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The US Supreme Court has decided that the country’s federal courts do not have jurisdiction to hear lawsuits against foreign corporations accused of aiding in human rights abuses abroad.

The justices ruled unanimously that a court in New York could not hear claims made by 12 Nigerians who accused Anglo-Dutch oil company Royal Dutch Shell of complicity in a violent crackdown on protesters by Nigeria’s military ruler Sani Abacha between 1992 and 1995.


The suit was filled in 2002 by Esther Kiobel on behalf of victims – including her husband Barinem – who was executed in 1995.

Her case was based on a 1789 law known as the Alien Tort Statute. Tha law had been dormant for nearly two centuries before lawyers began using it in the 1980s to bring international human rights cases in US courts.

In February 2012, the Supreme Court heard arguments over whether the Alien Tort Statute could apply to corporations. Later, the court expanded the case to consider whether the law could be invoked in similar cases against anyone.

Esther Kiobel, now 48-years-old, lives in Dallas. She was given American citizenship in 2000, two years before she filled the suit. “My situation is terrible,” she said in a past interview. “This country brought me here as a refugee. They saved me from being killed. That’s why we want our case here. Right now, I don’t feel safe in Nigeria.”


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