WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 13, 2012 — As the U.S Supreme Court prepares to consider whether corporations are immune from liability for human rights violations, a coalition of leading human rights groups has launched a campaign and website called Corporate Accountability Now. The campaign is dedicated to the proposition that if corporations have the same rights as people when it comes to free speech, then they should be responsible for their actions when they commit grave crimes.
The upcoming Supreme Court argument coincides with widespread popular discontent over the impact of the Court’s controversial 2010 decision in Citizens United, which found that corporations have broad rights that enable them to affect public policy. In the two cases before the Court on Feb. 28, the Justices will be asked to determine whether corporations can be sued for their complicity in torture, crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses.
The Court’s decision will have profound implications for the future of corporate accountability in the United States. The Supreme Court has decided that corporations have rights just like human beings — now the Court must decide whether corporations also have the same responsibilities, or whether a corporation is only a ‘person’ when it benefits the company.
One of the cases is Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which alleges that Royal Dutch/Shell was complicit in crimes against humanity in Nigeria in the 1990s, when numerous Nigerians from the Ogoni region were killed and tortured for their opposition to oil activities in their territory and criticism of Shell. The second case, Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, charges that agents of the Palestinian Authority tortured and killed a U.S. citizen in the West Bank. Kiobel involves the Alien Tort Statute and Mohamad involves the Torture Victim Protection Act.
Corporate Accountability Now is a joint project of EarthRights International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Human Rights Litigation and International Legal Advocacy Clinic at the University of Minnesota Law School. Corporate Accountability Now does not represent the plaintiffs in either Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum or Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, but the sponsoring organizations have filed amicus briefs in these cases.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.