On Thursday last week, the United States Supreme Court delivered a judgment that rewrites the rules on international human rights litigation.
In Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum the Court decided that an idiosyncratic US law dating from 1789, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), does not apply to events that occur in the territories of other states. The ATS has been used by victims of human rights abuses around the globe to seek a remedy for their harms in US courts.
This is a significant blow not only to the plaintiffs in this case. It is a blow to human rights enforcement more broadly. Human rights advocates are now left asking, "Where next?"
The Kiobel case addressed the right of a group of Nigerian nationals to sue Dutch, UK and Nigerian companies (known collectively as Shell) in US courts for aiding and abetting human rights violations — including torture, extrajudicial executions, and crimes against humanity. The plaintiffs were victims of violence directed against them by the Nigerian military in the 1990s for protesting the operations of the foreign companies in their communities.