International Human Rights Litigation: A Guide for Judges

International Human Rights Litigation: A Guide for Judges
International Human Rights Litigation: A Guide for Judges
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The purpose of this guide is to help federal judges adjudicate civil cases alleging human rights violations under domestic and international law. In the common vernacular, the phrase “human rights” often is construed broadly to encompass many forms of civil rights and constitutional claims.  The focus here is narrower. This guide addresses cases with an international dimension brought in federal court pursuant to specific U.S. statutes that provide jurisdiction over such claims. These cases include rights-based legal disputes involving foreign plaintiffs or defendants, cases involving violations occurring abroad, and cases relying on international human rights law.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Acknowledgments, ix
I. Overview and Scope, 1
II. Federal Law—Civil Remedies for International Human Rights
Violations, 5
A. Alien Tort Statute, 7
1. ATS Claims Under Treaties, 10
2. ATS Claims Under Customary International Law, 16
3. Territorial Limitations on ATS Claims, 20
B. Rules of Decision in ATS Cases, 39
1. State Action Requirements Under the ATS, 40
2. Aiding and Abetting, and Secondary Liability Under the ATS,
3. Corporate Liability Under the ATS, 45
C. Torture Victim Protection Act, 54
1. Aiding and Abetting Liability, 56
2. Exclusivity of Remedy, 57
3. Exhaustion of Remedies, 57
4. Corporate Liability, 61
5. Relation to Immigration Law, 62
D. Additional Statutory Remedies, 63
1. Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, 63
2. Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 64
3. Anti-Terrorism Act, 66
4. FSIA State Sponsors of Terrorism Exception, 68
5. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 69
III. Procedural Issues, 75
A. Service of Process, 75
B. Personal Jurisdiction, 78
C. Venue and Forum Non Conveniens, 83
D. Parties and Standing, 87
E. Discovery, 90
F. Parallel Criminal and Civil Proceedings, 92
G. Limitations Periods and Tolling, 95
IV. Immunity, 99
A. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 99
B. Individual Foreign Government Officials, 100
C. Individual U.S. Government Officials, 103
V. Judicial Abstention, 105
A. The Political Question Doctrine, 105
B. The Act of State Doctrine, 110
C. Judicial Comity, 112
D. The State Secrets Doctrine, 114
VI. Enforcement of Remedies, 119
VII. Active Case Management and Human Rights Cases, 123
VIII. Resources—Table of Appendices, 127
Appendix A: Major International Human Rights Instruments, 129
Human Rights Treaties Ratified by the United States, 129
Human Rights Treaties Signed But Not Yet Ratified by the United
States, 132
Appendix B: Selected Cases—Actionable Conduct Under the Alien Tort
Statute (ATS), 135
Cases Finding a Right of Action Under the ATS, 135
Cases Finding No Right of Action Under the ATS, 136
Appendix C: Model Order on Scheduling and Procedure in Human
Rights Cases (with Joint Statement Form), 139
Appendix D: Federal Statutes (Excerpts), 151
Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, 151
Torture Victim Protection Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (note), 151
Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2331, 2333, 153
William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization
Act of 2008, 18 U.S.C. § 1595, 155
Terrorism Exception to the Jurisdictional Immunity of a Foreign
State, 28 U.S.C. § 1605A, 156
Appendix E: Research References, 159
Online Resources, 159
Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law, 159
American Law Reports, 159
Books and Reports, 160
Table of Authorities, 161
About the Author, 177


This publication will be of interest to those who develop and conduct education programs for the judicial branch.  Lawyers, social workers, law librarians and law libraries, and advocacy groups for human rights may be interested in this publication.

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Key Phrases:
  • International Litigation Guide
  • Government liability, United States
  • Administrative responsibility, United States
  • Immunities of foreign states, United States
  • Aliens, United States
  • Torture victims, Legal status, laws, etc., United States
  • United States, Alien Tort Claims Act
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