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Filartiga v. Pena-Irala - 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980)


The Alien Tort Statute does not grant new rights to aliens, but is simply an opening to the federal courts for adjudication of the rights already recognized by international law.


Appellants, Dolly Filartiga and Joel Filartiga, were citizens of the Republic of Paraguay. They filed an action in the United States against appellee, Americo Norberto Pena-Irala, also a citizen of Paraguay, for wrongfully causing the death of Joelito Filartiga, appellants’ family member. Appellants contend that on March 29, 1976, Joelito Filartiga was kidnapped and tortured to death by Pena in retaliation for his father's political actions and beliefs.  The district court dismissed the action for want of subject matter jurisdiction.  The district court felt constrained to narrowly construe the "law of nations" as employed in the Alien Tort Statute. Appellants challenged the district court's decision. 


Did the district court err in its dismissal for want of subject matter jurisdiction?




The court reversed the decision of the district court. According to the court, official torture had been prohibited by the law of nations, and such prohibition was clear and unambiguous and admitted no distinction between treatment of aliens and citizens. The court determined that deliberate torture perpetuated under color of official authority violated universally accepted norms of the international law of human rights, regardless of the nationality of the parties. The court ruled that whenever an alleged torturer was found and served with process by an alien within the borders of the United States, federal jurisdiction was appropriate. The court thereby determined that its jurisdiction was appropriate.

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