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Companies may be sued over human rights

RECENT COURT RULINGS on the question of whether resource companies and other multinationals can be sued in US courts for alleged human rights violations overseas has made the issue ripe for Supreme Court intervention, possibly as early as next month.

Oil companies Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp. have been battling allegations that they played a role in human rights abuses in Nigeria and Indonesia, respectively.

Other cases on the same legal issue are working their way through the courts, including Sarei v Rio Tinto.

This case relates to allegations against mining giant Rio Tinto over its operations on an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

The case is currently pending before the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed to rehear it.

Human rights lawyers point out that so far the split in the circuit is 3-1 in favor of companies having liability, if several rulings in the Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in recent years are included in the analysis.

Marco Simons, an attorney at Earthrights International, says he would not be surprised if the Supreme Court took the case, although he noted that the justices may want to wait until there are more rulings indicating a broad split among circuits.

"The Supreme Court typically doesn't take cases unless there's a circuit split where the issue is still being bounced around," he said.

Source: New York Times


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