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Shell Oil Not Liable to Nigerian Citizens for Human Rights Abuses
Note to people who have been murdered, raped, beaten, or robbed by your country's army, with the assistance of a corporation such as transporting the attacking troops, feeding them, paying them, and giving them access to corporate property as a staging ground: You cannot sue the corporation in U.S. courts. Not even if the corporation intended that its assistance enabled murder, rape, etc., rather than merely providing assistance to troops without intending the troops commit such crimes. You can, however, use U.S. courts to sue the individuals within the corporation who made the decisions to help the attackers, provided you can figure out who they are.

That's the result of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act without trial. That case that involves Nigerian people who had protested against oil drilling and the murderous response of the Nigerian military, allegedly assisted by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, a venture of then-Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell Transport and Trading Company PLC. (Those companies have since changed form and name slightly.) Given the allegations in the case--none of which involved Americans or took place in the U.S.-- the Alien Tort Claims Act was the only statute plaintiffs could look to bring suit in the U.S. against the corporations, and that avenue no longer exists.

Not Liable for Crimes Against Humanity

While the concurring opinion argues the intent of the corporation should dictate whether the plaintiffs' claims can go forward, and finds insufficient evidence that Shell intended the Nigerian military to act as it did so dismissing the claims is appropriate, the majority opinion is clear: regardless of intent, the claims cannot go forward because plaintiffs are suing corporations, and corporations are not liable under the Alien Tort Claims Act, not even for crimes against humanity. Because corporations are not subject to the statute, under no set of facts--corporations deliberately committing the crimes themselves rather than merely assisting state actors--can the statute be used to sue them. Individuals, in contrast, can be held liable, and so if they wish plaintiffs can sue people within the corporation.

The majority notes that Congress can try to change this result through new legislation. Until then, the majority decided, the Alien Tort Claims Act is governed--in terms of who can be sued and for what they can be sued--by international law. If no treaty enables the suit, and no treaty would enable this one, "customary international law" must allow the suit for it to go forward. To date, the majority notes, customary international law doesn't allow these suits against corporations. So plaintiffs are out of luck. And corporations are free to improve their bottom line by helping foreign countries hurt their citizens.

That is, unless plaintiffs successfully appeal, which they reportedly intend to do. Until such time, however, most cases under the Alien Tort Claims Act will be stopped by this opinion.

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Ms. Field - your rage is misplaced. The violence took place in Nigeria and was carried out by the Nigerian government. The company involved, Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited, is Nigerian, and is majority-owned by NNPC of Nigeria. The claimants need to bring suit against the Nigerian entities (ShellPetDevCo, NNPC, Nigerian government) here in Nigeria. To sue the minority party (Shell Global) outside of Nigeria is frankly offensive. If the roles were reversed, no American would ever sue the minority party outside of the U.S. jurisdiction. Stop the double standard.

September 20 2010 at 6:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just go After the Corporate Lackies. Thats probably the best you can do. It is diffucult to find the Head of the Snake

September 19 2010 at 4:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Our multinaional are deeply involved in countries where labor and social justice organizers are murdered and the goverments fail to investigate. That is a fact.

September 19 2010 at 2:25 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

As written, I fail to see the argument the good Counselor is making in an attempt to bad mouth her country, its laws and corporations. Shell oil is a Dutch company. I did not note a connection made to an American company or American law. As a side note, let us remember that all the countries in the world combined, cannot equal the money, lives and material contributions, that Americans have made to help the poor people's of the world. Sometimes it's difficult to understand why our forefathers endorsed such unlimited freedom of speech, that allows people to critcize our country and its policies. Perhaps its just that we want to know who are our friends.

September 19 2010 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Greedy CEO's backed by Wall Street crooks and Banksters. And an Oil company too. Probably got the mercenaries from Black Hawk.

September 19 2010 at 12:13 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply