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The see-saw legal fights over holding multinational corporations liable for aiding foreign governments in alleged international human rights violations may come to a head in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Chevron Corp. has asked a federal judge in San Francisco to reconsider her August decision that Nigerian villagers can take the oil giant to trial over its alleged role in aiding the Nigerian military in attacks that killed and wounded protesters at oil facilities in 1998 and 1999. The request came on Oct. 5, six days before the 9th Circuit was rehearing a similar case against mining giant Rio Tinto Group asserting that the company should be held to account for human rights claims by South Pacific islanders. That appeal alleges that Rio Tinto conspired with the government of Papua New Guinea to violently quell civil resistance to environmental damage by Rio Tinto’s open-pit mining operations there. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston relied heavily on the 9th Circuit’s original decision in the Rio Tinto case, Sarei v. Rio Tinto, 456 F.3d 1069 (2006), when she held in August that Chevron should face trial for allegedly aiding and abetting the Nigerian government’s attacks. But the 9th Circuit withdrew the opinion in Rio Tinto and granted rehearing before an 11-judge en banc panel. The case was argued on Oct. 11. Another shot According to Chevron, the question is whether a private party can be liable for aiding and abetting a state in conduct that violates the international obligations of the state, but not of the private party. Bowoto v. Chevron, No. 99-cv-2506SI. Illston ruled in August against Chevron. But with the Rio Tinto decision now uncertain, Chevron wants another shot at knocking down Illston’s ruling. If she won’t reconsider, the company asked that she allow it to appeal immediately to the 9th Circuit. Chevron pointed out that some international law scholars consider American intervention in Iraq a violation of the United Nations Charter. Thus, under the private aiding and abetting theory, any private citizen who aided the United States by selling fuel to the armed forces could be forced into courts around the world to defend its role in aiding the alleged illegal acts by the United States. Theresa Trabor of Trabor & Voorhees in Pasadena, Calif., the attorney for Larry Bowoto, did not return calls for comment. Chevron’s attorney, Robert Mittelstaedt of Jones Day’s San Francisco office, declined to comment. “It is unreasonable to blame Chevron Nigeria Limited (or its parent company) for seeking help from government authorities to rescue all of the workers who were on the barge, platform and tug during the occupation,” according to Kent Robertson, a Chevron spokesman in San Ramon, Calif. There have been federal court rulings in 27 alien tort cases in the past decade.

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