At a Glance
On April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the Alien Tort Statute does not provide an avenue for justice for the relatives of 12 Nigerian activists who were tortured and executed in Nigeria by the Nigerian government in collaboration with Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell).
Relatives of the late Dr. Barinem Kiobel and eleven other Nigerian activists from the Ogoni area of the Niger Delta.
Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. is a lawsuit brought against Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, the Shell Transport & Trading Company, and their joint subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), on behalf of the late Dr. Barinem Kiobel and eleven other Nigerian activists from the Ogoni area of the Niger Delta who were tortured and executed by a military dictatorship in Nigeria in 1995. The activists were part of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and had campaigned against the environmental damage caused by Shell’s extractive activities in the Niger Delta. Relatives of the victims alleged Shell was complicit in the torture and killing of the activists.
This lawsuit was brought under the Alien Tort Statute and is a companion case to three lawsuits brought by CCR in 1996 against Royal Dutch Petroleum Company (Shell) for its complicity in human rights abuses against the Ogoni people in Nigeria. See Wiwa et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum et al. for more information. After the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided in 2000 that the court had personal jurisdiction over the Shell parent companies in CCR’s case Wiwa et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Wiwa and Kiobel cases were consolidated for discovery, but because the cases had different procedural postures, Kiobel was appealed to the Second Circuit while Wiwa was set for trial. The Wiwa cases were settled on the eve of trial in 2009, providing a total of $15.5 million to compensate our clients, establish a trust for the benefit of the Ogoni people, and cover some of the legal costs and fees associated with the case. The Kiobel case, on the other hand, ended up heading to the Supreme Court on the question of whether corporations can 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 ATS.
For decades, CCR has pioneered the Alien Tort Statute as a tool to pursue international human rights violations in U.S. courts. Thus, we actively supported the plaintiffs in Kiobel as their case headed to the Supreme Court on questions regarding the ATS. CCR and allies filed numerous amicus briefs insupport of the Kiobel case against Shell, three of which were filed in the Supreme Court. In a 2007 amicus brief, filed on behalf of the Wiwa plaintiffs, CCR argued that extra-judicial killing is an actionable norm under the ATS.
On April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case, ruling that the Alien Tort Statute could not be applied to Shell’s actions in Nigeria. The Court’s decision undercut 30 years of jurisprudence to limit U.S. courts’ ability to hear cases on human rights violations committed outside the U.S, limiting the ATS to those cases that "touch and concern" the U.S. with "sufficient force." CCR has continued to develop ATS jurisprudence in other cases post-Kiobel. We remain fully committed to continue challenging corporate human rights abuses and abuses by individual torturers and war criminals, no matter where they are committed.