Human Rights Violations Abroad, Supreme Court To Revive Alien Tort Statute For Corporations

By Nethani Palmani | Apr 04, 2017 11:08 AM EDT

The Arab Bank had urged the justices not to accept the case that alleges the Jordanian-based bank served as “paymasters” for Hamas and other terrorist groups. (Photo : Jack Taylor / Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to consider whether Arab Bank will be held liable for allegedly acting as a "paymaster" for terrorists. The court agreed to decide over an issue left undecided in its 2013 decision interpreting the Alien Tort Statute, whether corporations will be sued for human rights violations abroad.

In the 2013 case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the presumption held stated that the law does not reach human rights violations committed in other countries. However, the court said in Kiobel that the presumption can be overcome, if the claims sufficiently concern the U.S.

Victims of attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories said a New York branch of the Arab Bank apply policies that fostered terrorism in the Mideast, contributing to human rights violations abroad. The bank allegedly distributed millions of dollars to terrorists to finance suicide bombings and reward their families over a decade, according to Scotus Blog.

Most federal appeals courts that considered the human rights violations issue said the law allows suits against corporations as well as individuals. But still, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York threw out the case at issue.

With the new plaintiff in hand, the bank argued that it has worked with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism financing instead of financing it. The bank insisted that there were only four transactions out of 500,000 involving terrorists designated by the U.S. government, and that they were due to human error.

The Alien Tort Statute has been revived by human rights activists as a way to seek compensation for human rights violations committed abroad, according to The Washington Post. It reads, "The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."

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