Alien Torts: International Human Rights Court

Designed in 1789 with the Barbary pirates in mind, the Alien Tort Statute was reinvented in 1980 by public interest lawyers as a Trojan horse for human rights in the U.S. courts. The act was first perfected as a weapon against individual transgressors, like the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the Bosnian Serb general Radovan Karadzic. In recent years it has been aimed primarily at corporations alleged to be complicit in injustices -- both historical (e.g., apartheid, the Holocaust) and contemporary (e.g., child labor on West African plantations, hydrocarbon pollution in the Amazon basin). This intense burst of creative litigation has tested U.S. judges with a series of thorny (and unresolved) theoretical problems. Among them: the proper standards and sources for a common law of international human rights; the need for exhaustion of remedies; and the deference due the U.S. executive and foreign nations for opposing a suit on policy grounds. With more than ten cases on appeal, the ATS is sure to come knocking on the Supreme Court's door in 2009. This course will trace the progress of the Alien Tort Statute (and the antiterror laws passed to supplement it) through the theoretical and procedural challenges that have been thrown in its path. Students will be encouraged to pick sides in the appellate controversies, and to assess the plaintiffs' tactics in attacking alleged corporate abuses of human rights.
Credits: 2

Type: SEM