Case: Parties


Filartiga v. Pena-Irala (1980; 2d) [pp. 17-] Plaintiff - Filartiga (citizens of Paraguay) Defendant District court dismissed for lack of SMJ. On appeal.

Procedural History:

Facts: Filartiga's 17yrold son Joelito was kidnapped and tortured to death by D, Pena, in Paraguay. P claims this was done in retaliation for his father's political activities and beliefs. P brought a criminal case in Paraguayan court, but his attorney was arrested , threatened with death, and supposedly disbarred without just cause. Four years later, another man confessed to the murder, claiming he found Joelito and his wife together, and said the crime was one of passion, but he was never convicted, and also the evidence showed that Joelito's death "was the result of professional methods of torture." In 1978, Dolly Filártiga and (separately) D (Peña) came to the US. Dolly applied for political asylum, while Peña stayed under a visitor's visa. Dolly learned of Peña's presence and reported it to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, who arrested and deported Peña for staying past the expiration of his visa. When Peña was taken to the Brooklyn Navy Yard pending deportation, Dolly lodged a civil complaint in U.S. courts for Joelito's wrongful death by torture, asking for damages in the amount of $10 million. Issue: Whether U.S. courts can punich non-U.S. citizens for tortious acts committed outside the U.S. that were in violation of the law of nations or any treaties to which the U.S. is a party. Holding: Yes. This case extended the jurisdiction of United States courts to tortious acts committed around the world. Reasoning: The appellants argued that Peña's actions had violated wrongful death statutes, the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other customary international law. Petitioner claimed the U.S. courts had jurisdiction to hear the case under the Alien Tort Statute, which grants district courts original jurisdiction to hear tort claims brought by an alien that have been "committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States." This case interpreted that statute to grant jurisdiction over claims for torts committed both within the United States and abroad. The U.S. courts eventually ruled in favor of the Filártigas, rewarding them roughly $10.4 million. Torture was clearly a violation of international law (aka "the law of nations"), and the U.S. did have jurisdiction over the case since the claim was lodged when both parties were inside the United States. Additionally, Peña had sought to dismiss the case based on forum non conveniens (saying that Paraguay was a more convenient location for the trial), but did not succeed. Notes • Now a convention against torture, but didn’t come about until after this case • Recently, under the alien tort statute, has been narrowed • Law of Nations - an older term for international law • Alien tort statute established jurisdiction for anyone with a colorable claim under international law ○ People had forgotten about this statute, so this is a big case that asserted U.S. jurisdictional right to enforce human rights law domestically (very controversial) § Should US be a world police by trying foreign citizens in US?

○ Idea is that if you commit such a heinous crime, then any tribunal should be able to try you because the whole world would agree how bad the crime was • Law of nations is both treaty law, and customary international law ○ No clear cut prohibition on torture like there is now § So court looks at: ○ Law professors determinations of the law ○ Public law ○ General usage ○ United nations charter ○ Universal declaration of human rights (not a binding treaty) § Aspirational document - what we spire for the world § Can still be used to show custom ○ Declaration on torture - again not binding, but evidence of how custom would evolve ○ European convention outlaws torture ○ Inter-American convention on human rights (again, custom) ○ Domestic laws - many countries have banned torture • Enforcement - family was supposed to get damages ○ Not enforced - problem with international law ○ US wont send troops to Paraguay to get them to pay ○ Still victory for P, legal recognition of torture being wrong was meaningful to them, etc. § Made a political statement ○ So, if we cant enforce, then we can sanction? • This is a tort claim, should be a criminal case. But no international court for criminal cases, but recent development for an international criminal court (which US hasn’t become a member f, problems with it) • Has the world become so small that US can try citizens of other countries? ○ Reciprocity - what other states hold Americans responsible for if they commit certain acts ○ American courts enforce international law (not domestic law)