A history of the U.S. Alien Tort Statute

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on September 30, 2012

A history of the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, by Rebecca Hamilton – Reuters: “The 33-word Alien Tort Statute, at the center of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, was enacted by the First Congress in 1789. It reads: “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.” It lay essentially dormant for decades. Then, in 1978, a U.S. lawyer named Peter Weiss used the statute to bring a case against former Paraguayan police inspector Americo Pena-Irala over the torture and killing of Joelito Filartiga. In a ruling two years later, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. courts had jurisdiction and Pena-Irala was ordered to pay $10.4 million in damages to Filartiga’s family.”

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