The lawyer for a group of Bougainville landowners using the United States legal system to prosecute Rio Tinto for genocide and war crimes says today's ruling allowing the case to proceed sets a precedent.
The suit, filed in 2000, claims that the London-based mining company conspired with the Papua New Guinea government to quell civil resistance in the autonomous province to its Panguna copper mining operation, causing thousands of deaths.
One of Rio Tinto's arguments was that the Alien Tort Statute allows only for the prosecuction of individuals.
But Steve Berman, the managing partner of the Seattle firm Hagens Berman, says the court has ruled that coporations are also liable.
"It is a precedent setter and it's an important one. I think what the court said was that it would be unjust to punish individuals and allow corporations to retain the profits of violating international law."
The managing partner of Hagens Berman, Steve Berman.
A Rio Tinto spokesman says the company will defend itself vigorously against what it calls improper claims.