Author- Maria Santana
Nationalism and conservatism has not had resurgence in the United States of America since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. With that being said love of country has grown in America since Trump’s bid at the presidency and his victory. Many Americans, regardless they supported Trump or not, have a lot of concerns. One concern that has not been brought to my attention as of late is human rights abuses. Now the definition of human rights varies depending on time and place. There are human rights abuses going on in the United States and around the world. Now for the American federal government to be concerned with human rights abuses abroad would seem globalist. Yet there have been human rights cases that had been tried in America since 1980 due to the Alien Tort Statute.
The Alien Tort Statute (28 U.S.C. § 1350; ATS), also called the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), is a section of the United States Code that 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.” Since 1980, courts have interpreted this statute to allow foreign citizens to seek remedies in U.S. courts for human-rights violations for conduct committed outside the United States. There have been some known high profile cases that have used Alien Tort Statute in order to sue for damages.
The first case to use the Alien Tort Statute was the Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980), a landmark case in the United States and in international law. The case set the precedent for American federal courts to penalize non-Americans for acts of torture outside the country in violation of the law of nations also known as public international law or any treaty the United States is a participating party.
Paraguay was under Alfredo Stroessner, an oppressive leader, was part of Operation Condor, where leaders were installed in Latin America to prevent the spread of communism. Operation Condor was part of American foreign policy at the time and it did not matter how oppressive the regime was.
Joel Filartiga was a doctor in Paraguay, an outspoken and political involved critic of Stroessner and his regime. In retaliation, Americo Norberto Peña-Irala, the Inspector General of Police at the time, kidnapped 17 year old son Joelito Filartiga. After the Filartiga was reported missing and later found with evidence of being tortured to death on March 29, 1976. Filartiga went to file charges against Peña-Irala but the case went nowhere. The lawyer willing to represent the Filartiga family could not defend the family because he was arrested, imprisoned, and threatened with death. What stopped the lawyer from helping the family was him being disbarred without just cause.
The Filartiga came to America to seek political asylum because Joelito’s death was a message to the family. The first to leave the United States was Dolly, Joelito’s older sister then Joel. To the Filartiga’s surprise, Peña-Irala had entered the country but working illegally in the United States. Filartiga took Pena-Irala to court using ATS and long story short was ordered by the courts to pay millions of dollars for damages. Pena-Irala could not comply with that demand and was later deported to Paraguay.
The issue I have with the Alien Tort Statute is that the needs of foreigners are being fulfilled before Americans. This is problematic because it does not coincide with Americans being first. It is my belief as an anti-globalist that human rights abuses that have occurred abroad not be tried in the United States. Can there be exceptions to this? Perhaps only if American corporations or entities were to cause these abuses abroad then maybe but what is the purpose of international law then?