You are here

Shell Oil Presses Supreme Court to Deprive Torture Victims of Justice

Former Somali General Was Held Liable for War Crimes

By Bashe Yousuf
America’s Wire Writers Group


WASHINGTON-Will victims of distant genocides and crimes against humanity be allowed to continue using U. S. courts to seek justice against their persecutors, as well as the individuals and corporations that helped facilitate human rights violations across the globe?

In a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Shell Oil is sending a shocking message: victims of mass atrocities should have no standing in our nation’s courts.

The case, Kiobel v. Shell, concerns a group of Nigerian refugees living in the United States who sued Shell for helping Nigeria’s former dictator torture and kill environmentalists.  Rather than simply deny the allegations, Shell is trying to deny the plaintiffs—and all victims of foreign human rights crimes—the right to seek justice in U.S. courts.  Our courts, Shell argues, are powerless to hear claims that a foreign government slaughtered its own people in its own territory—even when the defendants who committed or financed these crimes find refuge in this country.

For victims of human rights abuses, the stakes couldn’t be higher.  For decades, U.S. courts have given survivors what repressive regimes back home denied them:  a chance to confront their abusers, seek truth, and obtain a measure of justice.  I know because I am one of these survivors.

As a young businessman in Somalia in the early 1980s, I was tortured by the former SiadBarre regime.  Accused of treason for the “crime” of volunteering in a civil society group, I was bound by ropes in excruciating positions, suffocated with water, and electrocuted.  I spent most of the next seven years in solitary confinement in a small, windowless cell.

After my release, the United States gave me asylum.  But it also gave me something that victims could not dream of in Somalia—the chance to bring my persecutor to justice.  In America, I discovered that General Mohamad Ali Samantar—the former Somali Minister of Defense who exercised command and control over my torturers—was living in comfortable retirement in a Virginia suburb. 

My lawyers at the Center for Justice and Accountability, a San Francisco-based human rights organization, helped me and other survivors bring a case against Samantar.  In 2010, we fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court—and won.  Samantar was denied immunity for his crimes, and in August 2012, a trial judge ordered him to pay $21 million to his victims.  The judgment sent a clear message: there will be no safe haven in the United States for human rights abusers.

Our case against General Samantar is the latest in a long line of precedents brought under a 200 year-old law—the Alien Tort Statute—that allows victims to sue in federal court for violations of international law.  In 2004, the Supreme Court upheld that law.  But now Shell is asking the Court to ignore that precedent and roll back decades of progress in human rights.

I fear that our case—which has become a beacon for ending impunity in modern-day Somaliland—will be the last of its kind.  Shell claims that human rights do not belong in U.S. courts.  If the Court accepts Shell’s arguments, U.S. law will no longer give survivors of foreign genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity the right to hold perpetrators accountable.

But Shell is wrong.  Mass atrocities are the business of our courts.  International human rights violations know no borders.  Cases like Samantaror Kiobel are not aboutdistant crimes in far-away lands. They are almost always about American lives.  They are about the war criminal next door, seeking to escape responsibility for his past. They are about the torture survivor whose business suit, doctor’s coat, or factory uniform conceals her scars.  And they are about the rogue company whose offices in America reap profits from abuses overseas.

Shell’s lawyers are asking the Supreme Court to shut the courthouse doors on these cases.  I have faith that the Court will hold those doors open.  We must not avert our eyes to the human rights abusers living among us and deny victims their day in court.

BasheYousuf, a torture victim from Somalia, was among plaintiffs who won a $21 million lawsuit against his Somali torturer in Federal Court. America’s Wire is a nonprofit news service run by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Articles can be published free of charge. For more information, visit www.americaswire.org or contact Michael K. Frisby at mike@frisbyassociates.com.) 

America's Wire Staff

Michael K. Frisby
Nadra Kareem Nittle
Staff Writer
Kimberly N. Alleyne

Media Outlets


More News

Initiated by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation enterprise, a National Day of Racial Healing on January 17 Will Help Americans Heal and Overcome Deep Racial Divisions
Ten Years after Hurricane Katrina: Changing Hearts, Minds and Systems in New Orleans
Black Girls Disproportionately Confined; Struggle for Dignity in Juvenile Court Schools
Black Girls and Women Find Healing Through Growing GirlTrek Movement
When It Comes to Health, Place Matters
Integration Ambassadors: Hartford Area Magnet Schools Provide Integrated Education
Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon Works to Improve Strained Race Relations in Hazleton
Tough Standards, Diversity are Assets for Military
Why the Obama Administration Must Do More To Help Working-class Families on Housing
Interrupting The School-To-Prison Pipeline
Innovative Nebraska Program Brings Diversity To Some Highly Segregated Public Schools
Dr. King’s Unfulfilled Dream of School Integration for America’s Children
Literature Can Help Bridge Racial Divide
America’s Twentieth Century Slavery
Blaming the Victims in Their Own Voices: Phi Delta Kappan Does Disservice to Blacks
Foster Care, Uncertain Futures Loom For Thousands of Immigrant Children
Busy Bees Help to Create Permanent Jobs For Prisoners, Ex-Offenders in Chicago
Shell Oil Presses Supreme Court to Deprive Torture Victims of Justice
Jungleland? New Orleans Community Activist Rejects NY Times Depiction of Ninth Ward
Profiling Black Males, Use of Excessive Force: From Rodney King to Trayvon Martin
Law Enforcement Gaps Leave Native Women Vulnerable to Rape and Domestic Violence
MLK's Leadership Would Be Welcomed Today
U.S. Department of Education Investigating Record Number of Civil Rights Complaints
Health Disparities Cause Financial Burdens for Families, Communities and Health Care System
Experts Attack Manhattan Institute Study Claiming End to Segregation in U.S. Cities
Expanding Age Gap Between Whites and Minorities May Increase U.S. Racial Divide
Educators Alarmed: Black, Latino High School Students Perform at Levels of 30 Years Ago
Minority Female Attorneys Find Happiness as Corporate Counsels
Widespread Bias Continues in America Despite Claims of Post-Racial Society
Black Migration From Cities Changes Political Landscape
Housing Shortage Forces Native Americans to Use FEMA Trailers
Lessons of Jacksonville Mayor’s Race Could Aid President Obama
Study Shows Mortgage Lending to Minorities Drops Significantly as Fewer People of Color Purchase Homes
Latinos Praise Fed Hate Crime Investigations
Documentary on Slavery Spurs Racial Healing
Hospital Closings Jeopardize Care in Poor, Urban Communities
Food Stamp Bans Under Review; Many States Seek Prison Savings
Educators Give Failing Grades to Federal No Child Left Behind Act
Minority Youth Media Consumption May Be Hampering Academic Achievement
Researchers Puzzled by Rising Death Rates for African-American Women in Childbirth
People of Color Needed for Important Genetic Research
Civil Rights Commission Questioned: Does It Have a Purpose?
Loans to Minorities Did Not Cause Housing Foreclosures
Counting Minorities in Rural Prisons Looms as Census Issue
California AG With New Ideas on How to Fight Crime
Young Blacks Unlikely to Rally Behind Democrats
States Easing Restrictions Against Ex-Convicts
Residential Segregation Contributes to Health Disparities for People of Color
Conservatives Blame the Poor for Being Poor
Tim Wise : White Crusader Against Racism in America
In Q & A, Shirley J. Wilcher Says Affirmative Action Is Still Needed
Black Males Missing From College Campuses

Report on Media Coverage of Structural Racism

Login or Register to Comment

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com D7 ver.1.1