37 Victoria U. Wellington L. Rev. 1 (2006)

handle is hein.journals/vuwlr37 and id is 1 raw text is: SOSA VAL VAREZ-MA CHAIN AND THE
ALIEN TORT CLAIMS ACT
Hugh King*
Since the seminal case of Filartiga v Pena-Irala in 1980, the controversial Alien Tort Claims Act has
regularly been invoked in United States federal courts to sue foreign perpetrators of international
human rights violations. In Sosa v Alvarez-Machain, decided in 2004, the United States Supreme
Court for the first time ruled on the Act's proper application. This article, after first identifying
three different approaches taken towards the Act by federal courts over the last 25 years, examines
the Supreme Court decision. While welcoming the Court's affirmation of the Act as a mechanismfor
addressing certain international law  violations, it critiques the Court's conservative and
problematic test to determine the extent of the international law violations falling within the Act's
ambit, and highlights many ambiguities in the decision with which lower courts will have to
grapple.
1      INTRODUCTION
It is said that the international legal community is beset today with talk of accountability.1
Indeed, individual accountability in the wake of human rights abuses has recently taken on greater
significance due to the increase in mechanisms used to tackle impunity and vindicate victims' rights.
The creation of the International Criminal Court and the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals,
among many other bodies, reflects efforts taken by the international community to bring perpetrators
of human rights atrocities to justice. But less prominent mechanisms also exist to serve as
alternatives to criminal justice when, for various reasons, criminal trials are not possible. Truth
commissions, such as those established in East Timor and Sierra Leone, are one example. Civil suits
are another. It is this latter category, and in particular the operation of the Alien Tort Claims Act
Submitted as part of the LLB(Hons) programme at Victoria University of Wellington. Winner of the Robert
Orr McGechan Memorial Prize. The author would like to thank Alberto Costi for his insightful comments
during the preparation of this article.
1   Jason S Abrams and Steven R Ratner Accountability for Human Rights Atrocities in International Lan,:
Beyond the Nureinberg Legacy (Oxford University Press, New York, 1997) 3.

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