Adjudication without Frontiers
Edited by Horatia Muir Watt, Lucia Bíziková, Agatha Brandão de Oliveira and Diego P. Fernandez Arroyo
Chapter 15: Beyond the State: how far can rights reach? Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.
Kiobel is a landmark decision, handed down by the United States Supreme Court in 2013, in the field of jurisdiction for corporate human rights violations. The claims here were brought under the Alien Tort Statute, by Esther Kiobel and other Nigerian nationals, in a putative class action against The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria and other related entities before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It was alleged that the respondents, while operating oil production facilities in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta between 1992, were complicit with the Nigerian government’s human rights abuses. The crimes consisted of murder, torture, unlawful detention, expropriation and exile of the group of petitioners and their relatives. The District Court dismissed the claims. Both parties cross-appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The question was whether civil liability could be attached to corporations under the law of nations for the purposes of the Alien Tort Statute, which provides that ‘the district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.’ On 17 September 2010, the Second Circuit found that claims could not be brought against corporations under the Alien Tort Statute. The petitioners asked the Supreme Court to grant a review of the Second Circuit’s decision. Oral arguments were held on 28 February 2012.
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