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http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/...1512.story

The US Supreme Court has decided to resolve a very interesting issue: should corporations and political groups can be held liable in American courts for their role in the torture, killing and enslavement of victims abroad?

Ever since WWII, international law is clear that human rights abuses can be prosecuted around the globe. What is less clear is whether the targets of such cases are limited to the people who perpetrated the abuses, or if it can be extended to corporations and political organizations as well. For instance, in the Nazi-era case of IG Farben, which supplied the deadly gas for the Auschwitz death camp, 24 executives of IG Farben were charged with war crimes but not the company itself. But with two recent lawsuits under appeal, one against the Royal Dutch Shell oil company and another against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (both for crimes involving torture and execution), the US Supreme court has decided to listen to and review the appeals.

So what do you think? Should corporations and political groups the world over be held liable in court for human rights violations they commit abroad? Or should they stick to prosecuting individuals?

I think what is being discussed is whether such action should lie in the criminal courts. There is, as matters stand ample opportunity to sue in the civil courts, for compensation, for example personal injuries.

I understand, but worry about the citing of IG Farben. There is an old adage about hard cases making bad law. I don't blame Ken Saro-Wiwa's family for indulging in compensation tourism -- there seems to be no obvious reason why an Anglo-Dutch company should be sued concerning events which took place in Nigeria. For lawyers, it is a dream: the ability to sue more and bigger. But who should go to jail? Non-executive directors? CEOs, on the basis they should be across everything that happens even in firms which are to all intents and purposes, bigger than medium-sized countries? The entire board?

No. I think that if a man or woman takes it upon themselves to do some awful deed, or make sure that it happens, then those people should suffer. But perhaps I have misunderstood.

It would have been more helpful if the organisations were not both foreign, and one without much sympathy in the US. If the SC makes a decision based on this, later on, it will be American organisations which will in short order find themselves under fire.

There is a certain irony in quoting the Nazi case, when the War Crimes Tribunal, applying hastily worked out principles to deal with the nazis, had not seen fit to sue the company at the time. It is plain what their view was.

You broke it down quite well. So it seems then that the issue, based on the two cases being reviewed, is thus: Every court in the world opens its doors to human rights cases, which is considered a matter of international law. So should american courts handle such crimes, including human rights cases between aggrieved foreigners and respective corporations/ political groups, like they would handle cases between individuals citizens of the world?

I think that what the US Supreme Court will be considering, will be the extent to which a foreigner should be able to avail himself of the US Courts, where damages are notably high. The question of determining which is the proper forum applies to all areas of law, including divorce settlements, or, let us say, the law relating to the Incapacitated Adult. Suppose I live in Britain, and am British, yet I own property in California. A head injury causes me to be incapable of dealing with my own affairs, and the English Court makes an order enabling someone to do so for me. But what about the Californian property, which it is desired to sell? Or French? Because it is real property, the English order will not work; separate proceedings will have to be started in these other jurisdictions -- the French will want to preserve the inheritance laws, and the Californians, whatever they do, will keep it under the supervision of the competent local court. In the modern world, of course, the Conflict of Laws plays a considerable part: for the most part, civilised countries manage to to sort things out, and I imagine that, in reality, the SC is trying to refine this aspect.