CPR Archive for John Knox

Death of a Statute: The Kiobel Ruling

by John Knox | April 19, 2013

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ended a generation of human rights litigation in the United States by holding, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, that the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) does not apply to actions occurring in foreign countries. The ATS allows plaintiffs to sue in federal courts for torts committed in violation of international law and, since 1980, plaintiffs have used it for claims of grave human rights violations, such as torture, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killing, and even genocide, arising in other countries. Now it appears that the federal courts will be closed to such claims.  

In recent years, plaintiffs had brought a series of cases against corporations that accused them of complicity in human rights abuses. Many of those claims were against corporations exploiting natural resources in developing countries. For example, Kiobel arose from Shell’s decades-long presence in the Niger Delta. In the 1990s, in response to protests by the Ogoni people about the environmental harm caused by oil extraction, Nigeria cracked down, destroying villages, arresting dissidents, and, in 1995, executing nine Ogoni leaders, including Ken Saro-Wiwa. Members of the Ogoni, including Esther Kiobel, the widow of one of the executed men, sued Shell in U.S. federal court, claiming that it aided and abetted the Nigerian government in its human rights abuses.  

In 2010, the Second Circuit rejected their suit on the ground that corporations cannot be responsible for violations of international law. Other circuit courts, including the D.C. and Seventh, disagreed, ...

Kiobel Returns!

by John Knox | September 28, 2012
Remember Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, argued before the Supreme Court last term?  It’s back – the Court will hear argument again Monday – and bigger than before.  A brief recap:  For decades, Shell has extracted oil from the Niger Delta, causing extensive environmental degradation.  The government of Nigeria, with the alleged support of Shell, cracked down on protests by the local residents, the Ogoni tribe, by executing their leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight others in 1995.  Members of the ...

Planting the Seeds of the Future: The Plant Genetic Resources Treaty

by John Knox | July 26, 2012
a(broad) perspective Today’s post is the sixth in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties.  Each month, this series will discuss one of these treaties.  Previous posts are here. International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Adopted by the Food and Agriculture Organization on November 3, 2001 Entered into Force on June 29, 2004 Number of Parties: 127 Signed by the United ...

Preserving the Pristine: Why the United States Should Ratify the Antarctic Liability Annex

by John Knox | April 11, 2012
a(broad) perspective Today’s post is second in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties.  Each month, this series will discuss one of these ten treaties.  Previous posts are here. Annex VI on Liability Arising from Environmental Emergencies to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty Adopted and Opened for Signature on June 14, 2005 Entry into Force Pending Signed by the United States ...

A New Twist in the Kiobel Case

by John Knox | March 07, 2012
Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum, the case asking whether corporations can be liable in federal court for violations of international human rights law.  In the decision under review, the Second Circuit – unlike every other circuit court to consider the question – had held that they could never be liable.  So one might think that a logical way for the petitioners to begin their oral argument would be to give an ...

Can Corporations Violate Human Rights? In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Supreme Court May Say Yes ... or No

by John Knox | February 23, 2012
On February 28, the Supreme Court will hear argument in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum, a case with far-reaching implications for efforts to hold corporations accountable when they commit or are complicit in abuses of human rights.  For over fifty years, Shell has extracted oil from Nigeria, causing great harm to the environment and people of the Niger delta.  The Ogoni people living in the delta protested Shell’s operations, and in response the Nigerian government harshly oppressed them.  Most infamously, ...

Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership

by John Knox | January 20, 2012
For more than a century, the United States took the lead in organizing responses to international environmental problems.  The long list of environmental agreements spearheaded by the United States extends from early treaties with Canada and Mexico on boundary waters and migratory birds to global agreements restricting trade in endangered species and protecting against ozone depletion.  In the last two decades, however, U.S. environmental leadership has faltered.  The best-known example is the lack of an effective response to climate change, ...

In Chevron versus Ecuador, the Decisions (and the Ironies) Multiply

by John Knox | January 09, 2012
If environmental cases had their own Olympics, the dispute between Chevron and Ecuador would be a contender for multiple gold medals.  It seems to have a shot not only at winning the award for the largest damages, but also for running the longest and appearing in the most courtrooms.  To recap:  Residents of the Amazon have been trying for nearly 20 years to receive compensation for massive environmental damage Chevron’s predecessor, Texaco, allegedly caused in Ecuador in what’s been called ...

Does the Radiation from Japan Violate International Law When It Crosses International Boundaries?

by John Knox | March 22, 2011
Friday, the first traces of the plume of radioactive gas from the damaged Japanese reactors were reported to reach California. The cornerstone of international environmental law is often said to be the “prevention principle,” which says that states have “the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States.”  Does that mean that the transboundary radiation has put Japan in violation of international law?  In a word, No. Although the ...

Who Wanted Ecuador to Try the Biggest Environmental Case in History? That Would be the Defendant, Chevron

by John Knox | February 18, 2011
On Monday, Valentine’s Day, a judge in Ecuador sent Chevron the opposite of a valentine: it ordered the giant oil company to pay $8.6 billion in damages and cleanup costs for harm caused by exploration and drilling by Texaco (acquired by Chevron in 2001) in a giant tract of rain forest near the headwaters of the Amazon River. The plaintiffs brought the class action on behalf of 30,000 indigenous residents of the region, who have long claimed that by dumping billions of ...

Also from John Knox

John H. Knox is the Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law at Wake Forest University. He has taken a leave from CPR while serving as the United Nations' first Independent Expert on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 

Death of a Statute: The Kiobel Ruling

Knox | Apr 19, 2013 | Access to the Courts

Kiobel Returns!

Knox | Sep 28, 2012 | Access to the Courts

A New Twist in the Kiobel Case

Knox | Mar 07, 2012 | Access to the Courts

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