What recourse do individuals have if their rights are violated by international development projects financed by international organizations? Should international organizations have complete immunity in U.S. courts even when they violate human and environmental rights and their own stated policies? These are some of the questions raised by the Jam v. International Finance Corporation case that was successfully argued by Stanford Law School’s Professor Jeffrey Fisher on October 31, 2018. In February 2019, the Supreme Court released its 7-1 decision for Jam, narrowing the interpretation of the international organizational immunity in U.S. courts.
This case concerned the Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant in Gujarat, India, which caused widespread pollution and environmental harm to local waterways and farmland, threatening not only those natural resources, but also the livelihoods of the local people who rely on them. The International Finance Corporation, a private lending arm of the World Bank, provided crucial financing for the Tata Mundra Plant and has specific policies in place to prevent its development projects from causing harm and rights violations. Local fisherpeople and farmers, including Budha Ismael Jam, alerted the IFC’s accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor/ Ombudsman (CAO), which found widespread violations and recommended various remedies. However, the IFC blantantly disregarded these recommendations and the harm continued. With the assistance of EarthRights International, the plaintiff fisherman and farmers brought suit through U.S. courts as a last resort to hold the IFC accountable. This Supreme Court case has the potential to fortify the existing international development bank accountability mechanisms and allow individuals to hold IOs accountable via legal mechanisms.
Jeffrey Fisher, Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Co-Director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic
Erica R. Gould, PhD, lecturer in International Relations at Stanford University and the Board Chair at Accountability Counsel
Natalie Bridgeman Fields, Founder and Executive Director of Accountability Counsel
Kindra Mohr, Policy Director at Accountability Counsel
Michelle Harrison, Staff Attorney at EarthRights International