Law Office of
INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW
Peter is involved in
international human rights issues because he still believes that we can
world governed by the rule of law, where international human rights
violations can be prosecuted anywhere in the world. His book, Human
Rights and the Alien Tort
Statute: Law History and Analysis, was published by the American
Association in 2009.
In 1980, in the case of Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, a
Paraguayan police captain was found liable for torturing and killing
the 17-year-old son of a political opponent of dictator
Alfredo Stroessner. Judge Irving Kaufman famously
declared that "the torturer has
become like a pirate and slave trader before him hostis humani generis,
an enemy of all mankind." The court established three important
1. United States courts have jurisdiction under an obscure 18th century statute, the Alien Tort Statute, to adjudicate violations of international law, even though neither of the parties are United States citizens.
2. International law is continually
changing. A court must apply contemporary international law to
claims brought under the Alien Tort Statute.
3. Customary international law
prohibits a government from torturing its own citizens.
the Supreme Court upheld the basic holdings of Filartiga in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain.
It is now clear that human rights cases alleging a violation of
international law can be prosecuted
in United States courts. The nations of the world will continue
to reach consensus on norms of internationally accepted conduct and
these norms can be enforced in United States courts.
there have been hundreds of
cases brought in United
States courts, alleging violations of international law. Cases
under the Alien Tort Statute have alleged violations of international
human rights on every inhabited continent, and for a wide range of
activities: Nazi-era atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide,
suppression of religious groups, war crimes committed with the approval
of governments, terrorism, and torture and extrajudicial killing by the
agents of brutal dictatorship. In addition, there is a growing
consensus that other types
of misconduct by governmental actors, such as state sponsored
discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and possibly even
religion, may also violate international law. Similarly,
expropriation of property by governmental actors without compensation,
forced exile, and involuntary medical experimentation have also been
found to violate international law.
In a 1995 case, Kadic v. Karadzic, the
Second Circuit held that Radovan Karadzic, the self-styled President of
the Republic of Serbia, could be sued as an individual for his
involvement in the atrocities in Bosnia even though he was not acting
as a governmental official. This case was very important because
it established the principle that private individuals and, by
implication, other non-governmental actors such as corporations, could
found liable for violating international law. Kadic opened the
door to lawsuits against multinational corporations for
committing human rights abuses and for aiding and
abetting such abuses by governments.
a new wave of
cases under the Alien Tort Statute, particularly against oil and mining
companies for assisting brutal governmental
repression. In the most successful case, Unocal paid a
reportedly in the amount of $30 million, for its actions in
constructing a pipeline through Myanmar, because the Myanmar military
committed gross human rights violations. In South African Apartheid Litigation,
a case that is being actively litigated in
the Southern District of New York, plaintiffs are seeking to
group of multinational
corporations liable for aiding and abetting the apartheid policies of
the former Union of South
The international "rule of law" means that liability for human rights violations should be determined by generally recognized norms of law with the relevant facts determined by evidentary proceedings, not on the bases of political allegiances or military force. For example, it should be an absolute that the killing of unarmed civilians as part of an effort to terrorize the population violates international law, regardless of whether it is done by a suicide bomber or whether it is done by a bombing raid by an organized air force. Government expropriation of property for ethnic cleansing campaigns should never be tolerated. Torture of prisoners is also clearly proscribed, whether performed by rogue governments, rebel militia, or by the United States at Guantanamo or Abu Gharib.
Other international law norms are also emerging. Government sponsored discrimination on the basis of race or gender, which until very recently was generally accepted by many governments, now arguably violates international law. Although United States courts have held that international law, as of 2011, does not recognize a right to a clean and safe environment, it is to be hoped that international law will evolve and will recognize a right to a healthy environment in the future.
Peter believes that establishing universal standards of international law and the mechanisms to enforce these standards will provide the best hope for world peace, for a world committed to justice, human rights and dignity, and for a fair opportunity for every person to develop their full potential as human beings. International law should not only proscribe governments from torturing and killing its own citizens; it should also prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, gender or religion, and should be expanded to guarantee every human being certain rights, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He believes that international institutions, such as the International Criminal Court, and other evolving judicial fora should be strengthened, their jurisdiction widened, and that they should be given broader latitude to enforce their decisions.
As a United States lawyer, Peter would like to see courts in the United States exercise their jurisdiction over international law claims and provide a forum for cases brought to redress atrocities committed in violation of international law anywhere in the world. United States courts, by accepting this role, will best fulfill the noble principles upon which the United States was originally founded more than two centuries ago. The April 2013 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum sharply limits the possibility of using the Alien Tort State as a jurisdictional basis for violations of international law, but Peter believes that it is essential that advocates for human rights develop other and new legal strategies to make United States courts address violations of international law.