Blog: Kiobel

February 10, 2016

Clinic Files Petition for Certiorari in Final Attempt to Hold Two U.S. Corporations Accountable for Supporting Apartheid

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

The Clinic and its partners today filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court in the In re South African Apartheid Litigation suit, asking the Court to clarify the circumstances under which defendants may be held accountable in U.S. courts for human rights violations. The case, which involves the actions of U.S. corporations IBM and Ford, raises questions about whether a defendant’s knowledge is sufficient to establish aiding and abetting liability, or whether specific intent or motive must also be demonstrated. It also concerns how closely a human rights violation must be connected to the United States in order to sue under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), and whether corporations can be held liable at all under the ATS.

The petition argues that through their actions, and decades-long support for violations associated with apartheid, defendants IBM and Ford purposefully facilitated violations of international law by enabling the “denationalization and violent suppression, including extrajudicial killings, of black South Africans living under the apartheid regime.” According to the petition, “IBM and Ford purposefully designed, sold, and serviced customized technology and vehicles for the South African government that they knew in advance would be used to racially segregate and systematically oppress black South Africans.”

Despite the corporations’ knowledge and deliberate action, in 2015 the Second Circuit concluded that IBM did not aid and abet international law violations because there was no evidence that “IBM’s purpose was to denationalize black South Africans and further the aims of a brutal regime.” In an equally striking 2011 decision, the Fourth Circuit imposed an aiding and abetting standard requiring defendants who supplied mustard gas to Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime to not just know but rather intend that it be used against civilians.

The petition argues that, if left to stand, the Second and Fourth Circuits’ rulings will protect U.S.-based aiders and abettors of international law violations from liability. The Second and Fourth Circuits implicitly rejected the standard set at Nuremberg, under which industrialists who knew that Zyklon-B gas would be used to commit genocide, and deliberately decided to sell it to the Nazis, were convicted. Unlike the Second and Fourth Circuits, the Nuremberg courts did not require that the defendants intended their products to be used against civilians, or that they shared the genocidal motives of the Nazis.

As the petition explains, “the Second Circuit’s standard is thus so restrictive that it is now easier to convict individuals of international crimes before the [International Criminal Court] than to find individuals civilly liable under the ATS for the same acts.” In other words, perpetrators convicted of international crimes at Nuremberg would not be civilly liable under the ATS for aiding and abetting the Holocaust.

Continue Reading…

August 19, 2015

Apartheid Plaintiffs Ask Second Circuit to Reconsider Claims Against IBM and Ford

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

Last week, the Clinic and co-counsel filed a petition for rehearing en banc, asking the Second Circuit to allow Plaintiffs’ claims to go forward against Defendants Ford and IBM in In re South African Apartheid Litigation. The petition responds to a Second Circuit panel decision that denied Plaintiffs the ability to proceed. The panel ruling found the allegations were not sufficient to show that Ford and IBM had “purposefully” aided and abetted the South African state in committing international law violations.

The petition, however, argues:

The ramifications of the panel’s decision are brought into stark relief when measured against the Nuremberg tribunal. If the Nazi industrialists convicted at Nuremburg had operated in the United States, rather than Germany, when they sold Zyklon B gas to support and facilitate the Holocaust, the panel’s opinion would foreclose claims against them.

The brief argues that goes further than the Supreme Court intended with its decision in Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. in 2013, which requires that claims must “touch and concern” the United States to proceed. In addition to being at odds with Kiobel, the panel decision raises fundamental questions about aiding and abetting standards as well as corporate liability under the ATS. Indeed, the petition asserts that “the panel has essentially re-written the terms of the ATS, and asks whether this entire Second Circuit “endorses the wholesale reversal of this Court’s ATS jurisprudence” dating to the landmark  Filártiga v. Peña-Irala decision in 1980.

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July 30, 2015

Second Circuit Decision in Apartheid Appeal Denies Plaintiffs the Opportunity to Proceed with Their Claims

Posted by Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini

Earlier this week, the Second Circuit handed down its opinion in In re South African Apartheid Litigation, denying Plaintiffs an opportunity to proceed with their claims against the remaining Defendants Ford and IBM. In doing so, the appellate court affirmed the District Court’s prior decision on the grounds that Plaintiffs’ proposed amended complaints had not alleged sufficient plausible new facts to move forward.

While the outcome was disappointing, so too was the opinion of the Court itself, which failed to fully engage with new, specific, and detailed allegations in the proposed amended complaints — in particular, allegations about how both defendants, in the United States, took purposeful and repeated actions to aid and abet the South African state to commit international law violations. With respect to the allegations against Ford, the Court glanced over important facts about the U.S. parent corporation’s direct involvement in the design and approval of the sale of specialized vehicles to South African security forces, in contravention of international sanctions regimes. Instead, the Court concluded broadly that the allegations were insufficient to link Ford in the United States to the violations in South Africa.

With respect to the allegations against IBM, the Court did find sufficient U.S. domestic conduct by the parent — specifically, that it designed particular technologies that facilitated the denationalization of black South Africans. But while this conduct did “touch and concern” the United States, the standard set by the Supreme Court in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Court held that the allegations did not plausibly allege that IBM’s conduct was “purposeful.” Because purpose (rather than knowledge) is the required standard for an aiding and abetting claim in the Second Circuit under Presbyterian Church of Sudan v. Talisman, the Court determined that Plaintiffs’ claims could not proceed.

The Plaintiffs will now seek en banc review of the panel’s decision, requesting that all active judges on the Court rehear the case because it presents questions of exceptional importance and conflicts with prior decisions of the Second Circuit as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

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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.

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…

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.

 

 

October 1, 2012

Update: Kiobel Transcript, Plus Media Coverage of the Case

Posted by Cara Solomon

For all of you Kiobel watchers, here’s the transcript for this morning’s argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. We’ll post Tyler and Susan’s take on the questioning as soon as we can.

Esther Kiobel speaks in front of the Supreme Court today. (Photo Credit: Too Big To Punish?)

In the meantime, here’s some media coverage of the case, some of it published before the arguments and some of it published afterward. We were particularly pleased to see Desmond Tutu’s opinion piece in USA Today, which has clearly been making the rounds.

OPINION

Desmond Tutu, USA Today: “Will U.S. Rule for Rights of South Africans?”

Jodie Kirshner, The Christian Science Monitor: “Supreme Court Case Tests U.S. Leadership in Human Rights”

EDITORIALS

The New York Times: “Justice Under the Law of Nations”

The New York Times: “October Term 2012”

ARTICLES

L.A. Times: “Supreme Court Weighs Whether Foreign Victims Can Sue in U.S.”

Slate: “Torture Inc.”

SCOTUSblog: “Argument Recap: In Search of an ATS Compromise”

Reuters: “Supreme Court May Narrow Law in Human Rights Cases”

September 30, 2012

Supreme Court to Hear Kiobel Again Tomorrow: Much More at Stake the Second Time Around

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

NOTE: The post below was originally published Saturday on Justice Watch, a project of the Alliance for Justice. For more on the Kiobel case, including the most recent amicus briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, please click here.

Supreme Court to Hear Major Human Rights Case Again: Much More at Stake the Second Time Around

Guest Post by Tyler Giannini & Susan Farbstein

The Supreme Court will open its new term on Monday.  The first argument it hears will be Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., the most significant human rights case to reach the Court in recent years.  Intense interest in the case has generated more than 80 amicus curiae briefs from a range of actors around the world, including governments, human rights organizations, and corporations.  Kiobel is especially intriguing not only because of the human rights issues at stake, but also because it will be the Court’s secondtime hearing oral argument in the matter.  This is a rarity; the last example was Citizen United, the major campaign finance case.

What are the issues?

Kiobel is an Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) suit based on a 1789 statute that allows non-U.S. citizens to bring civil claims in U.S. federal courts for universally recognized violations of international law.  The case arises out of allegations that Royal Dutch/Shell was complicit in killings and other abuses by the Nigerian government in the 1990s.  The Court first heard Kiobel last February, addressing the question of whether corporations can be held liable under the statute.  But in an unusual move, a week later the Court requested supplemental briefing and a second oral argument. Continue Reading…

September 17, 2012

Today, Sept. 18: Paul Hoffman, Lead Counsel in Kiobel, on the Future of the ATS

Posted by Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini

Please join us tomorrow, September 18, for a talk with Paul Hoffman, lead counsel in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. and Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain. Paul is the leading Alien Tort Statute (ATS) litigator in the country, serving as counsel in ATS cases including Unocal, Wiwa, Apartheid, Talisman, and Kiobel, and arguing Sosa before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Tomorrow, from 12:00-1:00 pm in Milstein 2036, he will speak with us about the future of human rights litigation in U.S. courts in the context of Kiobel, a case against Shell for human rights violations committed in Nigeria.

Paul first argued the Kiobel case in front of the Supreme Court last February, addressing the question of whether corporations can be held liable under the statute.  In an unusual move, following that argument the Court requested supplemental briefing and reargument on the question of whether the ATS extends to international law violations committed outside the United States, in the territory of a foreign sovereign.  Given the case’s potential impact on the ability of survivors of human rights abuse to seek justice in U.S. courts, it will be a privilege to hear Paul’s thoughts as he prepares to reargue Kiobel on October 1st, in the Court’s first hearing of the new term.

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