Blog: Alien Tort Statute

June 4, 2015

Clinic Files Reply Brief in Apartheid Litigation Appeal

Posted by Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini

Yesterday, the Clinic and our partners filed a reply brief in In re South African Apartheid Litigation, currently on appeal before the Second Circuit. The case, which is being litigated under the Alien Tort Statute, brings claims against Ford and IBM for the assistance and support they provided to the apartheid government and security forces to commit human rights violations against black South Africans.

At issue in the appeal is whether the Plaintiffs will be allowed to file their proposed amended complaints so that the case can proceed. In order to do so, the claims must “touch and concern” the territory of the United States with sufficient force, as mandated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

Plaintiffs argue that they meet this standard because the proposed amended complaints contain detailed and specific allegations of the ways in which both Defendants, in the United States, took actions to aid and abet the South African government and security forces. For example, the complaints allege that, in the United States, IBM developed hardware and software systems used to produce identity documents that stripped black South Africans of their citizenship and that Ford, in the United States, made decisions not only to sell but also to specialize vehicles used by the South African security forces to oppress and control the black population.

Oral argument before the Second Circuit will be heard on June 24, and a decision is expected later this year.

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May 22, 2015

Clinical Director Susan Farbstein Promoted to Become Clinical Professor of Law

Posted by Martha Minow, Dean, Harvard Law School, and Tyler Giannini

Today, we have some great news: in recognition of her excellence as both a teacher and a human rights advocate, Clinical Director Susan Farbstein has been promoted to become a Clinical Professor of Law.

Susan Farbstein, pictured here on a panel honoring Nelson Mandela, was recently promoted to Clinical Professor of Law.

Susan Farbstein, pictured here on a panel honoring Nelson Mandela, was recently promoted to Clinical Professor of Law.

Since arriving at HLS, Susan has centered her work on three main areas of expertise: transitional justice, Alien Tort Statute litigation, and South Africa. Her accomplishments are numerous, and the Harvard Law School website highlights them in this article announcing Susan’s promotion from Assistant Clinical Professor.

Most recently, over the past three years, Farbstein and her clinical students have collaborated with Equal Education Law Centre in South Africa to advance the right to education enshrined in that country’s constitution. She has also continued to distinguish herself as a leading Alien Tort Statute litigator, serving as co-counsel on several major cases, including In Re South African Apartheid Litigation and Mamani v. Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain.

Please join us in congratulating Susan on this much-deserved honor.

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April 15, 2015

Tomorrow, April 16: “Should There Be Liability If…”

 

April 16, 2015

“Should There Be Liability If…”

1:00 p.m.

Suffolk University Law School (Room 375)

120 Tremont Street, Boston

 

Join Tyler Giannini and Ariel Nelson of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School for a discussion about the live issues in Alien Tort Statute (ATS) litigation, including whether torturers and other human rights abusers can use U.S. soil to shield themselves from accountability. Giannini and Nelson will examine current trends in the courts in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel in 2013. Since that time, the Clinic has authored numerous amicus briefs in major ATS cases around the country, and is co-counsel in two major ATS cases—one stemming from corporate complicity in Apartheid-era crimes and the other involving alleged extrajudicial killings that occurred in Bolivia in 2003.

March 10, 2015

Plaintiffs’ Victory Against Former Somali Prime Minister Allowed to Stand

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

After 11 long years of litigation, plaintiffs from Somalia learned yesterday that their $21 million judgment for damages for torture and war crimes would stand. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the appeal of the defendant, General Mohamed Ali Samantar, a former Somali Prime Minister and Minister of Defense who was implicated in the abuses. Samantar, who now lives in Virginia, can make no additional appeals.

Beyond the victory for the plaintiffs, counsel from the Center for Justice & Accountability noted this ruling is critically important because it preserves a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found egregious rights violations cannot be considered “official acts” shielded by sovereign immunity.

The ruling comes amidst ongoing debate about how the United States should treat high-ranking former foreign government officials who are accused of human rights abuses and are now living in the United States. The International Human Rights Clinic and its partners have been involved since 2007 in one such case, Mamani et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, which brings Alien Tort Statute claims against the former President and the former Defense Minister of Bolivia for their role in extrajudicial killings in 2003. Last Friday, the Mamani plaintiffs filed a brief with the Eleventh Circuit opposing the defendants’ appeal, which is considering the issues of exhaustion of remedies and command responsibility.

Like Samantar, the defendants in Mamani came to the United States after leaving power, and have remained in the country ever since.

January 29, 2015

Clinic Files Opening Brief in Apartheid Litigation Appeal

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

The Clinic and our partners filed an opening brief yesterday in the Second Circuit in an appeal in In re South African Apartheid Litigation. The case, which is being litigated under the Alien Tort Statute, seeks relief against IBM and Ford for assisting and supporting human rights violations committed in apartheid South Africa.

Back in August, the district court dismissed the case when the court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file an amended complaint against these two U.S. Defendants. The lower court reasoned that the claims did not sufficiently “touch and concern” the territory of the United States, as required by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which established a presumption against extraterritoriality in ATS cases.

On appeal, Plaintiffs contend that the lower court failed to undertake the necessary inquiry into the U.S. Defendants’ own conduct in the United States, and instead focused only on actions that took place in South Africa. The proposed amended complaint contains detailed new allegations about how, from the United States, both Defendant corporations aided and abetted the South African security forces and government to commit human rights violations over several decades. Defendants will file their opposition brief in the coming months.

Clinical students Ariel Nelson, J.D. ’15, Brian Klosterboer, J.D. ’16, and Peter Stavros, J.D. ’16, contributed research and drafting for the brief.

August 11, 2014

Clinic Files Proposed Amended Complaint in the Apartheid Litigation

Posted by Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini

Last Friday, the International Human Rights Clinic filed a proposed amended complaint in the Apartheid Litigation against two defendants, Ford and IBM.

The amended complaint demonstrates how the claims “touch and concern” the United States as required by the Supreme Court’s Kiobel decision, as well as how the Defendants acted with the purpose to aid and abet the South African government’s violations of international law, as required by the Second Circuit’s Talisman decision. In particular, the complaint alleges that, through policies and decisions made in the United States, Defendant Ford directed and controlled the sale of specialized vehicles to the South African security forces to suppress the black population, while Defendant IBM created and maintained an identity card system to denationalize the black population.

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July 2, 2014

Fourth Circuit’s Post-Kiobel Ruling Revives ATS Claims Against U.S. Corporation for Violations Committed Abroad

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

On Monday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the presumption against extraterritoriality in Alien Tort Statute (ATS) cases, established by the April 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Co., does not bar claims against a U.S. contractor for torture and mistreatment of foreign nationals in Iraq.

The Al Shimari v. CACI ruling is a major decision in the ongoing battle over the meaning and interpretation of Kiobel. Kiobel  held that there is a presumption against extraterritoriality in ATS cases unless the “claims touch and concern the territory of the United States with sufficient force,” in which case the presumption can be displaced. In Kiobel, the Supreme Court found the “mere corporate presence” of the defendant in the United States did not overcome the presumption.

The Fourth Circuit compared the factual circumstances in Kiobel with those in Al Shimari, and concluded that the corporate defendant had a much more significant connection to the United States than mere presence. In so ruling, it became the first appellate court to hold that the plaintiffs’ claims sufficiently “touch and concern” U.S. territory to displace the presumption.

In the wake of the Kiobel decision, lower courts across the country have wrestled with how to interpret the new “touch and concern” standard given the limited guidance provided by the Supreme Court. Some courts have avoided the complexities of the Kiobel presumption altogether. However, the Fourth Circuit embraced the challenge:

Although the “touch and concern” language in Kiobel may be explained in greater detail in future Supreme Court decisions, we conclude that this language provides current guidance to federal courts when ATS claims involve substantial ties to United States territory. We have such a case before us now, and we cannot decline to consider the Supreme Court’s guidance simply because it does not state a precise formula for our analysis. Continue Reading…

April 17, 2014

The Alien Tort Statute: In Pursuit of Corporate Accountability

Event Notice

 

“The Alien Tort Statute: In Pursuit of Corporate Accountability”

April 17, 2014

12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
Langdell South

Lunch will be served

 

On the one year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Paul Hoffman, counsel for petitioners, and Professor Noah Feldman, Harvard Law School, will discuss litigation strategies for holding corporations accountable for human rights violations. This is the kickoff event for the Harvard Human Rights Journal’s 14th annual symposium. Co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society and the Human Rights Program.

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December 23, 2013

A Flurry of Activity to Wrap Up the Semester

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

A busy couple of days on the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) front had our International Human Rights Clinic in full swing right up to the end of the semester today.

First, along with co-counsel, we filed an opposition to a motion dismiss in our Mamani case last Wednesday with the district court in Florida. The ATS case, against the former Bolivian president and minister of defense, alleges that they devised a plan to kill civilians in order to quash popular protests against their government’s economic policies. In urging the Court to allow the case to proceed, the brief argues the Defendants executed their plan by agreeing to use military force to kill thousands of civilians until the population was terrorized enough to abandon demonstrations. The deaths that followed, including those of Plaintiffs’ family members in late 2003, were, according to the brief, “the intended result of a systematic plan in which military sharpshooters repeatedly shot and killed or injured civilians, in multiple locations over many weeks.” Defendants fled to the United States to escape criminal prosecution in Bolivia and have sought safe haven here for more than ten years, refusing to return to Bolivia to face trial.

We also filed our second and third amicus curiae briefs of the term in key ATS cases, on Thursday in D.C.  (Doe v. Exxon), and today in California (Doe v. Cisco). These briefs were similar to the amicus curiae brief on behalf legal historians that we filed in November with the Fourth Circuit in Al Shimari v. CACI. The briefs make it clear that when the Founders enacted the statute in 1789, they would have expected the ATS to apply to U.S. defendants. The Exxon and Cisco cases, both currently before district courts, center on allegations that U.S. corporations aided and abetted human rights violations abroad—in Indonesia and in China, respectively.

Last Thursday, the Ninth Circuit also came down with a significant decision in Doe v. Nestle. Those who follow the ATS know that it has been a busy year, ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kiobel last April established a new presumption against extraterritoriality for ATS claims; dozens of cases that were previously on hold are again moving through the courts. The Nestle decision is important because it affirms that corporate liability still exists under the ATS even after Kiobel, thereby rejecting an extreme and categorical position that would bar all ATS claims against corporations. Continue Reading…

November 6, 2013

Clinic Files Amici Curiae Brief In One of First ATS Cases to Reach Appeal Since Kiobel

Posted by Betsey Boutelle, JD '14

The International Human Rights Clinic filed an amici curiae brief yesterday on behalf of legal historians in one of the first major Alien Tort Statute (ATS) cases to reach a court of appeals since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co in April.

The case, Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Technology, Inc., alleges that employees of CACI, a private military contractor, participated in the torture and degrading treatment of detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004. The four plaintiffs in the case were detained in Abu Ghraib during that time and allege that they suffered abuses at the express command of several CACI employees operating in the prison.

In June, a Virginia district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims. The court believed that Kiobel foreclosed ATS liability for international law violations committed outside the United States—even when the defendants are American. The Al Shimari plaintiffs have now appealed to the Fourth Circuit, arguing that Kiobel’s limit on extraterritorial ATS claims does not apply, because their case involves U.S. defendants operating in American-controlled territory.

Six professors of legal history signed the amicus brief, arguing that the history and purpose of the ATS clearly indicates that the Founders would have allowed claims against U.S. citizens. Jurisprudence dating back to the 17th century shows that sovereign nations were expected to provide a remedy when their subjects committed violations of the law of nations, wherever the wrongs occurred.

The Founders knew the consequences of condoning violations by U.S. actors. Failure to provide redress could cause conflict and even war, and thus threaten the young nation. The ATS was one important mechanism to help avoid conflict and to bring the fledgling Republic in line with the expectations of the community of nations. In the brief, amici argue that to exclude violations by U.S. actors, wherever they might occur, would contravene the aims of the Founders when they enacted the statute.

The brief was signed by professors of legal history William R. Casto (Texas Tech University School of Law), Martin S. Flaherty (Fordham Law School), Nasser Hussain (Amherst College), Stanley M. Katz (Princeton University), Michael Lobban (London School of Economics), and Jenny S. Martinez (Stanford Law School).

From left: Ariel, Betsey, Avery, Tyler, Oded, and Lynnette

From left: Ariel, Betsey, Avery, Tyler, Oded, and Lynnette

Led by Clinical Professor Tyler Giannini and Poppy Alexander, JD ’12, clinical students Betsey Boutelle, JD ’14, Avery Halfon, JD ’15, Lynnette Miner, JD ’14, Ariel Nelson, JD ’15, and Oded Oren, JD ’15, all contributed many long hours to the effort.