Alien Tort Statute

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral argument on Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and I gotta say, I’m excited to see how this one turns out.

The substantive issue is whether corporations are excluded from tort liability for violations of the law of nations such as torture, extrajudicial executions or other crimes against humanity, or instead may be sued in the same manner as any other private actor under the Alien Tort Statute for such egregious violations (from petitioners’ brief).

PSLawnet give a run down of the case here “SCOTUS Takes on Human Rights and the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 Tomorrow“.

This posting caught my eye because onight, I will be at the Red Cross, as an instructor with their International Humanitarian Law program. I am–by no means–an expert in the topic; just an educated layperson. The American Red Cross has a mandate to disseminate information about international humanitarian law, how it protects people in places of armed conflict and how it differs from human rights law. The course is part of how they meet that obligation and it’s a pleasure to be part of the program.

I had a conversation, years ago, with a friend that has stuck with me, about the value of programs like the American Red Cross’s instruction in the Geneva Conventions. I recognize that it seems largely irrelevant to most American lives. Few of us will be soldiers and required to behave in accordance with the conventions in an international armed conflict. Even fewer of us Americans will be civilians in the midst of an international armed conflict. For us, talking about who and what IHL protects and why is entirely academic. For us, figuring out how we can accept that armed conflict is rational and at the same time expect it to be constrained by promises made under the Geneva Conventions is just a mental exercise.

But I believe awareness and practice parsing these dilemmas is critical to living as a responsible human being. You may not be able to affect circumstance, but knowing what the ideal is, knowing how the actual shakes down, and recognizing that policies affect both facilitates mindful living. Mindful living creates cultures that prioritize ethics, empathy and an emphasis on human dignity.

So, no, understanding the Geneva Conventions is not necessary to modern American life. But yes, contemplating the needs of human dignity for all people is.

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