Blog: Alien Tort Statute
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January 29, 2015
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.
November 6, 2013
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).
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.
September 20, 2013
Plaintiffs File Petition in Second Circuit Court of Appeals to Review Panel’s Decision in Apartheid Case
Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein
This week, the International Human Rights Clinic, along with co-counsel, filed a petition on behalf of plaintiffs for panel rehearing or rehearing en banc to review the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in Balintulo v. Daimler AG, which is also known as the In Re South African Apartheid Litigation. The petition stated that “The panel opinion in Balintulo v. Daimler AG would eviscerate more than thirty years of this Court’s Alien Tort Statute (‘ATS’) jurisprudence and should be reviewed en banc because it conflicts with the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. as well as decisions in this Circuit.”
The petition comes more than 10 years after cases were first filed in the United States in 2002. Three defendant corporations—Ford Motor Company, Daimler AG, and International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)—remain from the original cases and are charged with complicity in the perpetration of apartheid-era crimes and human rights violations.
The petition seeks review of an August 21 decision by a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit that lifted a stay and sent the matter back to district court Judge Shira Scheindlin to consider the plaintiffs’ claims in light of the Supreme Court’s April decision in Kiobel. In the wake of the Kiobel ruling, which found that ATS claims must “touch and concern” the United States, the Second Circuit had requested letter briefs from both the plaintiffs and defendants. The briefs were submitted in late May, and in August, the Second Circuit stated that in light of Kiobel, “the Alien Tort Statute does not reach the extraterritorial conduct in this case.”
The U.S.-based lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the cases include Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, De Simone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, Michael Hausfeld of Hausfeld, LLP, Diane Sammons and Jay Rice of Nagel Rice LLP, and Judith Brown Chomsky of the Law Offices of Judith Brown Chomsky. The South African-based legal team includes Dumisa Ntsebeza, John Ngcebetsha, Charles Abrahams, Medi Mokuena, and Michael Osborne.
October 1, 2012
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.
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.
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”
The New York Times: “Justice Under the Law of Nations”
The New York Times: “October Term 2012”
Slate: “Torture Inc.”
SCOTUSblog: “Argument Recap: In Search of an ATS Compromise”
September 30, 2012
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
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.
July 18, 2012
Posted by Cara Solomon
At February’s oral argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., counsel for the petitioners responded to questions about extraterritoriality by citing the incident in Sierra Leone that led to the well-known 1795 opinion of Attorney General William Bradford. That exchange appears to have sparked the Supreme Court’s request for supplemental briefing on whether the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) applies to acts that arise on foreign territory. History, including the so-called Bradford Opinion, provides strong evidence that the ATS does apply to conduct occurring on foreign soil.
History has long been a critical part of ATS jurisprudence, given that the statute dates to 1789. Sosa guides that any ATS cause of action must be for violations of the law of nations as universally recognized as eighteenth-century paradigms, such as piracy. The text and purpose of the statute, the common law of the era, and the Bradford Opinion provide the relevant insight into the Justices’ current question about claims that arise in foreign lands – and indicate that there would have been no territorial limit on the ATS at the time of the statute’s enactment.
The Framers of the ATS were common-law lawyers, and the law of nations was part of the common law of the time. They would not have embraced a bright line, categorical exclusion of all claims arising on foreign territory – whether in a case between two aliens or some other combination of defendant and plaintiff. Instead, the Framers would have been familiar with fashioning remedies to realize the statute’s broad remedial purpose, providing relief in U.S. courts to aliens who suffered violations of international law. Indeed, as Justice Stephen Breyer noted at oral argument when he quoted from the 1666 English Skinner case, courts of the day were familiar with fundamental notions of justice and crafted common-law remedies for violations “odious and punishable by all laws of God and man.” Continue Reading…
June 14, 2012
History Shows That Those Who Commit International Law Violations Outside the United States Can Be Held Liable in U.S. Courts
Clinic files amicus curiae brief with U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of legal historians in major Alien Tort Statute case
June 14, 2012, Cambridge, MA—Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic has submitted a supplemental amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of petitioners in a major Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. Nine eminent legal historians joined the brief as amici: William R. Casto, Charles Donahue, Robert W. Gordon, Nasser Hussain, Stanley N. Katz, Michael Lobban, Jenny S. Martinez, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.
Clinical Directors Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini served as counsel for the amici, who argue that Congress, when enacting the statute, did not intend to restrict its territorial reach. Rather, the ATS was passed to address universally-condemned violations of the law of nations, such as piracy.
“This statute was clearly designed to open U.S. courts to those who suffered egregious violations of international law, wherever they are committed,” said Tyler Giannini, Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “The framers had in mind abuses like piracy, which necessarily takes place outside the United States.”
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kiobel in late February and a week later requested supplemental briefing on the question of whether the statute encompasses violations committed outside the territory of the United States. The case, which has attracted international attention, involves claims for human rights abuses committed in Nigeria.
“Kiobel is one of the most significant human rights cases to come before the U.S. Supreme Court in years,” said Susan Farbstein, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “As a team, we felt honored to do the work of clarifying the historical record on how the courts have traditionally interpreted the ATS and the legal doctrines it embodies.”
Historical documents unearthed by the Clinic’s research team in British and American archives confirm that, from the outset, survivors could bring ATS claims for violations of international law occurring outside the United States. In one of the earliest interpretations of the statute, dating to 1795, the U.S. Attorney General opined that individuals harmed in a raid in British Sierra Leone could use the ATS to seek redress in U.S. courts.
“It’s been gratifying to see the principles of justice are transcendent throughout history,” said Russell Kornblith, JD ’12, who was a key member of the project team.
In addition to Kornblith, clinical students Poppy Alexander, JD ’12, Yonina Alexander, JD ’12, and Daniel Saver, JD ’12, contributed countless hours towards the brief, working in close collaboration with the amici. The Harvard team was supported by international researchers, including students from the School of Oriental and African Studies under the supervision of Deval Desai, LLM ’09.
June 13, 2012
Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein
After months of hard work, the International Human Rights Clinic filed today a supplemental brief of amici curiae professors of legal history with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of petitioners in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. We’ll post more about this tomorrow, after we’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.
For now, we wanted to say that this wouldn’t have been possible without the superlative work of our students (and now graduates), Poppy Alexander ’12, Yonina Alexander ’12, Russell Kornblith ’12, and Daniel Saver ’12. We’re so fortunate to be able to work with such talented individuals every day.
May 11, 2012
Susan Farbstein Appointed Assistant Clinical Professor and Co-Director of the International Human Rights Clinic
Posted by Martha Minow, Dean, Harvard Law School, and Tyler Giannini
As a teacher, a mentor, a clinician, and a colleague, Susan Farbstein has already made her mark on the Human Rights Program over the past four years. Today we have the privilege of announcing that she has been appointed as an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School and will become a Co-Director of its International Human Rights Clinic. We look forward to many more years of her leadership, both within the Human Rights Program, and in the larger Law School community.
Click here for the full story on the Harvard Law School homepage.
For the many blog posts written by Susan (and about Susan) click here.
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