WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Supreme Court decided Monday to hear arguments a second time in a dispute between oil giant Royal Dutch Shell and Nigerian victims of torture.
The Supreme Court heard a first round of arguments by attorneys last week on the issue of large companies’ responsibility for human rights violations committed outside the United States.
The case could make corporations liable for acts of torture and genocide.
In an unusual decision, the nine justices announced they would hear the matter again at their next session in fall 2012 before ruling on the case. They asked the parties to clarify their written arguments before spring.
The case involves 12 Nigerians who accuse Shell of “complicity in human rights violations committed against them in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta in Nigeria between 1992 and 1995.”
“These violations included torture, extrajudicial executions and crimes against humanity,” their complaint says.
They say Shell “aided and abetted the Nigerian government in committing human rights abuses.”
The complaint also says, “For the victims of human rights violations, such cases often provide the only opportunity to obtain any remedy for their suffering.”
The justices expressed differing viewpoints at the hearing last Tuesday.
“What business does a case like that have in the courts of the United States?” Associate Justice Samuel Alito asked Tuesday. “There’s no connection to the US whatsoever.”
But his colleague, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said: “I think most countries in the world have such a notion that corporations are responsible for the acts of their agents.”
The court is trying to decide corporations’ liability under terms of the US Alien Tort Statute.
The 1789 law gives US courts jurisdiction over “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.”
Torts refer to non-criminal wrongdoing that unfairly cause loss or harm to other persons.
In a separate claim under the Alien Tort Statute, 19 Nigerians have filed a petition to the Supreme Court against US oil giant Chevron.
The Court might ultimately decide both cases simultaneously.