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US Supreme Court Rejects Nigeria Shell Rights Case

Detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, March 7, 2011.
Detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, March 7, 2011.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts do not have jurisdiction to hear lawsuits against foreign companies accused of human rights abuses abroad.

In a decision issued Wednesday, the justices ruled unanimously that a federal court in New York could not hear a case involving Nigerian activists who said the Anglo-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell was complicit in rights abuses committed by the Nigerian government.

The case centered around the killing of Nigerian environmental activists during a crackdown on protesters in the oil-rich Ogoni region between 1992 and 1995.

A lawsuit alleged that Royal Dutch Shell "aided and abetted" military forces by providing them with food, transportation, and compensation, and allowed the military to use their property as a staging ground for attacks.

In his opinion, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said that accepting the case would open the path for U.S. citizens to be charged in foreign courts for alleged violations in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.

The lawsuit was filed under the 1789 Alien Torture Statute, which allows U.S. courts to hear cases brought by foreigners for violations of international law and U.S. treaties.
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