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Verantwortlichkeit von Unternehmen unter dem Alien Tort Statute

Eine Bestandsaufnahme nach Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

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In the past fifteen years, the Alien Tort Statute (28 U.S.C. § 1350) has become the leading instrument for the litigation of human rights abuses committed by companies worldwide. It allows non-US citizens to seek damages for violations of international law before U.S. federal courts, regardless of where the alleged wrongdoings took place, as long as the defendant company (or individual) is subject to the personal jurisdiction of the court. To date, about 150 ATS claims against companies have been filed, with only very few actually proceeding to trial. The liability of companies is usually premised on the aiding and abetting of actions committed by state organs.

In 2004, the Supreme Court admonished courts to exercise caution in recognizing causes of action under the ATS (Sosa v. Álvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692). Since then, the bar for ATS claims has risen substantially. In 2007/2009, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined the mens rea standard for aiding and abetting to be purpose, and not mere knowledge, to further the principal offense. In a recent decision (Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010)), the same court held that companies can not be sued under the ATS at all, because international (human rights and criminal) law is only addressed to states and individuals; thus, companies are unable to violate it.

This article begins with a general introduction to the ATS and the relevant case law (part B). Next, it turns to the jurisdictional requirement of a “violation of the law of nations” (part C. II). The main issue here is whether this violation must be committed by the person being sued (e.g., the company which assisted a state's human rights violations), or whether it can be committed by another person (the state as a principal; a natural person as an organ of the company), for whose actions the defendant is held responsible on other grounds. This is followed by a review of recent case law on aiding and abetting as well as on corporate liability (parts D and E). While the correct mens rea for aiding and abetting would appear to be knowledge rather than purpose, the Second Circuit was right in holding that at present, international law is not directly binding on companies.

The article concludes with an assessment of the impact of the Kiobel decision. From the viewpoint of legal policy, it is unfortunate that victims of human rights violations are losing a crucial remedy to seek redress from companies. It is equally regrettable that the development of customary international law towards corporate accountability has suffered a serious setback.
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Language: German

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-06-01

More about this publication?
  • Archiv des Völkerrechts (Archive of Public International Law - AVR) has been founded as a quarterly journal in 1948. With its scientific papers, reports and book reviews, the journal covers the full spectrum of developments in public international law.

    Das Archiv des Völkerrechts ist eine im Jahre 1948 gegründete Vierteljahresschrift. In Abhandlungen, Berichten und Buchbesprechungen behandelt sie die Entwicklung des internationalen Rechts in seiner ganzen Breite. Das AVR ist ein Forum der deutschsprachigen Völkerrechtswissenschaft und sucht den internationalen Dialog des Faches.

    Die Beiträge reflektieren dogmatische und theoretische Grundfragen des Völkerrechts ebenso wie die Entwicklung der internationalen Rechtsprechung. Die behandelten Rechtsgebiete reichen vom überlieferten Kernbestand des zwischenstaatlichen Völkerrechts und des Rechts der bewaffneten Konflikte über das Recht internationaler Organisationen, die Menschenrechte, das Umweltvölkerrecht und Welthandelsrecht bis hin zu Fragen des internationalen Verwaltungsrechts.

    Im Mittelpunkt standen in der jüngsten Zeit neben Beiträgen zu aktuellen völkerrechtlichen Konflikten insbesondere die Diskussion um die wechselseitige Durchdringung partikularer und universeller Rechtsordnungen und die Entstehung einer materialen völkerrechtlichen Prinzipienordnung.Das AVR erscheint vierteljährlich und veröffentlicht Beiträge in deutscher, englischer und französischer Sprache.

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