The Conflict Between the Alien Tort Statute Litigation and Foreign Amnesty Laws

Since the landmark case Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, foreign individuals have increasingly utilized the Alien Tort Statute to raise claims of human rights violations in the United States federal courts.  Defendants, however, have alleged that principles of international comity necessitate dismissal of the suit when the foreign country in which the human rights violations occurred has granted defendants amnesty.  While the doctrine of international comity permits dismissal if the case requires a federal court to adjudicate the internal affairs of a foreign country, the Supreme Court held, in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, that the Alien Tort Statue grants U.S. courts jurisdiction over violations that are universally recognized and specifically defined.  This Note argues that this standard encompasses jus cogens crimes such as genocide, torture, summary execution, disappearance, arbitrary detention, war crimes, crimes against humanity, slavery, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. An analysis of international law demonstrates that amnesties that provide blanket immunity for serious international crimes, such as violations of jus cogens norms, are illegal.  Given this illegality, this Note argues that, even in the face of political pressure from the U.S. and other countries, federal courts should decline to dismiss Alien Tort Statue cases under international comity when a foreign amnesty law provides impunity for jus cogens crimes.

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