The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from relatives of thousands of victims of conflict in Colombia aiming to sue Chiquita Brand International.
In its decision, the court referred to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling which limited attempts by foreigners to use U.S. courts to seek retribution for human rights abuses abroad under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).
"By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court has created yet another obstacle in the path of victims seeking remedies for abusive corporate actions abroad, and allows a U.S. corporation to get away with financing terrorism without accountability to its victims in U.S. courts," said EarthRights International (ERI), an environmental and human rights legal nonprofit.
From 1997-2004, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC), used Chiquita’s financial support to spread fear in the banana-growing region of Urabá, Colombia. The AUC tortured and killed thousands of villagers, labor leaders, and community organizers who were suspected of favoring leftist guerrillas or making trouble for the plantation owners.
"For human rights advocates around the world, this decision is particularly baffling considering Chiquita admitted to paying the paramilitaries in response to a U.S. government investigation," ERI stated.
As noted in the petition (pdf) filed with the Supreme Court, Chiquita pleaded guilty in 2007 to "Engaging in Transactions with a Specially-Designated Global Terrorist." The U.S. District Court imposed a $25 million fine on the company and stated:
What makes this conduct so morally repugnant is that the company went forward month after month, year after year, to pay the same terrorists. It did so knowing full well that while its farms may have been protected, and while its workers may have been protected while they literally were on those farms, Chiquita was paying money to buy the bullets that killed innocent Colombians off those farms.
The justices did not comment on their ruling on Monday.
As Reuters explains, "The Chiquita matter was the first human rights case of its type to reach the top court since an April 2013 ruling that made it harder for plaintiffs to sue corporations in U.S. courts for alleged abuses that take place overseas."
Marco Simons, ERI general counsel, said that the dismissal of the appeal was not the end of a "long overdue" bid for justice. "We will do everything we can to bring this case to trial so Chiquita and its executives can answer for their decision to put profit before human life."