Transnational Human Rights Litigation and Territorialized Knowledge: Kiobel and the ‘Politics of Space’
Transnational Legal Theory, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2014)
27 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2013 Last revised: 6 Feb 2014
Date Written: 2013
In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Dutch and British private corporations were accused of having aided and abetted in the violation of the human rights of individuals in Nigeria. A lawsuit, however, was brought in the United States, relying on the Alien Tort Statute – part of a Judiciary Act from 1789. In its final decision on the case, the US Supreme Court has strongly focused on ‘territory.’ This usage of a spatial category calls for closer scrutiny of how the making of legal arguments presupposes ‘spatial knowledge,’ especially in the field of transnational human rights litigation. Space is hardly a neutral category. What is at stake is normativity in a global scale with the domestic courtroom turned into a site of spatial contestation. The paper is interested in the construction of ‘the transnational’ as space, which implicates a ‘politics of space’ at work underneath the exposed surface of legal argumentation. The ‘Kiobel situation’ as it unfolded before the Supreme Court is addressed as an example of a broader picture including a variety of contested elements of space: a particular spatial condition of modern nation-state territoriality; the production of ‘counter-space,’ eventually undermining the spatial regime of inter-state society; and the state not accepting its withering away. The paper will ask: How are normative boundaries between the involved jurisdictional spaces drawn? How do the ‘politics of space’ work underneath or beyond the plain moments of judicial decision-making? How territorialized is the legal knowledge at work and how does territoriality work in legal arguments?
Keywords: Territoriality, Spatial Turn, Transnational Law, Transnational Human Rights Litigation, Conflict of Laws, Political Theory, Alien Torts Statute, Kiobel
JEL Classification: K1, K13, K2, K3, K32, K33, M14, N57
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation