of ATS cases and resources, visit: http://www.ccrjustice.org/ATSoverview.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.