Accused of War Crimes, Oil Giant Shielded by US Supreme Court

Striking a blow to a decades-long fight for justice, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday shielded the oil giant Occidental and the security contractor AirScan from charges of human rights violations stemming from their role in the 1998 cluster bombing of a Colombian village that killed 19 civilians.

In refusing to revive the lawsuit, the top court sided with a November 2014 decision (pdf) in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which held that the families of victims could not pursue the claims against the two U.S.-based companies under the Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victims Protection Act.

The Tort Statute has been a key tool for levying charges against multinational corporations, as well as military and civilian individuals, for a host of abuses—from police torture in Paraguay to the oil company Unocal’s oppression of Burmese villagers.

But a Supreme Court ruling in 2013 made it much harder to use the Tort Statute to sue foreign companies in U.S. courts for human rights abuses. Since then, U.S.-based corporations—including Occidental and AirScan—have successfully invoked the reasoning behind this ruling to dodge culpability for their abuses numerous times.

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The Supreme Court declined to revive the case against Occidental and AirScan on Monday despite the severity of the charges. According to the International Labor Rights Fund, which levied the suit in 2003 along with the Center for Human Rights at the Northwestern University School of Law, on behalf of family members:

Occidental stands accused of numerous other human rights abuses, through its drilling on the ancestral territory of the U’wa people, as well as its role in pressing the Colombian military to violently repress protests.

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