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Blog: Alien Tort Statute

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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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 sits on a panel with other individuals speaking into a mic.
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.

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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.

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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.

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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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