Appalling violations of the rule of law and police brutality are happening across the globe. Victims have more chances at justice thanks to evolving international human rights law.
The most extreme forms of police brutality are crimes like torture committed by government and military officials. Sometimes perpetrators can be criminally prosecuted in international tribunals like the International Criminal Court.
Individuals might also be held civilly liable in the United States under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). The ATS says that courts can hear cases by a foreigner for violations of the law of nations committed outside the US.
Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and we will soon find out if corporations that conspire with foreign officials to commit human rights abuses can be held liable under the ATS.
The victims are Nigerian nationals who were tortured by the Nigerian government in the 1990's for protesting Shell Oil's activities in the Niger Delta. The victims allege that Shell aided and abetted the police brutality and torture.
At oral argument the victims' attorney argued: "[T]he international human rights norms that are at the basis of this case for the plaintiffs -- crimes against humanity, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions -- all of those human rights norms are defined by actions. They're not defined by whether the perpetrator is a human being or a corporation or another kind of entity."