In recent years, several laws have been used to allow lawsuits in United States courts for human rights violations, and other harms, that occured in other countries. Such transnational lawsuits have been brought through the concerted efforts of victims, local and international activists, and legal teams. Most recently, several major multinational corporations have been sued in the U.S. for human rights abuses committed around the world.
This guide is directed toward non-lawyers who want to learn about this type of litigation, and possibly participate in a lawsuit. Although lawyers, especially those unfamiliar with the mechanics of these types of cases, may also benefit from this guide, it is not intended to be a scholarly treatise. Rather, it is a guide for activist organizations, victims, and others who want to know whether they can help bring corporations and others to justice for harms they have caused. It is not intended to substitute for consultation with an experienced attorney.
When this manual was first isued in 2003, transnational cases, especially against multinational corporations, were still on uncertain ground in the United States, and some scholars considered them to be improper. In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, the most important human rights case in recent years, putting to rest any lingering questions about whether human rights cases can proceed in U.S. courts. Then in 2005, one of the first major corporate human rights cases (Doe v. Unocal) settled, further entrenching legal recourse as "a major strategy for human rights groups" (Business Week magazine.)
These developments have led to new strategies and arguments by multinational corporations in order to avoid liability for human rights and environmental abuses. As more cases are brought and corporations widen the scope of their arguments against transnational litigation, it becomes all the more important that these cases are litigated competently and that all of the relevant considerations are thought through beforehand. Consequently, ERI has recently published a revised second edition in response to these legal trends.
(Please contact us if you'd like to obtain a hard copy of the revised manual.)