Obama Administration Now Backs Shell in Supreme Court Case (Tar sands in 2013? Oh, you betch ya…)
uk viagraheight=”179″ />by Puck Lo, CorpWatch Blog- The Obama administration is backing Shell Oil after abruptly changing sides in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that could make it even more difficult for survivors of human rights abuses overseas to sue multinational corporations in federal courts. The case will be heard today, October 1.
Lawyers at EarthRights International, a Washington-based human rights law nonprofit, say they suspect that a new legal submission – which was signed only by the U.S. Justice Department – reflects tensions inside the government on how to deal with multinational corporations do business in the U.S. Significantly, neither the State nor the Commerce Department signed on to the brief, despite their key roles in the case.
“It was shocking,” Jonathan Kaufman EarthRights legal policy coordinator commented to Reuters. “The brief waslargely unexpected, based on what they had filed previously, and pretty breathtaking.”
At issue is the Alien Torts Claim Act (ATCA) – an 18th century U.S. law originally designed to combat piracy on the high seas – that has been used during the last 30 years as a vehicle to bring international law violations cases to U.S. federal courts.
Lawyers began using ATCA as a tool in human rights litigation in 1979, when the family of 17-year-old Joel Filartiga, who was tortured and killed in Paraguay, sued the Paraguayan police chief responsible. Filartiga v. Peña-Irala set a precedent for U.S. federal courts to punish non-U.S. citizens for acts committed outside the U.S. that violate international law or treaties to which the U.S. is a party. ATCA has brought almost 100 cases of international (often state-sanctioned) torture, rape and murder to U.S. federal courts to date.
In recent years, a number of ATCA lawsuits have also been filed against multinationals which has angered the business lobby. “Expansion of this problem into the international arena viaATCA promises nothing but trouble for U.S. economic and foreign policy interests worldwide,” wrote John Howard, vice president of international policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “U.S. national interests require that we not allow the continuing misapplication of this 18th century statute to 21st century problems by the latter day pirates of the plaintiffs’ bar.”
No plaintiff against a corporation has won on ATCA grounds, although some have settled or plea bargained. In 1996 Doe v. Unocal, a lawsuit filed by ethnic Karen farmers against Unocal (now owned by Chevron) set a new precedent when a U.S. federal court ruled that corporations and their executive officers could be held legally responsible for crimes against humanity. Unocal contracted with the Burmese military dictatorship to provide security for a natural gas pipeline project on the border of Thailand and Burma. The suit accused Unocal of complicity in murder, rape and forcing locals to work for Unocal for free. Shortly before the jury trial was set to begin in 2005, Unocal settled with the plaintiffs by paying an undisclosed sum, marking the first time a corporation settled in any way a case based on the ATCA. Read more…