Kiobel and Mohamad
On Monday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in two cases involving the liability of corporations in U.S. courts for human rights violations abroad. In the first case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Nigerian nationals sued three oil companies, alleging that the companies enlisted the Nigerian government to use its military to suppress local opposition to oil exploration in the Niger Delta. In Mohamad v. Rajoub, the family of a U.S. citizen seeks to sue the Palestinian Authority, alleging that the victim was tortured to death by the Authority in 1995.
The cases require the Court to interpret two statutes, the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 and the Torture Victim Protection Act. The Alien Tort Statute authorizes “any civil action” in U.S. courts for violation of international law or U.S. treaties. The Torture Act implements a U.N. Convention and allows suit against any “individual” acting under the authority of a government. In both cases, the lower courts held that the statute applied only to natural persons – not to a corporation (in Kiobel) or an organization (in Mohamad).