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Issue Season

Spring

Document Type

Research Article

Abstract

Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. involves an action under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). The case was brought in the United States, Southern District of New York, by the widow of Dr. Barinem Kiobel, a Nigerian activist and member of the Ogoni tribe, and others for human rights violations committed in the Niger River Delta. Defendants include Royal Dutch Petroleum, Shell Transport and Trading Co., and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria. Although the human rights violations including murder and torture were allegedly committed by the Nigerian military government, it is claimed that the Royal Dutch Petroleum defendants aided and abetted the Nigerian military in the human rights violations. The plaintiffs had engaged in protests about the environmental damage caused by the Royal Dutch Petroleum defendants in the area of the Niger Delta and the plight of the Ogoni people in Ogoniland. At the trial level, the court decided that certain claims involving violations of the Law of Nations could be heard by the court. However, the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided that there is a presumption against extraterritoriality in the application of the ATS, and that "mere presence" of a defendant corporation in the United States is insufficient for a court to assume jurisdiction. However, the question remains: What corporate presence would serve as a sufficient basis for a court to assume jurisdiction under the ATS? Given the possibility that corporations could, and perhaps in the future will, be found liable for human rights violations occurring in foreign locales even after Kiobel, prudent risk management behooves corporations and their counsel to monitor whether human rights violations are occurring in connection with their operations, even when those human rights violations are committed by foreign governments or their agents.