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Dutch Court Finds Libyan Officials Liable for Torture of Palestinian Doctor

With all the uproar around the Kiobel and Mohamad cases, I’ve been a bit remiss about updates on important legal developments in other parts of the world.  As we all watch the Supreme Court with anxiety, it’s important not to miss the fact that our partners elsewhere are pushing forward in the quest for effective judicial remedies for human rights abuses – particularly those related to corporate activity. Over the next few days, I'll be commenting  on a number of encouraging developments around the world, beginning today with Libya and the Netherlands...

On March 21, a Dutch court awarded 1 million euros to Palestinian doctor Ashraf El-Hojouj, who was tortured in a Libyan prison after being scapegoated for the infection of Libyan children with HIV.  Dr. Liesbeth Zegveld, an attorney with the law firm Böhler Advokaten – the same firm that is representing Nigerian villagers in an oil spill lawsuit against Shell – successfully argued that Dutch courts should hear the case, even though neither party was Dutch and the injuries were suffered abroad, based on a Dutch civil procedure rule allowing Dutch courts to hear cases that could not reasonably be filed in other countries, in the interests of justice.

I’d like to congratulate Dr. El-Hojouj, as well as Dr. Zegveld, for this exciting result, which was followed up this week by a decision of the U.N. Human Rights Council declaring Libya to have violated Dr. El-Hojouj’s rights to physical integrity, liberty, and fair trial.  This case is particularly significant for Kiobel watchers, because it shows that the civil courts of the Netherlands – Shell’s home – like those of many other countries, are open to human rights cases even when there is little connection to the forum and the defendant is foreign.