Supreme Court: PLO, corporations can´t be sued under torture law (LA TIMES) By David G. Savage WASHINGTON 04/18/12)
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WASHINGTON — Foreign political organizations like the Palestinian
Liberation Organization and multinational corporations cannot be sued
for the torture or murder of persons abroad, including Americans,
under the terms of a 1991 U.S. anti-torture law, the Supreme Court
ruled unanimously Wednesday.
Only individual perpetrators of such crimes can be held liable, the
The decision is a setback for human rights activists who have sought
to extend American law to target inhumane conduct aboard.
The justices said their decision was based on the words of the
Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991. That law authorized damage
suits against “an individual” acting under the authority of a foreign
nation who inflicts torture or murder.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, speaking for the court, said the “text of
the TVPA convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to
organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments
for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more
modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this branch to
The PLO and the Palestinian Authority had been sued by the family of
Azzam Rahim, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian origin, who was arrested
in the West Bank while visiting there in 1995. He was allegedly
tortured and killed by intelligence officers of the Palestinian
Authority, according to the U.S. State Department.
Even if those charges are true, the suit cannot proceed, the high
court said, because it does not mention an individual.
Several lower courts have allowed lawsuits that target multinational
corporations for allegedly aiding foreign tyrants who tortured or
killed. The high court’s opinion cited those decisions and repeated
its conclusion that only “natural persons” can be sued under the anti-
Wednesday’s ruling does not concern a separate law, the Alien Tort
Statute, which has opened the door for suits against multinational
corporations for other overseas violations of human rights.
The justices heard arguments earlier in a case involving Nigerian
plaintiffs who had sued the Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. under that
statute. But rather than rule this term on that issue, the justices
said they will hear a new round of arguments in the fall. (Copyright
© 2012 Los Angeles Times 04/18/12)
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