Kiobel and what it means to U.S. Corporations

March 13, 2012

Based on the developments in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, it is likely that the Supreme Court’s decision in the case may end up turning on the threshold issue of whether US courts are the proper vehicle in which to air extraterritorial grievances.  If this turns out to be the case, the fate of other ATS claims against corporations, particularly those with a US connection, remains unclear.

For example, Du v. Cisco – currently pending in the US District Court in Maryland (11-1538-PJM) – involves allegations by former and current citizens of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that Cisco was involved in supporting torture and unlawful detention by the Chinese Communist Party based on speech against its government.  Notably, unlike Kiobel, the alleged human rights abuses at issue in Du have a direct connection to the US, in that Cisco, an American corporation, and its technologies are argued to have directly enabled the human rights abuses.

Unlike the murkier “foreign-cubed” scenario at issue in Kiobel, involving Nigerian nationals suing a Dutch company for acts that occurred in Nigeria, the line starts to become clearer in this circumstance.  That is, when US corporations knowingly decide and act to support oppressive and abusive regimes, they must be held accountable when those decisions result in torture and other grave human rights violations.  Further, US corporations in particular must not profit, but instead must be deterred, from such decisions.  Accordingly, in cases where a US connection is clear, the US and its courts should be a leader in upholding the rule of law relating to these blatant abuses of power.

Although the Court seemed skeptical of corporate liability in Kiobel last week, several of them were also uneasy declaring that corporations are not liable for any international law violations—especially those involving piracy and slavery.  Counsel for Royal Dutch Petroleum even admitted that individual corporate directors could be liable under the ATS.  It is, therefore, unlikely, that the Supreme Court’s decision, when it is ultimately issued, will end the Du case—a case against an American corporation and its directors.

If you have any information regarding Cisco’s ongoing support for the Chinese Communist Party’s continued oppression of its citizens, please do not hesitate to contact Daniel Ward.  Any such communications will be kept confidential.

Let Cisco Systems know that their continued and knowing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to violate the human rights of peaceful political dissidents like Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin will no longer be tolerated.  Contact your elected representatives — let them know how you feel.  Finally, if you haven’t already done so, sign the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s petition – Tell Cisco: Stop helping China abuse human rights!.

Please visit the Ward & Ward Blog’s new home at http://wardlawdc.com/blog/, where you can find a recap of the Supreme Court Oral Argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and all future posts.

We’ve Moved!

March 13, 2012

We have moved our blog.  It can now be found at http://wardlawdc.com/blog/.

We will cross-post for a short period, but if the posts here interest you, please bookmark our new home.

CCP’s Censorship Continues as the World takes Notice

February 8, 2012

The Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) continues its efforts to use censorship as a means to erect a “great wall” around its abysmal human rights record.

First came word that the CCP had blocked a prominent human rights lawyer from meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to Beijing – a move reminiscent of its showdown with Christian Bale last December.  Mo Shaoping had been invited by German diplomats to meet with Ms. Merkel during her three-day visit to the Chinese capital. In a critical transitional year for the CCP, any such meetings that focus a light on human rights are strictly forbidden.  According to Reuters,

[S]tate security officers told Mo he was not allowed to meet Merkel on Thursday night, citing “orders from leaders above” but without providing any legal evidence, Mo said.

“They said: ‘The 18th Party Congress is coming up, we must maintain stability, we can’t have different voices present’,” Mo said, referring to congress of the ruling Communist Party that convenes late this year.

“I said: ‘What does this have to do with me? I’m just an ordinary lawyer’,” Mo said.

“On maintaining stability, with just one meeting, will that cause instability? And on different viewpoints, that is restricting the rights of a citizen with regards to freedom of expression,” he said.

Despite being unable to meet with Mr. Mo, Ms. Merkel told reporters she had a “frank dialogue” with Chinese officials about human rights and that “[o]n several human rights issues, we have, at times, thought China’s response is somewhat harsh.”  Additionally she “stressed the importance of freedom of expression and free access and discourse on the Internet.”

Even if the CCP heard Ms. Merkel’s words, it does not appear ready to heed them. That same day, reports indicated that the CCP had blocked Internet and mobile phone connections in areas of Tibet that saw civil unrest over the past month.  Although an exact account of what transpired has been difficult to find given the CCP’s restricted media access, it appears that violent clashes erupted between protestors and Chinese police in the region. The Guardian reports that:

“After the riots, internet connections and mobile phone signals were cut off for over 50km [30 miles] around the riot areas. Police believe external forces played a part in the riots,” the newspaper said.

In 2009, China cut off internet and text messaging services across the north-western region of Xinjiang after ethnic riots in the capital, Urumqi, left almost 200 dead.

The increased crackdown is not limited to Tibet.  With President Hu Jintao expected to step-down later this year, stability has become the singular focus of the CCP and its efforts to stamp out anything that might threaten it.

The latest in a series of trials of dissidents charged with subversion took place in Hangzhou, eastern China. Veteran human rights activist Zhu Yufu was accused of undermining state power by sending a poem and messages on Skype.

Such proceedings appear designed to pre-empt any political challenges as the Communist party changes guard.

Likewise, police forces in the restive western Xinjiang region, the scene of repeated violent ethnic strife involving the local Muslim population, are to be boosted by several thousand this year.

All of this is occurring as Chinese vice-president and heir-in-waiting Xi Jinping prepares to visit Washington, DC next week.  Mr. Xi is expected to meet with President Barack Obama, who has recently demonstrated an increased willingness to be critical of the CCP.

A range of factors, including adverse economic trends, internal challenges to Communist party control and increasing American re-assertiveness suggests an unexpectedly rough ride ahead for Beijing’s would-be masters of the universe. The furious row over China’s veto of the proposed UN resolution on Syria is a taste of things to come.

Barack Obama’s state of the union address vividly illustrated the more combative mood in the US towards a China that is daily accused by Republican presidential candidates of willfully undermining American jobs and businesses and scheming to supplant the US as world No 1.

The CCP’s recent crackdown is all part of its larger Golden Shield Project, aimed at monitoring and censoring any voices of political dissidence within China.  As we have stated previously, there is no doubt that Cisco Systems, Inc. has provided assistance and technology to the CCP as it continues to expand and implement this Golden Shield.

Although President Obama and Chancellor Merkel appear to be serious about pressuring China on its human rights record, they must be growing tired of having their warnings rebuffed by the CCP’s actions. Instead they should turn their focus to applying pressure on multinational corporations such as Cisco that make the CCP’s censorship and repression possible.

If you have any information regarding Cisco’s ongoing support for the Chinese Communist Party’s continued oppression of its citizens, please do not hesitate to contact Daniel Ward.  Any such communications will be kept confidential.

Let Cisco Systems know that their continued and knowing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to violate the human rights of peaceful political dissidents like Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin will no longer be tolerated.  Contact your elected representatives — let them know how you feel.  Finally, if you haven’t already done so, sign the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s petition– Tell Cisco: Stop helping China abuse human rights!.

2011 Marks New Low for China’s Human Rights Record

January 27, 2012

It is easy too look back on 2011 as a banner year for human rights and democracy across the world. The Arab Spring brought fundamental change across the Middle East, from Tunisia to Yemen.  Unfortunately, this tide democracy did not reach China: A new report points toward “worsening human rights abuses in China after charting 2011 as a year of unprecedented, illegal disappearances in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts in North Africa and the Middle East.”

According to Human Rights Watch, the Arab Spring further emboldened the Chinese Communist Party to take action to silence any voices of criticism or dissent within the nation, fearing the possibility of a “Jasmine Revolution.” Additionally, the Chinese Communist Party wanted to send a signal that the leadership transition set to occur should not be seen as an opportunity for increased liberties or fundamental change.

Chinese police took the unusual step early last year of “disappearing” numerous lawyers and activists, including well-known artist and public advocate Ai Weiwei, who was held for 81 days before being released on the condition that he not speak about his experience.

It said the latest clampdown came amid growing public awareness of rights issues and widening popular anger.

“More than 100,000 ‘mass incidents’ or protests are estimated to occur annually in China and the Chinese government now budgets more funds for social stability maintenance than national defense,” HRW said.

Among those targeted by the Chinese Communist Party during 2011 was Du Daobin, one of three named plaintiffs in a human rights lawsuit brought by Ward & Ward, PLLC against Cisco Systems, Inc. (“Cisco”) alleging knowing and willful enablement of the Chinese Communist Party’s harassment, arrest, and torture of Chinese political activists.  Mr. Du, who had previously been imprisoned for posting pro-democracy articles online, was again detained for questioning by Chinese police regarding his involvement in the lawsuit against Cisco and warned that they continued to monitor his online activities.

Unfortunately, it appears the CCP’s increased crackdown in 2011 is only a sign of things to come in 2012:

Last year’s rights record was an alarming sign of what may be still to come as China’s leaders make efforts to enshrine the practice of disappearance in the country’s criminal law, according to HRW China director Sophie Richardson.

“The Chinese government’s sharp crackdown on critics—while trying to cover abuses with a fig leaf of legality—is an alarming sign of what the next year could be like for Chinese citizens, government critics, and human rights defenders,” Richardson said.

As we have stated previously, there is no doubt there is more evidence out there regarding Cisco’s ongoing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s continued oppression of its citizens.  If you have any information, please do not hesitate to contact Daniel Ward.  Any such communications will be kept confidential.

Let Cisco Systems know that their continued and knowing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to violate the human rights of peaceful political dissidents like Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin will no longer be tolerated.  Contact your elected representatives — let them know how you feel.  Finally, if you haven’t already done so, sign the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s petition– Tell Cisco: Stop helping China abuse human rights!.

SOPA/PIPA protests draw parallels to China’s “Great Firewall”

January 20, 2012

Today marked a momentous occasion as the United States Senate and House of Representatives agreed to put two Internet anti-piracy bills on hold in the wake of public outcry over the reach of the bills. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) sparked mass online protests on Wednesday, with some websites such as Wikipedia going dark for a 24-hour period and redirecting its users to contact their Congressman. At the heart of the controversy was a belief that the bills would impose a huge burden on websites to police user activity on their sites and remove any content suspected of violating intellectual property rights.  Failure to comply would give the Justice Department broad powers to block access to domain names in their entireties and prevent search engines from listing them in their results.  The hold on the bills is the result of many Senators and Congressmen responding to the concerns of its constituents, expressed in such volume that many congressional websites crashed on Wednesday afternoon.

These bills and the government’s attempts to police the content of websites has led many to draw parallels with the Chinese government’s “Great Firewall” and its constant vigilance over the activities of Chinese dissidents on the internet.  Many bloggers and activists in China found some humor and irony in the events as they unfolded:

 Watching from China, where Web censorship is practically a national hallmark, some can’t help but smirk and crack jokes about the controversy raging over Internet freedom in the U.S.

“Now the U.S. government is copying us and starting to build their own firewall,” wrote one micro-blogger, relating China’s chief censorship tool to the U.S. plan to block sites that trade in pirated material.

The Relevant Organs, an anonymous Twitter account (presumably) pretending to be the voice of the Chinese communist leadership, quipped: “Don’t understand the hoopla over Wikipedia blackout in the U.S. today. We blacked it out here years ago. Where are OUR hugs?”

While it might be tempting to compare SOPA/PIPA to the Chinese firewall, the reality is they are vastly different devices. The United States government, in seeking these bills, is seeking to combat Internet piracy (often conducted from China), a legitimate cause pursued in a misguided manner. The Chinese government, on the other hand, is seeking to censor its own people and remove any hints of opposition, dissidence, or open debate of politics or policy.

Yet it is interesting to compare the American’s public response to the bill, and their success in opposing it, with the reality Chinese citizens face in being unable to protest the actions or policy of their Government without facing severe consequences.

 “Only an American company could protest the way Wikipedia or Google has to the government,” said Zhao Jing, a closely followed blogger in Beijing who uses the pen name Michael Anti. “A Chinese company would never get away with that.”

Indeed, China’s Internet sector has no choice but to submit to government pressure -– be it by censoring its own users or implementing whatever happens to be the state initiative of the moment (the latest may require the real-ID registration of 250 million micro-blog accounts despite threats to privacy and the cost burden on Web firms).

Another distinction Chinese activists note is that the proposed legislation in Washington is being debated openly in public and ultimately has to adhere to U.S. law. Chinese censorship, on the other hand, operates in an opaque space where no one really knows what’s banned, what isn’t and who is calling the shots.

While U.S. companies such as Wikipedia and Reddit can comfortably participate in an “Internet Blackout” and American citizens are able, and in fact encouraged, to contact their Congressmen in opposition to a bill, Chinese citizens have no recourse to petition their government to change course. In fact, to do so is to put oneself in the scope of the Chinese government’s police.

One of the companies that led the charge against SOPA/PIPA was of course Google, the largest search engine in the United States and a company that would have found itself having to censor its search results if the bill was passed.  Google has a history of opposing Internet censorship wherever it may be, starting with China itself. In 2010 it declared it would cease to cooperate with the Chinese government’s attempt to censor the Internet, a move that caused much controversy around the world.

Sadly, not all U.S. tech companies have demonstrated the same courage as Google, and worse still some have played crucial roles in helping China continue to develop its system of Internet censorship and violations of human rights. Through this all, Cisco Systems has continued to act as a partner and collaborator with Chinese government’s as it pursues the “Golden Shield Project”

Internet companies and citizens alike should be encouraged by their success in lobbying their representatives to change course and protect the Internet from censorship. Likewise, they should continue to oppose censorship wherever it may be and let Cisco Systems know that their continued and knowing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to violate the human rights of peaceful political dissidents like Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin will no longer be tolerated.  Contact your elected representatives — let them know how you feel.  Finally, if you haven’t already done so, sign the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s petition– Tell Cisco: Stop helping China abuse human rights!.

Christian Bale Becomes Latest Target of Chinese Crackdown

January 10, 2012

At first glance, Academy Award winner Christian Bale would appear to be a popular figure in the People’s Republic of China. Known internationally for his role as Batman in the blockbuster trilogy, he has also made a name for himself in China for his leading role in The Flowers of War, by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou. The film, which depicts Japan’s rape of Nanking in 1937, has become a box-office in smash in China, earning over $83 million, enough to make it the third-highest grossing Chinese film of all-time, and earned a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Foreign Film, according to the Hollywood Reporter.  Later this month, it hopes to earn an Academy Award nomination as the official Chinese entry to the prestigious award ceremony.

Nonetheless, Christian Bale did not receive a hero’s welcome during a recent visit to China to promote the film. Instead, he became the latest victim of the Chinese governments’ crackdown on voices of opposition and dissidence. While in China, Mr. Bale had hoped to meet with Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist living under house arrest for his work in opposition to China’s one-child policy. Instead, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Mr. Bale soon found himself in a shoving match with Chinese police:

Academy Award winner Christian Bale found himself in a shoving match with local police in a village near Beijing, as The Dark Knight star attempted to visit a Chinese activist that he regards as an “inspiration.”

Bale had invited CNN correspondent Stan Grant and a cameraman to join him on a visit to Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist living under house arrest after being released from prison in 2010. Chen was sentenced to four years in prison for damaging property and disrupting traffic during a protest, although supporters say his legal work on behalf of what Chen said are victim’s of China’s one-child policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations, led to his prosecution.

“Why can’t I visit this free man?” Bale asked repeatedly, with Grant translating. Local police, many dressed in plainclothes, pushed the group back as they approached Chen’s village, punched and damaged a camera Bale was holding, and threw rocks at their car.

“What I really wanted to do was to meet [Chen], shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is,” Bale told CNN.

Instead of apologizing to Mr. Bale for this embarrassing incident and trying to put the bad publicity behind, the Chinese government believes it is the American actor who should be embarrassed. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weiman says Mr. Bale was invited to China to promote the film, “But he was not invited to create a story or shoot film in a certain village… I think if you want to make up news in China, you will not be welcome here.”

The “make up news” Mr. Liu refers to is the well-documented plight of Mr. Chen.

Chen documented forced late-term abortions and sterilizations and other abuses by overzealous authorities trying to meet population control goals in his rural community. He was imprisoned for allegedly instigating an attack on government offices and organizing a group of people to disrupt traffic, charges his supporters say were fabricated.

Although now officially free under the law, he has been confined to his home in the village eight hours’ drive from Beijing and subjected to periodic beatings and other abuse, activists say.

Chen’s case has been raised publicly by U.S. lawmakers and diplomats, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, all to no response from China.

Mr. Bale’s dustup with Chinese officials is just the latest example of the Chinese government’s attempt to silence any opposition and dissidence. It is the same policy that has led to the Chinese Community Party to pursue the Golden Shield Project, with the assistance of Cisco Systems.

Let Cisco Systems know that their continued and knowing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to violate the human rights of peaceful political dissidents like Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin will no longer be tolerated.  Contact your elected representatives — let them know how you feel.  Finally, if you haven’t already done so, sign the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s petition– Tell Cisco: Stop helping China abuse human rights!.


Partner or Collaborator? Corporate Counsel Magazine on Cisco’s Relationship with China

October 20, 2011

The November issue of Corporate Counsel Magazine contains an interesting article on Cisco’s relationship with China, aptly titled “Partner or Collaborator?  Cisco discovers the perils of doing business in China.

The article addresses both the Du v. Cisco and Doe v. Cisco cases, and Cisco’s muted response to the accusations that have been made and substantial evidence support our clients’ claims.  Daniel Ward is quoted extensively about Cisco’s actions and Du v. Cisco:

The writers are represented by Daniel Ward, a partner at Ward & Ward in Washington, D.C., who filed the suit in federal district court in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This wasn’t just Cisco ignorantly selling routers to an oppressive regime and saying, ‘Gee, let’s hope for the best,'” says Ward. “This is them actively marketing themselves as an entity that could help in the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to oppress dissidents.”

Attorney Ward’s goal is changing the way Cisco and other companies weigh market opportunities. China “is seeking American technological know-how to crush dissent, and those American technology companies know it, but the draw of profits is irresistible to them,” he says.

He believes Yahoo made serious changes as a result of being sued. He hopes the suit against Cisco yields similar results. With Cisco, he says, “our goal is to make that cost-benefit analysis shift.”

As we have stated previously, there is no doubt there is more evidence out there regarding Cisco’s ongoing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s continued oppression of its citizens.  If you have any information, please do not hesitate to contact Daniel Ward.  Any such communications will be kept confidential.

Let Cisco Systems know that their continued and knowing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to violate the human rights of peaceful political dissidents like Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin will no longer be tolerated.  Contact your elected representatives — let them know how you feel.  Finally, if you haven’t already done so, sign the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s petition– Tell Cisco: Stop helping China abuse human rights!.

Excellent Reuters article on Du v. Cisco and Doe v. Cisco

September 8, 2011

Sui-Lee Wee has written an excellent and comprehensive article, Insight: Cisco suits on China rights abuses to test legal reach, that provides substantial background and analysis of Cisco’s actions in China, and the legal issues surrounding the current litigation.  In addition to quotes from Daniel Ward (re: Du v. Cisco) and Terri Marsh (re: Doe v. Cisco), the article also quotes Du Daobin and Zhou Yuanzhi, two of the Plaintiffs in Du v. Cisco.  In the article Du states the following:

Du, 48, who was jailed for posting articles under a pseudonym on the Internet criticizing the Chinese Communist Party’s rule, said Western technology companies should not cooperate with a government that violates civil rights.

“This kind of cooperation hurts us as well as the companies’ business,” he said. “The publication of our articles are closely monitored and once they’re published, we will end up in jail.”

Du said he was interrogated by police in early August about the lawsuit, but added that the case was “not only for myself, but also for the freedom of every individual in China, to put an end forever to China’s ‘literary jail.’

As we have stated previously, there is no doubt there is more evidence out there regarding Cisco’s ongoing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s continued oppression of its citizens.  If you have any information, please do not hesitate to contact Daniel Ward.  Any such communications will be kept confidential.

Let Cisco Systems know that their continued and knowing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to violate the human rights of peaceful political dissidents like Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin will no longer be tolerated.  Contact your elected representatives — let them know how you feel.  Finally, if you haven’t already done so, sign the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s petition– Tell Cisco: Stop helping China abuse human rights!.

NYT reports new evidence of Cisco’s knowing aid to China re: Golden Shield

September 2, 2011

A Friday evening New York Times article reported that new evidence has been discovered that Cisco Systems, Inc. specifically tailored its products for use by the Chinese Communist Party to monitor and apprehend its citizens.

The Human Rights Law Foundation, an advocacy group involved in Doe v. Cisco, an Alien Tort Statute lawsuit brought against Cisco on behalf of a number of Falun Gong practitioners, announced Friday that it has new evidence that Cisco Systems, Inc. specifically tailored its products for use by the Chinese Communist Party to monitor and apprehend Falun Gong practitioners.

This evidence, if authenticated, would eviscerate Cisco’s position (as stated by their General Counsel, Mark Chandler) that  “Cisco does not supply equipment to China that is customized in any way to facilitate blocking of access or surveillance of users.”  and that “We have never customized our equipment to help the Chinese government—or any government—censor content, track Internet use by individuals or intercept Internet communications.”

There is no doubt there is more evidence out there regarding Cisco’s ongoing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s continued oppression of its citizens.  If you have any information, please do not hesitate to contact Daniel Ward.  Any such communications will be kept confidential.

Let Cisco Systems know that their continued and knowing support of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to violate the human rights of peaceful political dissidents like Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin will no longer be tolerated.   Contact your elected representatives, let them know how you feel.  Finally, if you haven’t already done so, sign the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s petition– Tell Cisco: Stop helping China abuse human rights!.

Who is Liu Xianbin?

August 30, 2011

The Laogai Research Foundation has authored an excellent blog post titled “Who is Liu Xianbin?” that puts a “human face” on Liu Xianbin, one of the named plaintiffs in Du v. Cisco.  I encourage all the readers of this blog to click over to the Laogai Research Foundation’s blog to learn more about Liu Xianbin.


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