Tort Liability for Human Rights Abuses

By George P. Fletcher

{Hart Publishing: 2008}

Winter 2009

In his new book, Tort Liability for Human Rights Abuses, Columbia Law School Professor George P. Fletcher presents a bold new theory that urges the use of tort law, rather than the traditional criminal law, to fight human rights abuses worldwide. In defending this view, Fletcher draws upon an act of Congress passed 220 years ago: the Alien Torts Claims Act of 1789.

“This provision in the First Judiciary Act has created a unique version of universal jurisdiction—one you would never expect to find in the United States,” says Fletcher, the Law School’s Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence. “The term [universal jurisdiction] was probably unknown at the time and yet, today, the Alien Torts Claims Act of 1789 is probably the most effective instrument to correct the evil of human rights abuses in the world.”

In the book, Fletcher examines a series of cases, starting with Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, which extended the jurisdiction of U.S. courts to tortious acts committed around the world, and culminating in the 2004 case of Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, which involved the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s abduction of a Mexican citizen in a drug case. Through his analysis, Fletcher shows how torture cases led to a reawakening of the Alien Torts Statute, thus giving legal practitioners a tool with which to assist victims of torture and other extreme human rights abuses. Tort Liability for Human Rights Abuses also closely examines current cutting-edge cases, particularly those involving liability for funding terrorism.
 

Photographed by Ian Allen