US Supreme Court agrees to rehear the case of Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum to determine corporate responsibility for abuses committed abroad

On 5th March 2012, the US Supreme Court agreed to rehear the case of Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum following a hearing on 28th February 2012. This dispute between Royal Dutch Petroleum and a group of 12 Nigerians of Ogoni ethnicity involves the allegation that Royal Dutch Petroleum was complicit in aiding and abetting the Abacha dictatorship in Nigeria in committing human rights violations against them between 1992 and 1995 in the Niger Delta and in Nigeria. The human rights violations included torture, extrajudicial executions, and crimes against humanity. The Ogoni people are an ethnic minority that have endured displacement by state violence since 1999. In the previous hearing on 28th February, corporate liability vis-à-vis a foundation-era law known as the US Alien Tort Statute (ATS) of 1789, was at issue. It was considered that the ATS gives US courts jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” The Supreme Court rehearing will consider the question of whether an entity, be it individual, state, or corporation can be liable for abuses committed abroad according to the ATS.

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