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What is the “Alien Tort Statute”?

The Alien Tort Statute is a U.S. federal law that allows a non-citizen of the U.S. to bring a civil tort action in a federal court.  Non-citizens are normally very restricted in their ability to bring a lawsuit in a U.S. court.  However, the Alien Tort Statute basically allows an alien to utilize the U.S. federal court system for certain tort violations.

The statute requires that the tort involve some sort of violation of the law of nations or a violation of a U.S. treaty.  Victims of such torts will usually file under this statute if the defendant is officially located in the U.S. or has significant properties and assets in the U.S.  A party that files under the Alien Tort Statute must often satisfy a series of eligibility requirements before a court can have jurisdiction over their claim.

The Alien Tort Statute is also known as the “Alien Tort Claims Act” (ATCA).

What types of Violations Does the Alien Tort Statute Involve?

The Alien Tort Statute generally covers serious violations involving abuses of human rights.  The law usually applies to government entities or persons acting under the color of the official government of another country.  For example, instances of torture or kidnapping by a foreign government might give rise to a claim under the Alien Tort Statute.

In the past it has been relatively difficult for an alien to file suit under the Alien Tort Statute as it is generally applicable in very serious cases.  However, the statute has recently been the focus of several lawsuits in which corporate leaders where held liable for human rights violations committed in connection with their presence in a foreign country. 

So, for example, if a worker was harmed by a U.S. company overseas, they may be able to file suit in a U.S. federal court if the claim involved a violation of international laws.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Claim Involving the Alien Tort Statute?

The Alien Tort Statute, or Alien Tort Claims Act can provide an avenue of relief for certain violations.  You may wish to contact a lawyer if you believe that you have a claim under the ATCA.  Your attorney can advise you on your rights under U.S. laws, and can determine what types of remedies may be available to you.   

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 06-30-2011 03:06 PM PDT

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