Alien Tort Claims Act

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The ATCA was written in 1789 as a part of the Judiciary Act and it asserted rather simply and vaguely that "the district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States" (emphasis added). The law lay dormant for almost two centuries until in 1979 a Paraguan police inspector was served papers when he visited the U.S. for the torture and death of a man in Paraguay. In Filartiga v Pena-Irala, the father of the deceased was awarded $10,375,000 in 1984, of which he will never collect a single penny. However, the case did set a precedent, allowing for over twenty cases to reach the high courts based on the wording of this law. The ATCA has been used as a last refuge against the actions made by government officials and corporations in violation of international law, however sitting heads of state and governments themselves are immune under the law.


Industry Responses

Despite the fact defendents in these lawsuits are not being charged with a crime, only being sued in a civil action, and despite the fact most defendents do not lose these cases, and despite the fact those who do lose never pay or are dead, the global industrial world sees the ATCA as a threat to the marketplace, which holds the reigns of the future until the Messiah returns. What concerns those effected by the exposure and the day in court these cases provide, is that news will get out that old-fashioned economic principles are still the foundations of the marketplace. Why are Coca-Cola Company subsidiaries complicit in the use of paramilitary influence against the union leaders at their bottling plant? Why was a cluster bomb dropped on the town of Santo Domingo in Colombia in December of 1998? Why is Royal Dutch Shell being sued for extra-judicial killings that occured in Nigeria? Why does someone think Ferdinand Marcos, a good friend of American politicians, would have anything to do with vast human rights abuses? If there is not some umbiquitous conspiracy to undermine the efforts of international profit, then some truth must exist in the claims being made over the last twenty-five years. And it is this platform, perhaps the only one besides the Torture Victim Prevention Act, that any people in the world have to use against the most egregious acts of profit and control, that is being attacked, or counter-attacked, depending where one stands. The Bush Administration, especially Attorney General John Ashcroft, are shifting the Department of Justice's past stance and are leading the charge, however they are not alone. Other nations and, of course, corporations, are along for the attack on the over two-hundred year-old statute passed by America's First Congress.

  • The Austrian, Swiss and British goverments have participated with John Ashcroft in claiming the ATCA threatens foriegn policy, endangers corporations, involves domestic courts in the affairs of foreign jurisdiction, and harms the War on Terror by annoying allies needed in the war.[1]
  • The plaintiff, Dr. Humberto Alvarez-Machain, won his ATCA suit against Jose' Sosa for aiding DEA agents in abducting him to El Paso to stand trial for a murder he ended up being acquitted of. The defendent turned around and sued back in the case heard in front of the Supreme Court, Sosa v Alvarez-Machain. A decision was rendered on June 29, 2004 which was applauded by both sides of the case [2].[3]
  • The International Chamber of Commerce has put pressure on the Supreme Court to define the ATCA.[4]
  • The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) paid for an op-ed page advertisement in the New York Times (April 9, 2004) that reasoned corporations were not accountable for the actions of foreign governments to their own people.[5]
  • has a history of further pressure against the ATCA at:

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