Court weighs int'l human rights law case

Oct. 1, 2012 at 3:23 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court heard arguments on whether foreign victims of torture or other international law violations may sue their alleged perpetrators in U.S. courts.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. told the court Monday it should block civil claims against foreign companies for alleged wrongs happening overseas, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In the case, several Nigerian plaintiffs sued the Shell Oil Co., for allegedly aiding the former Nigerian regime in a campaign of torture, murder and imprisonment against opponents of oil drilling during the 1990s.

Verrilli said if the alleged perpetrator of abuses lived in the United States, it would be a different story. Shell, however, is owned by Royal Dutch Petroleum, and a suit could be filed the Netherlands, he said.

"There is no connection to the United States at all," he said, adding that the United States did not want to antagonize other countries by allowing such suits.

Los Angeles attorney Paul Hoffman said such claims should be decided in the United States because an 18th century law allows courts to hear claims for "a violation of the law of nations."

During the last three decades, the statute was used to bring international claims against perpetrators from Paraguay, the Philippines, Mexico and Nigeria, among other countries, the Times said.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said it didn't make sense to open U.S. courts to deciding suits brought by foreigners for alleged wrongs that happened overseas, a position justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy said they were inclined to support, the Times said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted such claims had been upheld in recent decades.

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