Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Filartiga v. Pena-Irala case brief, 630 F.2d 876 (1980)

Filartiga v. Pena-Irala
630 F.2d 876 (1980)

Alien Tort Statute (ATS) (28 U.S.C. §1350) provides: " 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 of a treaty of the United States."

This law was pretty much never used between the time it was enacted (1789), and during the 1980s.

Filartiga was a Paraguayan dissident. Filartiga's son was tortured and murdered by a Paraguayan official named Pena-Irala (where does one get a name like that!?) in the state of Paraguay.
    • The killing was politically motivated.
    • Filartigia tried to get justice in Paraguay, was unsuccessful. :(
  • Pena-Irala came to the US on vacation, and was sued by Filartiga (who lived in the US) under the ATS. (Maybe he will get some justice now!)

  • The Trial Court dismissed the claim. Filartiga appealed.
    • Trial Court found that the "law of nations" as used in the ATS does not govern a State's treatment of its own citizens.
      • The Court was stating that they did not have jurisdiction over what Paraguayan officials did to Paraguayan citizens on Paraguayan soil.
  • Appellate Court reversed: (looks like he will get some justice after all!)
    • The Appellate Court looked to [The Paquette Habana (175 U.S. 677 (1900))], and stated that "the law of nations" should be interpreted as customary international law.
    • The Court found that under customary international law, there exists a set of "human rights and fundamental freedoms."
      • The Court also noted that the extent of those rights and freedoms is debatable, but surely includes the right to not to be tortured and killed.
      • Official torture is prohibited by the law of nations. (this is a good thing!)
    • The Court found that Filartigia actually did have a claim under the ATS since Pena-Iralia was accused of violating the law of nations.
See also: http://www.mycasebriefs.com/filartiga-v-pena-irala-case-brief-2/

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