The Alien Tort Statute (ATS) was created by the first Congress as part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, and grants federal courts jurisdiction over civil claims by non-U.S. citizens for torts committed in violation of the law of nations. Since the Second Circuit's seminal 1980 decision in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, the ATS has been used by human rights advocates as a tool to seek accountability in U.S. courts for rights abuse committed around the world in violation of international law. Successful ATS claims now include genocide, extrajudicial killing, torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and cases have evolved to include claims against by private actors, such as corporations, that facilitate and support abuses in complicity with state actors. 2010 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Filartiga.
This clinical seminar will explore how practitioners have sought to advance human rights over the past three decades using ATS litigation. The course will trace the history of the ATS from Filartiga to the present, examining key decisions including Kadic v. Karadzic, which held that non-state actors could be liable under the ATS; Doe v. Unocal, the first major corporate ATS case to apply the theory outlined in Kadic; Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, the first ATS case heard by the Supreme Court which affirmed the Filartiga approach; and In re South African Apartheid Litigation, an ongoing corporate case which has drawn significant scrutiny from both courts and commentators. The course will also explore the strategies used by ATS lawyers to advance rights, examining tactical issues that arise in given cases and how those are addressed by litigation teams. Finally, the course will assess the impact of ATS litigation, including its connection to broader social movements in countries where the underlying violations were committed, its replication in other domestic jurisdictions, and the major critiques of such litigation. The course will draw on projects in the International Human Rights Clinic and on expert guest speakers and prominent litigators to inform class discussion.
A Spring clinical practice component of 2-4 clinical credits is required of all students. Clinical placements are with the International Human Rights Clinic of the Human Rights Program. Enrollment will occur during clinical registration. Refer to the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs for clinical registration dates, early add/drop deadlines, and other relevant clinical information.