Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Holding Spy Tech Companies Responsible for Human Rights Violations

In a blog post closely related to yesterday's NY Times Peter Weiss op-ed, Cindy Cohn and Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation take a look at how the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and Mohamad v. Rojaub cases pose serious implications for corporate accountability for human rights violations. In the wake of recent events in the Middle East, North Africa, and China--including the death of American journalist Marie Colvin--U.S. and E.U. manufactured equipment and technology has been linked to torture and other human rights violations. Both upcoming cases--Kiobel and Mohamad--address the same essential question: "Are corporations “individuals” for purposes of liability under human rights laws?" If the Supreme Court decides to say 'no,' corporations could be held basically immune from responsibility for helping to commit gross human rights violations. 

In the past, courts have held corporations liable for knowingly assisting in human rights abuses, theoretically providing a 'strong discentive' for companies to get involved with 'dirty business.' However, in recent years, more and more U.S. and European companies have begun selling spy surveillance technology and equipment--under little oversight or corporate accountability--that has led to known human rights abuses. As aptly summarized by Cohn and Timm, "if the Court does require the same responsibilities of corporations not to torture that it already requires of humans, it may help hold these surveillance companies accountable in the courts when they are responsible for assisting in human rights atrocities around the world, and more importantly, it may hopefully help dissuade companies from getting into bed with these repressive governments in the first place. " Read the full article here

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