If the Court finds in favor of the corporations, would it also apply to domestic law?
This might open up exciting new investment opportunities. Private police corporations could be used to limit the local government's liability in violently suppressing the Occupy Movement, for example.
And private police corporations could sell ad space on their shields, batons, and helmets. And there are probably tax and insurance benefits as well. Not to mention the potential for an IPO. It's a win-win.
Human Rights Victims Seek Remedy At High Court
by Nina Totenberg
February 28, 2012
Human rights are front and center at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in two cases testing how American law intersects with international law. At issue in both cases is whether foreign nationals in the United States can sue corporations or other entities in U.S. courts for alleged violations of human rights.
The case that has corporate teeth chattering is a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell Oil, which is accused of aiding and abetting the Nigerian government in committing atrocities in the 1990s.
The suit was brought by 12 Nigerian citizens, all of whom have been granted political asylum in the United States. They are natives of the Ogoni region of Nigeria where Shell Oil has conducted oil exploration for decades.
In the mid-1990s, local religious, student and civic leaders began demonstrating peacefully against Shell, protesting that their farmland was being ruined by oil spills and that Shell contributed nothing to the local economy and did not pay for cleanup or environmental protection.
Soon, the protest leadership was being rounded up, tortured and even killed. Those who survived, fled, including Charles Wiwa, who says that after he led a rally in his home village, he was picked up and beaten by 18 soldiers before a crowd of thousands at an open-air market.
"They started beating me — horsewhipping me, clubbing me, [kicking me with their] boots for a really long time," Wiwa says. The beating lasted more than two hours.
There were more beatings, he says, and eventually he was charged with unlawful assembly. Released on bail, he says there were two attempts to abduct him.
"When it was obvious that my life was at risk, I fled Nigeria," Wiwa says.
For the past 16 years, Wiwa has lived in the United States. Now in Chicago, where he works as an export consultant, he is among the Ogoni refugees here who have doggedly pursued Shell, contending that the oil company worked hand-in-glove with the Nigerian military to brutally suppress any opposition to the way the company operates.
Among the others bringing charges is a Seventh-day Adventist bishop and a local leader's widow, who was raped and beaten after her husband was arrested and summarily executed.
They started beating me — horsewhipping me, clubbing me, [kicking me with their] boots for a really long time.
Their lawsuit against Shell is based on the Alien Tort Statute, a law enacted in 1789 by the first U.S. Congress and aimed mainly at pirates. The statute says U.S. trial courts can hear civil damage suits brought by a foreign national for wrongs "committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."
The statute remained largely unused until 1980, when victims of human rights abuses began using it against foreign individuals and corporations. In 2004 the Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, upheld the application of the law to human rights abuses, but only for a limited category of crimes — torture, genocide and crimes against humanity. The court said that in modern times the torturer has become like the pirate and the slave trader of earlier times, "an enemy of all mankind."
Unresolved, however, was who could be sued. The case the court ruled on involved a lawsuit against an individual. This case asks whether the victims of such crimes can sue corporations.
Lawyers representing the victims maintain that historically there is a quid pro quo for corporate status. In exchange for the many benefits of incorporation, including limited liability, corporations are responsible for the actions of their employees, known in legalese as their agents.
"All that we're saying in this case is that when a corporation contributes to genocide or crimes against humanity, that they should be held liable ... the same way they would be held liable if one of their agents is engaged in an automobile accident that injures somebody" on the job, says Paul Hoffman, who is representing the Nigerian victims...