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Kiobel and the Surprising Death of Universal Jurisdiction Under the Alien Tort Statute

  • Julian G. Ku (a1)

Extract

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. has not ended future debate about the scope and impact of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). But the Kiobel Court did resolve at least one issue with surprising unanimity: both the opinion for the Court by Chief Justice John Roberts and the main concurring opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer refused to interpret the ATS as authorizing universal jurisdiction. All nine justices rejected decades of lower-court precedent and widespread scholarly opinion when they held that the ATS excluded cases involving purely extraterritorial conduct, even if the alleged conduct constituted acts that are universally proscribed under international law.

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1 Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013).

2 28 U.S.C. §1350.

3 UN Charter Art. 2.

4 See, e.g., 1 Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States §404 (1987) [hereinafter Restatement]; Bassiouni, M. Cherif, 2 International Criminal Law: Multilateral and Bilateral Enforcement Mechanisms 169–80 (3d ed. 2008) (discussing the basis for universal jurisdiction over these crimes).

5 Filártiga v. Pen˜a-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980).

6 Id. at 888.

7 See, e.g., Kadic v. Karadzˇic´, 70 F.3d 232, 236 (2d Cir. 1995) (claim related to atrocities committed in Bosnia by leader of Bosnian Serb forces); In re Estate of Marcos, Human Rights Litig., 25 F.3d 1467, 1475 (9th Cir. 1994) (claim related to torture and wrongful death committed in the Philippines by former Philippine president); Beanal v. Freeport-McMoRan, Inc., 969 F.Supp. 362, 371 (E.D. La. 1997).

8 Kadic, 70 F.3d at 239.

9 Id. at 240 (citing Restatement, supra note 4, §404 cmt. b).

10 Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004).

11 Id. at 732.

12 Id. at 760 (Breyer, J., concurring) (quoting Marcos, 25 F.3d at 1475).

13 Id. at 762 (citing Brief of Amicus Curiae the European Commission in Support of Neither Party at 24 n.54, Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004) (No. 03-339), available at http://documents.law.yale.edu/sites/default/files/Brief%20of%20European%20Commission%20to%20Sosa.pdf).

14 See, e.g., Donovan, Donald Francis & Roberts, Anthea, The Emerging Recognition of Universal Civil Jurisdiction, 100 AJIL 142, 163 (2006); Leval, Pierre N., Distant Genocides, 38 Yale J. Int’l L. 231 (2013).

15 See, e.g., Petitioners’ Supplemental Opening Brief, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013) (No. 10-1491); Supplemental Brief of Yale Law School Center for Global Legal Challenges as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioners, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013) (No. 10-1491); Supplemental Brief of Amici Curiae International Law Scholars in Support of Petitioners, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013) (No. 10-1491). Briefs related to Kiobel are available online at http://cja.org/section.php?id=509.

16 Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S.Ct. 1659, 1665 (2013).

17 Pub. L. 102–256, 106 Stat. 73 (1992) (codified at 28 U.S.C. §1350 note).

18 Kiobel, 133 S.Ct. at 1665.

19 Id. at 1668 (quoting United States v. La Jeune Eugenie, 26 F.Cas. 832, 847 (CCD. Mass. 1822) (No. 15,551)).

20 Id. at 1673 (Breyer, J., concurring) (“And just as we have looked to established international substantive norms to help determine the statute’s substantive reach, so we should look to international jurisdictional norms to help determine the statute’s jurisdictional scope” (citation omitted).).

21 Id. (citing Restatement, supra note 4, §§402, 404).

22 Id. at 1674.

23 Id. (emphasis added).

24 Supplemental Brief of the European Commission on Behalf of the European Union in Support of Neither Party at 13–26, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013) (No. 10-1491) (arguing that universal civil jurisdiction under the ATS conforms to international law principles of jurisdiction). Reasons exist to doubt this claim, however, since most of the examples cited by the European Commission involve civil recovery pursuant to criminal prosecutions (“actions civiles “). Indeed, almost no cases outside of the ATS context involve a private cause of action to enforce universal jurisdiction norms. The only such case cited, involving a Palestinian doctor recovering damages in a Dutch court for injuries suffered in Libya, still needed to be”sufficiently connected” to the Dutch court. See id. at 25 n.70.

25 See, e.g., Koh, Harold Hongju, How Is International Human Rights Law Enforced?, 74 Ind. L.J. 1397, 1414 (1999) (describing how Filártiga and subsequent ATS cases helped build support for ban on torture); see also Burley, Anne Marie, The Alien Tort Statute and the Judiciary Act of 1789: A Badge of Honor, 83 AJIL 461, 489–93 (1989) (defending the use of ATS litigation to vindicate broader abstract norms).

26 Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F.2d 774 (D.C. Cir. 1984).

27 Id. at 799 (Bork, J., concurring).

28 Id. at 805.

29 Id. at 801 (quoting Oetjen v. Central Leather Co., 246 U.S. 297, 302 (1918).

30 See, e.g., Burley, supra note 25, at 469 (criticizing Bork’s approach); Forti v. Suarez-Mason, 672 F.Supp. 1531, 1539 (N.D. Cal. 1987) (rejecting Bork’s approach in Tel-Oren and citing contrary authority).

31 See, e.g., Bradley, Curtis A. & Goldsmith, Jack L., Customary International Law as Federal Common Law: A Critique of the Modern Position, 110 Harv. L. Rev. 815 (1997); Weisburd, A.M., State Courts, Federal Courts, and International Cases, 20 Yale J. Int’l L. 1, 38–44 (1995); see also Ramsey, Michael D., International Law as Non-preemptive Federal Law, 42 Va. J. Int’l L. 555 (2002).

32 Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 729 (2004).

33 Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1659, 1664 (2013) (emphasis added).

34 Id. at 1674 (Breyer, J., concurring).

35 Ku, Julian & Yoo, John, Beyond Formalism in Foreign Affairs: A Functional Approach to the Alien Tort Statute, 2004 Sup. Ct. Rev. 153 . We extend and develop this argument further in Taming Globalization: Inter National Law, The U.S. Constitution, and the New World Order 178–97 (2012), where we argue that privileging functional competence is a practical way to manage the collision of international and domestic law norms.

36 See Supplemental Brief of the Governments of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as Amici Curiae in Support of Neither Party, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013) (No. 10-1491) (arguing against the applicability of the ATS overseas); Brief of the United States as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioners, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013) (No. 10-1491).

* The author would like to thank Tatiana Sulovska, Hofstra Law class of 2015, for her outstanding research assistance on this project.

Kiobel and the Surprising Death of Universal Jurisdiction Under the Alien Tort Statute

  • Julian G. Ku (a1)

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