Filartiga v. Pena-Irala
Citation: 630 F.2d 876 (1980)
Link to Case Text: http://www.leagle.com/decision/19841437577FSupp860_11301
Filártiga v. Peña-Irala was a lawsuit that charged former Paraguayan official Americo Peña-Irala with the wrongful death of Joelito Filártiga.
Facts of the Case
- Filártiga was a Paraguayan dissident. His son was tortured and later murdered by an official of Paraguay named Peña-Irala. These events happened in Paraguay.
- The murder was said to be politically motivated.
- Filártiga attempted to get justice for the acts of Peña-Irala in the state of Paraguay, however, he was unsuccessful.
- Peña-Irala traveled to the United States for vacation and while in the US, he was sued by Filártiga, who at the time, lived in the United States.
- Filártiga sued under the Alien Torts Statute.
The trial court dismissed the claim and Filártiga appealed.
The trial court said that the law of nations, as used in the Alien Torts Statute does not govern a state’s treatment of its own people.
The trial court was basically stating that it lacked jurisdiction over what other state’s officials did to its own citizens on its own soil.
Can an individual sue for a murder that happened outside of the United States that was politically motivated?
Yes, torture by an official is prohibited under the law of nations.
Rules of Law
- The Alien Torts Statute (28 U.S.C. §1350) states that “the district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty with the United States.
- Since 1980, courts have interpreted this statute to give foreign citizens the right to seek remedies in the courts of the United States for human-rights violations for conduct that has been committed outside of the United States.
- The appellate court reversed the holding of the trial court, looking to The Paquete Habana (175 U.S. 677 (1900)).
- The Paquete Habana stated that the law of nations should be interpreted as customary international law, under which exists a set of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- The extent of those rights and freedoms is debatable, however, they surely include the right to not be tortured and the right to not be killed.
- Under the Alien Tort Statute, Filartiga had a claim since Pena-Iralia was accused of violating the laws of nations.
Why you should read this case
This case introduces and explains how to use the Alien Torts Statute.
Course: International Law
Other case briefs for Filártiga v. Peña-Irala: http://www.lawschoolcasebriefs.net/2011/09/filartiga-v-pena-irala-case-brief-630.html