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25 April 2018 at 09:37 BST

Human rights claims against companies a matter for Congress, not courts

Human rights abuses are a matter for Congress, according to a US Supreme Court case on financing militant attacks.

Claims made against bank helping to finance attacks Shutterstock

Foreign corporations in America cannot be sued for human rights abuses under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute, according to a US Supreme Court ruling, which divided 5-4 along partisan lines of 5 conservative justices and 4 liberal justices. In Jesner v. Arab Bank PLC, the court refused to revive a lawsuit claiming the Jordan-based bank helped finance militant attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

A matter for Congress

In ruling that the bank cannot be held liable, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated the matter must be left to Congress to decide whether to allow such suits against foreign corporations, not the courts. Justice Kennedy stated, "With the ATS, the First Congress provided a federal remedy for a narrow category of international-law violations committed by individuals. Whether, more than two centuries on, a similar remedy should be available against foreign corporations is similarly a decision that Congress must make." Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissenting judgement that barring suits against foreign companies ensures they “remain immune from liability for human rights abuses, however egregious they may be.”

Financing terrorism

The plaintiffs, comprising some 6000 non-U.S. citizens, are victims of terrorist attacks in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. They alleged Arab Bank and its offices in New York should be held liable for knowingly financing terrorism, including suicide bombings and other attacks. They said Arab Bank used its New York branch to transfer money that helped Hamas and other Islamist militant groups fund attacks and reward perpetrators’ families between 1995 and 2005.


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