By: Susan H. FarbsteinPDF
Critics often contend that human rights litigation is not particularly useful in advancing human rights. Yet such critiques tend to miss the mark both because they demand too much of litigation—which is, of course, but one tool available to the human rights movement—and because they fail to understand the multiple goals, beyond court verdicts, of human rights plaintiffs and litigators.
This article excavates those diverse goals, many of which have previously gone unexamined. It draws on insight gained from nearly a decade spent litigating a complex Alien Tort Statute suit that sought to hold corporations accountable for their role supporting and facilitating human rights violations in apartheid South Africa. This article also evaluates both successes and failures in the Apartheid case to explore the extent to which common critiques ring true.
It would be foolhardy to claim that lawsuits alone can fundamentally improve respect for and protection of human rights. Still, this article concludes that litigation can be a powerful option for individuals or communities that have survived human rights abuse, particularly when deployed in tandem with other strategies, and that it played an important role for many stakeholders involved in the apartheid suit. In so doing, this article opens up fresh scholarly terrain and shares unique perspectives that may inform the work of other affected communities and human rights practitioners.