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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 Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Chevron Corp. has asked a federal judge in San Francisco to review 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 last week, the same week the Ninth 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 Ninth 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 Ninth Circuit withdrew the opinion in Rio Tinto and granted rehearing before an 11-judge en banc panel. The case was argued last week. 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, 99-cv-2506SI. ANOTHER SHOT 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 Ninth 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, the attorney for Larry Bowoto, did not return calls seeking comment. Chevron’s attorney, Robert Mittelstaedt of Jones Day’s San Francisco office, declined to comment. The two cases are among a number around the country that take global corporations to task for support of violations of international human rights under a 200-year-old U.S. law known as the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allow the victims to seek redress in U.S. courts for injuries. There have been federal court rulings in 27 alien tort cases in the last decade. Pamela A. MacLean is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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