By Cynthia Banham
Until recently, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) (28 USC § 1350) was regarded by human rights activists as a critical tool in global efforts to hold human rights violators to account.
This curious American statute, dating back to 1789, gives US district courts jurisdiction over civil actions by aliens for wrongs committed in violation of “the law of nations”. After being largely ignored for two centuries, it was rediscovered by human rights activists after the landmark 1980 case of Filártiga v. Peña-Irala. In that case, two Paraguayans successfully sued a former Paraguayan official (all three were resident in the US at the time of the lawsuit) over the torture and death of their family member in Paraguay.
But this April, the US Supreme Court in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co severely curtailed the application of the ATS in such cases, unanimously holding that the statute generally does not apply beyond America’s borders. Continue Reading →