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On human rights, U.S. pursues ‘global governance’ on its own

The Council on Foreign Relations has produced an interactive “Global Governance” monitor to, as they say: “Track, map and evaluate international efforts to address today’s global challenges.”

Council on Foreign Relations

One of the categories monitored by CFR is international human rights (go to link for map, above is just a screen grab) which as you can tell upon a quick glance at the map is one issue in which the U.S. takes a minority stance.

I point this out because international human rights, as NPR reports, was a big issue before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The first case is brought by Nigerians with political asylum in the U.S. who are seeking to sue Shell Oil for complicity in government abuses and atrocities they suffered in Nigeria. The other regards an American citizen allegedly abducted and murdered by the Palestinian Liberation Organization:

Human rights are front and center at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in two cases testing how American law intersects with international law. At issue in both cases is whether foreign nationals in the United States can sue corporations or other entities in U.S. courts for alleged violations of human rights.

Given this, it’s worth taking a closer look at CFR’s Human Rights map. It’s interactive, full of lots more information (and better resolution at their website).

As the map shows, the United States is among a minority of countries to have not agreed to adhere to the statutes of the International Criminal Court. I’m not an expert on international law, but I wondered if these cases going to the U.S. Supreme Court next week should not more appropriately be heard at the International Criminal Court.

Why is the U.S. legal system in charge of deciding if Nigerians can sue Royal Dutch Shell Oil? Why is the U.S. Supreme Court trying a case, the one against the Palestinian Authority, which perhaps should be more a matter for the International Criminal Court, or maybe the U.S. State Department or diplomats?

These cases are all being brought on the basis of some obscure 1789 law called the Alien Tort Law, which was originally passed to fight pirates. NPR reports:

Shell Oil counters that corporations cannot be sued in the United States under the Alien Tort Statute because international law doesn’t recognize corporate liability for human rights crimes.

Well, why doesn’t it? Again, I am not at all knowledgeable when it comes to international law. Are these cases being tried here because of the gaps in international law governing corporate behavior — or because the U.S. refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court? Or both?

In any case, the CFR map indicates how the U.S. often tends to avoid participating in  established ‘global governance’ mechanisms and, instead, often ends up trying to govern the globe on its own.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.