Other Alien Tort Statute Cases

In addition to the cases in which it is currently co-counsel, the Clinic has been involved in many other Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and human rights cases in U.S. courts since 2004. For these cases, students and faculty regularly provide legal research support; author amicus curiae briefs; and give consults on the viability of claims for individuals and groups considering bringing complaints. Cases include Flomo v. Firestone, Rio Tinto v. Sarei, Corrie v. Catepillar, and Adhikari v. KBR/Halliburton, as well as:

Presbyterian Church of Sudan v. Talisman Energy, Inc.

The Clinic submitted an amicus curiae brief in April 2010 in support of a petition for certiorari in this major corporate ATS case, which brought claims against Talisman for its complicity in attacks and forcible displacement of civilians in Sudan. The petition sought review of a Second Circuit decision holding that purpose—rather than knowledge—was required to establish aiding and abetting liability for human rights violations under customary international law. On the amicus brief, the Clinic served as counsel of record on behalf of leading international law scholars and jurists, who argued that the appellate court’s decision would overturn decades of established international jurisprudence dating to the Nuremberg era. The scholars concluded that knowledge, rather than purpose, is the standard for complicity for egregious human rights violations under customary international law.

The Clinic had previously filed an amicus curiae brief in support of a petition for rehearing of the Second Circuit’s ruling in the case, which had established the standard for aiding and abetting under the ATS.  In October 2010, the Supreme Court declined to grant certiorari.

Samantar v. Yousuf

In January 2010, the Clinic filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Samantar v. Yousuf, a case that brought claims against former Somali General Mohamed Ali Samantar for torture, rape, and mass executions committed against the civilian population of Somalia during the 1980s. The brief was filed on behalf of more than twenty amici, including EarthRights International and Human Rights First, as well as individual torture survivors such as Dolly Filártiga, who brought the first successful ATS case against a torturer in 1980. The Supreme Court took the case to resolve questions of immunity for government officials under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The amicus brief argued that the FSIA does not immunize individual former officials from suit in U.S. courts for violations of fundamental human rights such as torture and extrajudicial killing. We had previously filed an amicus curiae brief when the suit was on appeal to the Fourth Circuit.

On June 1, 2010, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that foreign government officials like Samantar, who commit human rights abuses while in office, are not entitled to immunity in U.S. courts under the FSIA. The Supreme Court’s decision was a major victory which will help ensure that torture survivors can continue to seek justice against individual officials in U.S. courts.

Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

The Clinic contributed to a historic settlement reached in 2009 in this major corporate ATS case, which charged the company with complicity in the torture, killing, and other abuses of Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and other non-violent Nigerian activists in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta. The settlement provides a total of $15.5 million to compensate ten plaintiffs, who include family members of the deceased victims; to establish a trust intended to benefit the Ogoni people; and to cover a portion of plaintiffs’ legal fees and costs. Students researched complex evidentiary issues and assisted in drafting motions in limine and other pre-trial briefing.

The events surrounding the Wiwa case were the same events that led to the filing in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. In the early 1990s, the Ogoni, led by Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), began organized, peaceful protests against Shell’s business practices. Shell grew increasingly concerned with the heightened international prominence of the Ogoni movement and made payments to security forces known to engage in human rights violations against local communities. The military government violently repressed demonstrations, including arresting leading Ogoni activists. Nine of the prominent accused, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, were denied a fair trial and then hanged on November 10, 1995.

Contacts for these cases: Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

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