First comes word that a federal judge has dismissed and sent back to Italy a lawsuit filed in Miami – this one by 1,000 Italian businesses - against Carnival Corp. for damages caused by the fatal capsizing in January of its Costa Concordia cruise ship. Notes Associated Press, “Still pending in the U.S. are several lawsuits filed on behalf of hundreds of passengers on the Concordia.” If these cases get sent back as well, good luck to those victims obtaining justice in a country not particularly known for it (and I’m not just talking about criminal justice). Aside from no civil jury trials or common law, Italy’s civil justice system has severe procedural defects, very limited discovery and disclosure, no expert testimony, loser pays, limited appeal rights, or to put it mildly, “[c]ivil litigation in Italy is burdensome, costly, and not plaintiff friendly.” (That’s a quote from former New York Law School student, Rene DuBois, in his paper for the Center for Justice & Democracy during the last school year.)
Second is today's oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which “concerns the torture of Ogoni leaders in Nigeria, but at stake is the future of the law under which this case was brought, the Alien Tort Statute.” See our coverage here.
The United States has the best and, under some circumstances, the only laws available for human rights survivors to obtain some sort of redress and monetary compensation and to hold abusers financially accountable - provided the wrongdoing violates customary international law or a U.S. treaty. If a U.S. corporation, like an oil company headquartered in the U.S. but operating abroad, has assisted a government that has committed human rights abuses, the ATS has been available to hold that company accountable. See more here. Without the ATS, these victims will be forced to litigate their cases in court systems that are as bad as Italy’s or worse.
The United States stands at a crossroads. At its best, our nation has played a crucial role in championing human rights throughout the world and pioneering human rights law. At its worst, it has abandoned its lofty ideals in the name of realpolitik and supported dictators and policies that were responsible for horrible abuses.
We’re about to find out just how much less brightly America's beacon may shine.