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Bernstein Symposium April 11-12 to Examine Human Rights and Corporate Liability

International human rights laws have aimed to hold state actors accountable for the abuses they perpetrate. However, in the 21st century, the face of these perpetrators has changed to include not only governments, but also corporations. The complicated relationship between states and transnational companies has frustrated traditional mechanisms of accountability and raised the question of how we should hold corporations accountable for their role in human rights violations.

This year’s Bernstein Symposium, titled “Beyond Kiobel: Human Rights and Corporate Liability in the 21st Century,” will tackle these topics on Thursday, April 11, 2013, and Friday, April 12, 2013, at Yale Law School. The event is free and open to the public.

The symposium will feature individual panels of distinguished scholars and advocates discussing the modern corporation in law, the history of corporate liability, including criminal liability for human rights abuses, and avenues for holding corporations accountable following the much-anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Dutch Royal Petroleum. The Kiobel case presents many questions about the reach of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a law that has allowed U.S. federal courts to assess civil liabilities for human rights abuses against aliens, including abroad. In particular, the case raises the issue of whether the ATS allows actions brought specifically against corporate defendants. It prompted more than 100 amicus briefs questioning the role that corporations play in today’s world.

The Kiobel case comes at a critical moment in the movement to hold corporations liable for the human rights consequences of their activities,” said James Silk, Clinical Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Law School’s Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights. “Litigation under the ATS, always a limited tool, is under threat in the case. At the same time, a wide array of non-judicial, transnational and private initiatives have blossomed, particularly in response to growing consumer awareness of business-related human rights violations and to vacuums in the law or the enforcement of law.”

The Bernstein Symposium is sponsored by the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School, the Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Fellowship and the Robina Foundation International Human Rights Fellowship. For the complete program, visit the Schell Center website.