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Why the Court Was Right About the Alien Tort Statute

A Better Way to Promote Human Rights

Courtesy Reuters

Last month, the Supreme Court handed down its long-awaited decision in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., ruling against a group of Nigerians who had used the United States’ Alien Tort Statute to sue an oil company that they allege aided the Nigerian government in torture and executions during the 1990s. For years, the U.S. human rights movement had made use of the ATS, which allows noncitizens to seek civil damages in U.S. courts, to seek compensation for victims of foreign atrocities. The court’s majority concluded, however, that U.S. law generally does not apply beyond U.S. borders unless Congress says otherwise, thus dealing what some feared was a grievous blow to the human rights movement. But the decision might be a blessing in disguise. The ATS never proved that useful in advancing the cause of global human rights. And now, by slamming

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