The Alien Tort Statute (ATS): Litigating International Human Rights Cases in U.S. Courts


Add to My Calendar Saturday, February 2, 2008 8:45am



Saturday, February 2, 2008, 8:45am - 5:00pm
Northwestern University School of Law
Rubloff Building, 8th Floor,
750 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611


Up to 7 General MCLE Credit in the State of Illinois will be available for participants. Northwestern University School of Law is an Accredited Provider in the state of Illinois.

Over the past 25 years, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS, also known as the Alien Tort Claims Act, or ATCA) has allowed non-U.S. citizens to sue for human rights abuses in U.S. Courts. Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) attorneys rediscovered the statute in the 1970’s and, in 1979, filed a claim under the ATS and won the landmark case, Filártiga v. Peña-Irala. In that case, CCR helped Paraguayan nationals Joel and Dolly Filártiga win justice for the torture and murder of 17 year-old Joelito Filártiga, Joel's son and Dolly's brother.

This training will provide an overview and introduction to the ATS and related statutes such as the Torture Victim Protection Act, as well as provide participants with a more advanced understanding of the law in this area. Sessions will cover suits against foreign officials, U.S. officials, and corporations. Participants will gain insight into the evolution of the ATS and related statutes as wells as current issues and strategic considerations in their use today.

Pre-registration rates:
Full program (includes materials and lunch): $150
Low-income (includes materials and lunch): $60
Students (includes lunch): $15

At-door registration rate:

Full program (includes materials and lunch*): $175
Student rate (includes lunch*): $20
*depending on the number of day-of registrants, lunch may not be available.

Register Online

Registration & Sign-in (8:00-8:45) Coffee and a light breakfast will be served.

Welcome & Opening Remarks (8:45-9:00)

Session I: (9:00-10:00) Overview of the ATS, from Filártiga to Sosa and beyond
Session I will provide an introduction to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and other laws used to enforce international human rights in U.S. courts. This panel will provide an overview of the jurisdictional requirements of the ATS and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), as developed from the landmark 1980 decision in Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, which heralded the modern era of ATS litigation, through the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, which confirmed the right of foreign victims of international human rights violations to sue in U.S. courts.

SESSION II: (10:00-11:00) Establishing Violations of International Law under Sosa

This Session will review international law violations such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killing, prolonged arbitrary detention, and torture including rape, and discuss how such norms can be found to be specific, universal, and obligatory under Sosa.

SESSION III: (11:00-12:00) Direct and Indirect Liability
Session III will begin the day’s discussion of the theories of defendants’ potential liability. It will address direct liability for individuals and corporations, indirect liability, such as aiding and abetting liability, joint criminal enterprise and command responsibility for both civilian and military officials.

SESSION IV: (12:00-1:00) Government Immunities

This Session will delve into governmental immunity defenses for foreign governments and officials, including diplomatic, head of state and consular immunities and immunity invoked under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, and for the U.S. Government and officials, including the Westfall Act and other efforts to preclude judicial review.

Lunch: (1:00-1:50) Roundtable discussion
Box lunches will be provided and participants will have the opportunity to discuss pending issues facing ATS litigators with faculty.

SESSION V: (2:00-3:00) Issues Particular to Corporations
This Session will closely examine legal issues unique to human rights cases against corporations, including corporate structure issues, establishing jurisdiction, and theories of liability, such as aiding and abetting, conspiracy, joint venture, and agency. Specific issues relating to military contractors and suits against corporate officers will also be discussed.

SESSION VI: (3:00-4:00) General Defenses

Session VI will provide an in-depth review of the most common defenses to ATS and related claims, including the political question, act of state and comity doctrines, exhaustion of domestic remedies, forum non conveniens, and statutes of limitations.

SESSION VII: (4:00-5:00) Considerations in Preparing a Manageable Case
This Session will discuss practical issues pertaining to bringing an ATS case, including issues unique to representing victims of human rights abuses living in other countries, bringing class actions, gathering evidence, funding the litigation, and enforcing judgments.

RECEPTION (5:00-7:00) Please join us for more discussion, cocktails, and hors d’oeuvres.

Bridget Arimond is a professor at the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law. Her international human rights work includes a case under the ATS and the TVPA against two U.S. corporations for their alleged roles in the bombing of a village in Colombia.

Judith Brown Chomsky is a civil and human rights lawyer for the past 30 years and a cooperating attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. She was lead counsel in Doe v. Karadzic and Doe v. Unocal, and is currently lead counsel in Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum.

Katherine Gallagher is a Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where she focuses on holding individuals and corporations accountable for serious violations of international law. Before joining CCR, she worked at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for nearly five years.

Jennie Green is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and, for the past 15 years, has specialized in international human rights legal actions in U.S. courts and international bodies against multinational corporations, foreign officials and U.S. officials.

Paul Hoffman is a partner in the law firm of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman LLP and a cooperating attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. He has been at the forefront of ATS litigation for the last 25 years and argued Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Maria LaHood is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where she works on cases seeking to hold U.S. and foreign government officials and corporations accountable for human rights violations abroad.

David Scheffer is a professor and Director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law. He was previously the U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues (1997-2001) and led the U.S. delegation in U.N. talks establishing the International Criminal Court.

Additional faculty may be added

This training program is sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Northwestern University School of Law's Center for International Human Rights.

Last modified 

February 24, 2015