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AJCongress opposes requiring foreign officials to testify in U.S. courts

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NEW YORK (Press Release)—Efforts to haul foreign officials before American courts in civil actions should be rejected, the AJCongress Friday told the Supreme Court in Samantar v. Yousef, a case in which Somalian citizens seek to sue in Virginia for alleged violations of international law which took place in Somalia.

The agency said enforcement of international legal norms should be left to criminal prosecutions and other diplomatic avenues of recourse. In its brief, the Jewish agency warned that any other holding would open the U.S. courts to extensive litigation over recent fighting in the Middle East, and would expose American servicemen to being sued in foreign courts anywhere in the world over actions taken in Afghanistan.

The brief noted that a wide variety of international law decisions—such as those of the International Court of Justice, European Court of Human Rights and the British House of Lords, as well as the courts of Germany, Greece, Northern Ireland and Canada, as well as the U.N. adopted Convention on the Jurisdictional Immunities of States—all recognize that sovereign immunity, based on the principle that an equal cannot judge an equal, is a bar to the maintenance of human rights lawsuits in foreign court  against states officials who carry out state policies, no matter what the nature of the claim.

AJCongress’ brief noted that it was not urging impunity for violators of international law. Most important,  it observed, immunity does not apply to criminal prosecutions in a appropriate tribunal.

Congress could, if it wished, override immunity, and it may have done so in the case of torture and certain extra-judicial killings which are alleged in this case. A range of other measures would still exist to deal with violations of international human rights law.

The brief observed, “There is, to be sure, a price to pay for barring private litigation to redress gross violations of international law such as those alleged here. But it pales into insignificance compared to the costs of allowing such litigation.”

The brief was prepared by AJCongress’ General Counsel, Marc D. Stern.

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Preceding provided by AJCongress

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