According to Reuters, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in the case of Esther Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

The plaintiffs in the case claim that Royal Dutch Shell Plc. was complicit in the use of violent tactics against oil exploration protestors in Nigeria.

According to, one of the plaintiffs, Esther Kiobel, is the widow of one of nine anti-Shell protesters who were executed by the Nigerian military in 1995.

The purpose of the hearings was to decide whether corporations can be sued in the United States for suspected involvement in human rights abuses outside of the U.S.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that corporations that have a presence in the U.S. should be held accountable in U.S. courts for committing or assisting foreign governments in torture, executions, genocide, and other human rights abuses abroad.

The court considered the reach of a 1789 law which human rights lawyers have been using since the 1980s to sue multi-national corporations suspected of complicity in human rights abuses.  At this point the court was only considering whether or not the case could be tried in the U.S.

The Obama administration and international human rights organizations have come out in favor of the plaintiff’s, advocating corporate liability.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has argued in favor of Shell claiming that what happened in Nigeria has no connection to the U.S.

The Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision by the end of June.