By Charles Wanguhu
The Alien Tort Claims Act was adopted in 1789 as part of the original Judiciary Act. The Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) allows foreign victims of human rights abuses to sue perpetrators in United States courts. In a recent development in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell, the the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected outright the theory that corporations can be held liable in the United States under the Alien Tort Statute for violations of international law in foreign countries.
The doctrine was essential in holding corporation to account and one of the judges in the case Pierre Leval indicated in his opinion that the judgment :
“deals a substantial blow to international law and its undertaking to protect fundamental human rights.”
In a case in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Sarei v. Rio Tinto the court appeared to sidestep the more complex legal issues by suggesting that the parties in the ten-year-old lawsuit mediate their dispute.
The ramifications of the judgment in the 2nd circuit are yet to be felt as its decision directly conflicts with previous jurisprudence allowing claims against corporations under the Alien Tort Statute.