Liability for Alleged Human Rights Abuses Abroad to be Argued Before U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing two cases on the scope of U.S. courts to hear cases involving alleged human rights abuses, including torture, in foreign jurisdictions.  The respected SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States of America) blog site discusses the cases here, saying:  "Both cases have implications for corporations, including multi-national firms, as well as for political organizations, that are accused of violating the rights of individuals under international or U.S. law"

Because of past litigation where efforts were made to hold Unocal responsible for alleged human rights abuses by the Myanmar government during the construction of Yadana gas pipeline project, these cases are important for companies operating in Thailand, particularly companies that are considering operations in Myanmar. (Unocal has since merged with Chevron Corporation.)  The lawsuit against Unocal was eventually settled, but with considerable controversy, publicity and contention. 

Reports from The National Law Journal and other sources say the Court expressed scepticism during oral argument about applying U.S. laws to corporations in foreign human rights cases.  Justice Samuel Alito, Jr., reportedly asked “What business does a case like that have in the courts of the United States?"  These claims are based on a law enacted over 200 years ago, the Alien Tort Statute, and Justice Alito seemed to be even questioning the constitutionality of that statute.

We will be following these two U.S. Supreme Court cases here because of their implications for companies doing business in Thailand.