Report: Responses to Attacks on the Alien Tort Claims Act

Victims of the most serious human rights abuses often have no way to seek justice in their home countries. This may be because the government and courts at home are corrupt, or controlled by the same people responsible for the violations. Or it may be because the people or groups responsible for the abuses have left their country. When the perpetrators of egregious human rights abuses are found in a foreign country, many nations have laws that enable victims to file criminal charges or civil lawsuits against them. In the United States, several U.S. laws make it possible for victims to sue human rights abusers for compensation and punitive damages. In this way, our laws prevent the United States from becoming a safe haven for those responsible for genocide, slavery, and torture.

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One such law, the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), provides a way to hold human rights abusers accountable when they are found in the United States. The ATCA is a civil remedy enacted in 1789 that authorizes a “civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

Some groups, including the International Chamber of Commerce, have raised questions to advance the argument that this remedy should be eliminated. First, we provide plain answers to the most repeated challenges to show that most of them are mistaken or misleading. Then, we give real examples of how the ATCA has served to protect and advance cherished human rights throughout the world.


Last modified 

January 11, 2010