International Humanitarian Law Does Not Prohibit Shooting Locusts, Brutes, and Infected: Why Game Developers Should Stop Being Lazy and Stop Using War Crimes in Lieu of Plot

Via Opinio Juris, a Swiss NGO has produced a report on the promotion of violations of international humanitarian law in video games. [PDF] This is a subject that’s actually bothered me before, and I am glad to see someone giving it some serious thought. Not only is the report’s game-by-game analysis of possible international law violations fascinating, but I’m completely on board with the authors’ stated purpose:

The goal is not to prohibit the games, to make them less violent or to turn them into IHL [International Humanitarian Law] or IHRL [International Human Rights Law] training tools. The message we want to send to developers and distributors of video games, particularly those portraying armed conflict scenarios, is that they should also portray the rules that apply to such conflicts in real life, namely IHRL and IHL. We would thus like to propose the producers to incorporate the essential rules of IHL [obligations].

First person shooters are pretty much the only game type I seriously play, but as a general rule, I don’t play FPS games that involve hunting down and killing other humans. My avoidance of them is due to a variety of factors: in part due to a dislike for the game concept, in part due to personal squeamishness, and in part due to an inability to suspend disbelief enough to become immersed in a game when I’m busy murdering people left and right. I would never advocate censorship of video games, but I would love for developers to be more aware of their games’ incidental promotion of war crimes, and to see new games incorporate into gameplay some of the real considerations involved in armed conflict, including compliance with humanitarian law.

As it stands today, many games treat war so callously and so unrealistically that they are not only offensive, they are also just plain bad and boring to play. I remember Army of Two, which is discussed unfavorably in the NGO article, being particularly nasty. Aside from the gameplay being laughably asinine (collecting “agro” so your partner turns invisible? For reals?), I had serious problems with playing two white dudes who are happily blasting their way through various hordes of Somalis and then blasting their way through various hordes of Iraqis, with the general mission guideline being “if someone looks like a native, shoot them.”

The game was even more disturbing when you realize that its timeline (1993 in Somalia, 2003 in Iraq) explicitly matches up with real life armed conflicts that the U.S. has been involved in. These games are not about theoretical, imaginary wars where only bad guys die — they are about very real events that resulted in the very real deaths of many innocent civilians.

War crime-promotion is disturbing in itself, but also bothersome in that, oftentimes, games that require the indiscriminate killing of human beings do so at the expense of having an enjoyable and nuanced story line. Pretty much all the games I do play, with one partial exception, feature clever and creative stories that avoid any need for human-on-human carnage. As a result, I can happily blast my way through Gears of War’s Locusts, Left 4 Dead’s zombies, and Halo’s Covenant troops without ever worrying about accidental humanitarian violations. (Well, okay — I sometimes feel a little guilty for mowing down terrified Grunts. But I do it anyway.)

The one FPS I enjoy that does involve killing humans is Half-Life. A lot of the shooting is directed at adorable little head crabs and antlions, which is cool by me, but the game also requires you to shoot at human Metro Cops. However, even there, thanks to the masks and voice disguisers, the CP’s are fairly easy to dehumanize. In terms of the game’s narrative, killing them does not tread as far into moral gray zones as do other human-killing games; they are an Orwellian paramilitary police force whose troops are all citizens who have become traitors to humanity. So shooting a couple in self-defense ain’t so bad, and doesn’t entail any risk of torture, summary execution, POW mistreatment, or abuse and murder of civilians.

Essentially, there is no game-based justification for why a game should allow players to engage in consequence-free war crimes. Designing games based upon a theme of wanton murder is a cheap cop-out by developers; gameplay could only benefit if violations of humanitarian law had serious in-game consequences, forcing players to either find a way to accomplish an objective without committing a war crime, or else go ahead and commit the war crime but then be forced to pay a substantial cost as a result.

I’d also point out that that even if a video game does not involve shooting humans, there is still ample room left over for indulgent, ivory tower analysis of gameplay under international law. Many important legal questions remain, such as, How is it in Halo that the UN finally got together the funding and state support necessary to create the elite UN Marine force? How do the laws of international organization responsibility apply to ODSTs? Does the treaty that formed the COG in Gears of War actually permit the forced conscription of soldiers in return for feeding their families? Not to mention, if a massive zombie invasion breaks out in an allied nation, does NATO require other states to act in collective defense of that state?

-Susan

The International Law of Antarctic Whiskey of Historical Value

A New Zealand expedition is planning to drill for one hundred year old whiskey in Antarctica, from two crates left behind by the Nimrod Expedition in 1909.

The Nimrod Expedition, lead by Sir Ernest Shackleton, came within 97 miles of the South Pole before they gave up and came home. They’d originally brought with them 25 crates of McKinlay’s scotch, but two were found to have been left behind in the expedition’s Cape Royds base hut.

However, a century of ice and snow isn’t the only thing standing in the way of the whiskey’s recovery. International law may also pose a barrier, as the hut at Cape Royds has been designated an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) under Annex V to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. Art. 8(4) of the Annex requires that “Listed Historic Sites and Monuments shall not be damaged, removed or destroyed.” Although temporary removal of objects for conservation purposes is permitted, and taking samples of the whiskey for study would be permitted, the crates and most the whiskey are prohibited from being removed completely by any one party under current treaty law. Today, preservation of the hut is the responsibility of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, hence their carrying out of the whiskey mission.

There are a couple sources of treaty requirements regarding Shackleton’s whiskey and other historical relics. Resolution 3 from ATCM XXXII incorporated the Guidelines on Preservation of Historic Areas, which states:

“To that end, Parties should notify the other Parties of the discovery, indicating what remains have been found, and where and when. The consequences of removing such remains should be duly considered. If items nonetheless were removed from Antarctica, they should be delivered to the appropriate authorities or public institutions in the home country of the discoverer, and remain available upon request for research purposes.”

Measure 5 of ATCM XXXII, “Revised Management Plan for ASPA 121 (Cape Royds),” is more specifially relevant to the McKinley whiskey, as it addresses the handling and conservation of artifacts from the Nimrod Expedition. The plan became effective in July, 2009. Section 7(vii) requires that:

“Material may be collected or removed from the Area only in accordance with a permit should be limited to the minimum necessary to meet scientific or management needs.”

“Any new artifacts observed should be notified to the appropriate national authority. Relocation or removal of artifacts for the purposes of preservation, protection or to re-establish historical accuracy is
allowable by permit.”

So while recovering a sample of whiskey with a syringe to take back for study would qualify as a “scientific need,” it or any other materials retrieved must remain in the hands of a public institution and be available to other nations for research purposes. Incidentally, I do not know exactly what “permits” are required or where they are obtained from, but I find it depressing to know that not even the remote icefields of Antarctica are free from the strictures of bureaucracy.

Finally, part of me suspects that the whiskey retrieval mission is less about getting a sample of historical whiskey and more about an awesome publicity campaign. Or possibly just part of an advertising war between whiskey makers — Jameson’s may dive into the sea during a storm to recover a barrel of their whiskey, but McKinlay’s can trump that by sending an expedition to Antarctica to retrieve Shackleton’s lost whiskey cache.

-Susan

Alien Tort Statute Cases Resulting in Plaintiff Victories

This post is an attempt to catalog all Alien Tort Statute (28 U.S.C. § 1350) cases that have resulted in something other than complete failure for the plaintiffs who have brought the claims.

Most ATS victories have been default judgments against individual defendants, with a few claims against individual government officials and states being decided on the merits. Collection of judgments awarded under the ATS is a low probability game, although a few lucky plaintiffs have succeeded. Most judgments remain moral victories.

To date, only two judgments have been entered against corporate defendants, with one judgment entered by default and one after a jury trial.

There have been maybe a dozen settlements reached in ATS cases against corporate defendants; many of these settlements are confidential, but of the ones that have been revealed, it appears to be a fairly even split between settlements that appear to have favored the plaintiffs and settlements that appear to have favored the defendants.

In other words, the argument that ATS litigation is financially ruinous for international businesses or a serious impediment to multinational operations is vastly overstated. Tort claims under the ATS make up an infinitesimal fraction of corporate litigation budgets worldwide.

A. Successful ATS Claims Against Non-Corporate Entities, With Decisions Reached Other than by Default

  1. Jansen v. The Brigantine Vrow Christina Magdalena (D.S.C. 1794),  aff’d by Talbot v. Jansen, 3. U.S. 133 (1795). Ship owned by a Dutch citizen was captured by an American citizen who had attempted to renounce his American citizenship in order to take commission from France as a privateer. After co-capturer Talbot intervened and challenged the district court’s jurisdiction — based, in part, of the inability of a U.S. court to be acting as a prize court over a captor alleging to hold a French commission — the court was required to consider, in the absence of prize jurisdiction, “[w]hether this court has any and what jurisdiction relative to matters arising on the high seas.” The court concluded that it did have jurisdiction, and cited to both its admiralty jurisdiction and the ATS in support of this: “[t]he court shall have exclusive original cognizance in all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; and concurrent jurisdiction with the courts of the several states, or the circuit courts of the United States (as the case may be) where an alien sues for a tort only in violation of the law of nations, or a treaty of the United States.” The district court then found that although the capture was not piracy, it was in violation of both the law of nations and the U.S.’s treaty with Holland, and in doing so the defendants’ acts risked the U.S.’s neutral character in the conflict, and so found for the Dutch plaintiff. On appeal to the Supreme Court, France argued that it was a breach of international law for the U.S. to adjudicate a dispute between Holland and France arising from an act occurring on the high seas. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, and Justice Iredell held that “[t]he general law of nations are enquirable and may be proceeded against in any nation where no special exemption can be maintained, either by the general law of nations, or by some treaty which forbids or restrains it[.]” Iredell concluded that “[t]his is so palpable a violation of our own law (I mean the common law, of which the law of nations is a part,…) as well as of the law of nations generally; that I cannot entertain the slightest doubt, but that … the District Court had jurisdiction.”
  2. Bolchos v. Darrell, 3 F. Cas. 810 (D.S.C. 1795): Suit against French captain who captured a Spanish slave ship in 1794. Defendant was forced to return slaves or pay restitution. The district court concluded that it had jurisdiction to hear Bolchos’ suit, noting that “as the 9th section of the judiciary act of congress gives this court concurrent jurisdiction with the state courts and circuit court of the United States where an alien sues for a tort, in violation of the law of nations, or a treaty of the United States, I dismiss all doubt upon” the question of jurisdiction.
  3. Adra v. Clift, 195 F.Supp. 857 (D.Md. 1961): Iraqi mother found in violation of law of nations by refusing to return custody of daughter to her father, and for forging passports for her to be admitted to U.S. However, the Lebanese father was denied relief as court found it to be in daughter’s best interest to remain with mother.
  4. In re Estate of Marcos Human Rights Litigation, 978 F.2d 493 (9th Cir. 1993): First ATS case to go to trial. Defendant liable to the class for over $766 million in compensatory damages, and $1.2 billion in exemplary damages.
  5. Abebe-Jira v. Negewo, 72 F.3d 844 (11th Cir. 1996): Bench Trial. Case against Ethiopian guard for torture and CITD, affirmed by the 11th Circuit. Plaintiffs each awarded plaintiff $200,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages. Also note that one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs was Harold Koh.
  6. Alejandre v. Republic of Cuba, 996 F. Supp. 1239 (S.D.Fla. 1997):* (AEDPA/TVPA) Punitive damages assessed in reference to punitives assessed for violations of international human rights law in ATS cases; “[j]udgment entered on behalf of Plaintiffs and against Defendants the Republic of Cuba and the Cuban Air Force for total compensatory damages of $49,927,911. Judgment entered for Plaintiffs and against the Defendant the Cuban Air Force (only) as punitive damages, the sum of One Hundred Thirty Seven Million, Seven Hundred Thousand Dollars ($137,700,000). Total compensatory and punitive damages awarded to Plaintiffs $187,627,911, for which sum execution issued against the Defendants Cuba and the Cuban Air Force and against any of their assets wherever situated.” Collection efforts are ongoing.
  7. Cabello v. Fernández Larios, 205 F.Supp.2d 1325 (S.D.Fla. 2002), aff’d in 402 F.3d 1148 (11th Cir. 2005): Jury verdict on Oct., 2003. Murder of Chilean economist by one of Pinochet’s military commanders, descendants sue for, inter alia, crimes against humanity and CITD. $3 million in compensatory damages ($2 mill. for extrajudicial killing, $1mil. for CAH), plus $1 million in punitive. So far, plaintiffs have recovered $200,000. (Also worth interest — 1th Cir. cited to ICCPR in its decision. It also found Larios could be indirectly liable under either a theory of aiding and abetting or conspiracy.) (Further, defendant in case is noted to have made what is quite possibly the creepiest threat I have ever heard: “I will caress the little pigeons.”)
  8. Arce v. Garcia, 434 F.3d 1254 (11th Cir. 2006): “The three plaintiffs in this case are Salvadoran refugees who were allegedly tortured by military personnel in El Salvador during a campaign of human rights violations by the Salvadoran military from 1979 to 1983; the two defendants were leaders in the Salvadoran military. All of the plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages under the Torture Victim Protection Act; two plaintiffs sought the same relief under the Alien Tort Claims Act. A jury awarded the plaintiffs a total of $54,600,000, and the court entered judgments accordingly. The defendants now appeal, contending that the statute of limitations bars the plaintiffs’ claims. We conclude, based on the doctrine of equitable tolling, that the claims are not time-barred.” Although the 11th Circuit reversed its decision initially, after finding the reversal was based on certain factual errors, the jury verdict was upheld in the entirety.
  9. Jean v. Dorelien, No. 03-20161 (S.D.Fla.) (verdict issued Feb. 23, 2007): $4.3 million verdict. ($580,000 recovered to date) (nearly $1mil recovered to date, out of Defendant’s lottery winnings?).
  10. Chavez v. Carranza, W.D. Tenn. No. 03-2932 M1/P (Nov. 18, 2005) (aff’d by 6th Cir., 17 Mar 2009): Jury verdict for $6 million against commander liable for crimes against humanity.
  11. M.C. v. Bianchi (consolidated cases) (E.D.PA 2011): Anthony Mark Bianchi was convicted of several federal felonies under 18 U.S.C. § 2423 for engaging in child sex trafficking/tourism. The plaintiffs in the consolidated cases were Moldovan minors, asserting claims against Bianchi under the ATS for sexual assault in violation of the law of nations. In March 2011, the district court dismissed Bianchi’s Motion to Dismiss the matter, and, at the time, I predicted that a reversal of the decision was inevitable. I underestimated, however, the defendant’s financial and practical interests in settling the cases (Bianchi was in jail, and was a millionaire who had assets that could be collected against). Shortly thereafter, Bianchi settled with the plaintiffs for $725,000.00. Also notable is the fact that the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the matter managed to turn international human rights abuses into a lucrative enterprise, collecting a comfortable 40% contingency fee out of the settlement proceeds.

B. Default Decisions Against Individual Defendants in ATS Cases 

  1. de Letelier v. Republic of Chile, 502 F.Supp. 259 (D.D.C. 1980). Tort claims brought as result of Chilean government’s bombing of diplomat’s car in Washington, DC. Default judgment against Chilean government. Court found that it had subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case “pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1331, 1332(a)(3), 1343(1)-(2), 1350,” treating ATS as an uncontroversial and additional jurisdictional grant. There was no discussion of the substantive basis of Plaintiffs’ claim for “tortious actions in violation of international law,” and the court appears to have simply assumed its existence as a federal common law cause of action, with jurisdiction provided via unspecified combination of FSIA, domestic tort law, and federal criminal statutes.
  2. Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, 577 F. Supp. 860 (E.D.N.Y. 1984). $10.4 million judgment, as yet unenforced, for torture by Paraguayan official.
  3. Martinez-Baca v. Suarez-Mason, 1988 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19470 (N.D. Cal. 1988): Defendant initially contested, but default judgment ultimately awarded in the amount of $21 million. See also related cases, Forti v. Suarez, 694 F.Supp. 707 (N.D.Ca. 1988) ($4 million total damages, on torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, and disappearances, but not CIDT); de Rapaport, et al. v. Suarez-Mason, No. C87-2266-JPV (N.D.Cal. Apr. 11, 1989) ($30 million total damages)
  4. Todd v. Panjaitan, CIV.A. 92-12255-PBS, 1994 WL 827111 (D. Mass. 1994): Default judgment against Indonesian general, for summary execution of New Zealand national in East Timor. The descendant was in a crowd of people watching a funeral procession when troops fired, killing approximately 150-200 persons. General Panjaitan was the regional commander, and was transferred out of Indonesia after incident; he then relocated to the U.S., where he was sued. On default, descendant’s mother received: “(1) An award of compensatory damages to Helen Todd as administratrix of the estate of her son Kamal Bamadhaj for the conscious mental and physical pain and suffering of Kamal Bamadhaj in the amount of two million dollars ($2,000,000), plus interest. (2) An award of compensatory damages to plaintiff Helen Todd for her pain and suffering and loss of companionship of her son in the amount of two million dollars ($2,000,000), plus interest. (3) An award of punitive damages to plaintiff Helen Todd in the amount of ten million dollars ($10,000,000).”
  5. Paul v. Avril, 901 F. Supp. 330 (S.D. Fla. 1994): Default after defendant decline to participate. Defendant Avril, then the elected mayor of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was found to have “personal responsibility for a systematic pattern of egregious human rights abuses in Haiti during his military rule of September 1988 until March 1990. He also bears personal responsibility for the interrogation and torture of each of the plaintiffs in this case. All of the soldiers and officers in the Haitian military responsible for the arbitrary detention and torture of plaintiffs were employees, representatives, or agents of defendant Avril, acting under his instructions, authority, and control and acting within the scope of the authority granted by him. Many of the tormentors included members of the Presidential Guard and Avril’s personal security detail.” The court granted $41 million in compensatory and punitive damages to six Haitian victims of torture and false imprisonment.
  6. Xuncax v. Gramajo and Ortiz v. Gramajo*, 886 F. Supp. 162 (D. Ct. Mass. 1995): Suit by Kanjobol Indians against former Guatemalan Defense Minister, with Ortiz brought under the TVPA. Default judgment award, $47.5 million. Court sustained claims for torture, summary execution, disappearance, and arbitrary detention as obvious bases of jurisdiction, but called cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment as a “closer question,” before ultimately accepting it.
  7. Kadic v. Karadzic, 70 F.3d 232 (2d Cir. 1995): Default decision on the merits — jury determined damage award of $745 million.
  8. Mushikiwabo v. Barayagwiza, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4409 (S.D.N.Y. 1996): Incitement to genocide, based on Rwanda. $103 million awarded.
  9. Mehinovic v. Vuckovic, 198 F.Supp.2d 1322 (N.D. Ga. 2002): Default decision on merits – $140 million. Plaintiffs were four Bosnian Muslims who were tortured by a Serb soldier in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  10. Doe v. Saravia, 348 F. Supp. 2d 1112, 1156-57 (E.D. Cal. 2004): Case involved the 1980 assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (go watch the movie Romero!). ATS liability found for crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killing. Default judgment of $10 million judgment ($5 million compensatory, $5 million punitive). (Note of interest: trial court cited to ICTY cases, as well as to Rome Statute. Court cites credibility of Rome Statute by noting that “four of the five members of the Security Council” have signed it. But irrelevant that U.S. has not.)
  11. Doe v. Liu Qu (N.D. Cal. 2004): Declaratory relief granted.
  12. Reyes v. Grijalba (S.D. Fl. 2006): Case against former Honduran military intelligence chief Juan López Grijalba, on behalf of six torture survivors and families of the disappeared. Default judgment with $47 million in damages awarded.
  13. Doe v. Constant (S.D.N.Y. 2006): Defendant was a leader of a Haitian political police force used to “repress and terrorize” the civilian population. Damages at $4 million total compensatory, $15 million punitive. ($300,000 recovered so far). Point of interest: During a deposition, Constant stated, “I’m not a member of F.R.A.P.H. I’m a leader of F.R.A.P.H.” I am guessing that did not help his case. Also note that the charges in the ATS case were also relevant to his sentencing for a mortgage fraud conviction in People v. Constant, 842 N.Y.S.2d 255, (2007).
  14. Mwani v. Bin Ladin, 244 F.R.D. 20 (D.D.C. 2007): Plaintiff, 523 Kenyan citizens, brought an action under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), 28 U.S.C.S. § 1350, for harm sustained as a result of a truck bomb exploding outside the United States Embassy in Kenya allegedly at the direction of defendants, a terrorist organization and its leader. The citizens filed a motion to set a date for ex parte proof and for entry of default judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 55 against defendants. Court later allowed for evidentiary hearing on damages, but found no right to jury trial on the issue.
  15. Lizarbe v. Hurtado, (S.D. Fla. 2008): Default judgment against Peruvian army officer for. Bench trial on damages resulted in award of $12 million dollars in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.
  16. Aguilar vImperial Nurseries (D.Conn. 2008): Human trafficking case. A default judgment was also reached against non-appearing defendants: “Plaintiff Alexander Aguilar is awarded $679,663.09; Plaintiff Carlos Aguilar is awarded $394,195.17; Plaintiff Leopoldo Santos Catu is awarded $660,000; Plaintiff Santos Chajchaguin is awarded $822,000; Plaintiff Marvin Coto is awarded $827,127.43; Plaintiff Esteban Epinoza is awarded $392,641.40; Plaintiff Walter Hernandez is awarded $824, 796.78; Plaintiff Angel Mendoza is awarded $823,864.52; Plaintiff Hugo Oreno is awarded $679,929.19; Plaintiff Carlos Pinto is awarded $391,553.77; Plaintiff Hector Rodas Lopez is awarded $392,019.90; and Plaintiff Luis Amilcar Rodriguez is awarded $823,234.01.”
  17. Kpadeh, et al. v. Emmanuel, 261 F.R.D. 687 (S.D. Fla. 2009): Damages awarded in February 2010. ATS case brought Chuckie Taylor — American citizen turned commander of the Liberian Anti-Terrorism Unit — for torture, CIDT, arbitrary arrest, and prolonged detention. Taylor defaulted, and liability was entered against him. Plaintiffs then moved “to certify as a class all persons whose human rights were violated by Mr. Taylor and the ATU forces working under his command.” Class certification was denied, but on a jury trial for damages, the five plaintiffs were awarded $22.4 million. As far as could be determined, enforcement of award has not resulted in any collection for plaintiffs.
  18. Yousuf v. Samantar (4th Cir. 2012): Ongoing litigation against Somali official for various human rights abuses. In 2010, case made an appearance before the Supreme Court, where Samantar was denied foreign official immunity. In February 2012, Samantar filed for bankruptcy, and then agreed to an entry of default judgment against him before the district court. Damages were set at $21 million. In November 2012, the Fourth Circuit once again denied Samantar’s claim of immunity.

C. Successful ATS Claims Against A Corporation

  1. Licea v. Curacao Drydock Co., 584 F. Supp. 2d 1355 (S.D.Fla. 2008): (Bench) Defendant did make an appearance but refused to defend. Plaintiffs were awarded $80 million in damages total. “The Defendant in this case, one of the largest drydock companies in the Western Hemisphere, with tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues, conspired with the Republic of Cuba to force Cuban citizens to travel to facilities the Defendant owns in Curacao, to hold them in captivity there, and to force them to work repairing ships and oil platforms.” The court also found that an ATS claim was sustainable as, “Forced labor constitutes a violation of a well-established, universally-recognized norm of international law. It is widely recognized as one of the handful of serious claims for which the ATS provides jurisdiction in U.S. district courts regardless of where it occurred. It is a brutal offense condemned by the civilized world. This Court is compelled to act strongly to punish and deter it.” In January 2010, Plaintiffs moved to commence proceedings supplementary to implead the Governments of Island Territory of Curaçao and the Government of the Netherlands Antilles and add them as Judgment Debtors, but motion was denied. See Licea v. Curacao Drydock Co., Inc., 06-22128-CIV, 2011 WL 2118716 (S.D.Fla. 2011). The plaintiffs are now trying to collect the judgment from the corporate defendants, by, in part, garnishing the Church of Scientology.
  2. Chowdhury v. Worldtel Bangladesh Holding, Ltd., et al., 588 F. Supp.2d 375 (E.D.N.Y. 2008) (Aug. 2009): (Jury) Plaintiff brought suit for torture that was motivated by desire to have plaintiff give up control of his company; Defendant hired Bangladeshi police unit to carry out the torture. Verdict after jury trial for $1.5 million in compensatory damages against both corporate and individual defendant, and $250,000 in punitive damages against individual defendant alone. Jury did not find that punitives were warranted against the corporate defendant. Notice of appeal was filed by defendants, but does not appear to have been acted on — presumably, payment of the judgment was made and the matter is done with, but need confirmation on this point. [Edit: After Kiobel, the Second Circuit, on appeal, reversed the plaintiff’s verdict, finding that the ATS did not confer jurisdiction.]

D. Ongoing Claims (Very Partial List)

  1. Ochoa Lizarbe v. Rivera Rondon, 402 F. App’x 834, 838 (4th Cir. 2010): Case currently stayed. Claims arise out of defendant’s participation in the Peruvian “Accomarca Massacre.” Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of immunity to Rondon under the FSIA. As of October 2012, another six month stay was entered, due to Peruvian criminal proceedings against the Defendant that are ongoing.
  2. Ahmed v. Magan, No. 2:10-cv-342 (S.D. Ohio): Ongoing claims against Somali official that now resides in Ohio. U.S. has filed statement of interest in the matter, recommending that the U.S. exercise jurisdiction over him, and recognizing “(1) that Magan is a former official of a state with no currently recognized government to request immunity on his behalf, including by expressing a position on whether the acts in question were taken in an official capacity, and (2) the Executive’s assessment that it is appropriate in the circumstances here to give effect to the proposition that U.S. residents like Magan who enjoy the protections of U.S. law ordinarily should be subject to the jurisdiction of our courts.” (Statement of Interest of the United States of America.) Although Defendant initially participated in litigation, he went AWOL midway through proceedings, and in November 2012 the court granted plaintiff’s unopposed motion for partial summary judgment. A hearing on damages has been set for May 2013.

E. Plaintiffs Receiving Out of Court Settlements for ATS Claims Against Corporations or State Actors

  1. Siderman de Blake v. Republic of Argentina, 965 F.2d 699 (9th Cir. 1992). Settled Sept. 13, 1996, in the Central District Court of California. Siderman had a complicated procedural path, most of it focusing on FSIA jurisdiction and not ATS jurisdiction, but it started off as a default judgment for a claim brought under the ATS. Eventually, after winding its way up to and then being bounced back from the 9th Circuit, Argentina settled the case with the plaintiff. This was the first time in a U.S. case that a foreign state had settled for claims of human rights violations. The settlement terms were confidential, but sources place the total at around $6 million.
  2. Eastman Kodak Co. v. Kavlin, 978 F.Supp. 1078 (S.D.Fla. 1997). American corporation and its employee brought action against Bolivian distributor and distributor’s officer, alleging that employee was wrongfully imprisoned in Bolivia. Claim survived dismissal: “With deep reservations, the Court holds that Carballo has stated a claim under the ATCA. As egregious as Casa Kavlin’s conduct may be if plaintiff’s allegations stand true, it pales in comparison to the usual fare under the ATCA-hideous torture, gang rape, genocidal murder, and the like. Nonetheless, the Court finds that the law of nations does prohibit the state to use its coercive power to detain an individual in inhumane conditions for a substantial period of time solely for the purpose of extorting from him a favorable economic settlement. The Court also finds that the Alien Tort Claims Act makes responsible anyone who conspires with state actors to achieve such an unlawful arbitrary detention. Accordingly, defendants’ motion will be denied on this ground.” Afterward, the parties settled.
  3. Jama v. U.S. I.N.S., 22 F.Supp.2d 353 (D.N.J. 1998). Court granted motion to dismiss of ATS claims against INS, but denied motion to dismiss against INS agents in their personal capacity. Later, United States settled some of the claims including ATS claims. The settlement agreement provided: “In this Settlement Agreement, plaintiffs and the government defendants settle any and all claims filed against the INS and/or the United States, including those stated in the first amended complaint filed on September 23, 1997, in Jama, et al. v. INS, et al., Civ. No. 97-3093 (DRD) (D.N.J.) (the “lawsuit”), alleging, inter alia, tort liability for damage to property and for emotional damages, violations of United States obligations under various international treaties, and violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).” No word on how much the settlement was for.
  4. Doe v. Unocal, 248 F.3d 915 (9th Cir. 2001): Undisclosed sum, various sources cite “millions.”
  5. Doe v. Reddy, et al, C 02-05570 WHA, 2003 WL 23893010 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 4, 2003): Claims brought by Indian women trafficked into the U.S. for forced labor and debt bondage. All claims other than ATS claims dismissed. The primary wrongdoer was Lakireddy Bali Reddy, who personally was involved in the abuse and slave trafficking, but his involved family members and associated network of corporations were also defendants. Claims were eventually settled for approximately $11 million.
  6. Doe I v. The Gap, Inc., No. CV-01-0031, 2001 WL 1842389, at *1 (D. N. Mar. I. Nov. 26, 2001); Does I v. The Gap, Inc., No. CV-01-0031, 2002 WL 1000068, at *1 (D. N. Mar. I. May 10, 2002): Claims brought arising from allegations of sweatshop abuse in Saipan, including claims under ATS. “The case settled in two “pacts,” with nineteen defendants (“Group I”) participating in the settlement that was preliminarily approved on May 10, 2002,112 and the remaining seven retailers and twenty-three manufacturers (“Group II”) announcing an agreement on September 26, 2002…. The settlements for Group I and Group II both contain the same basic stipulations regarding monetary payments and injunctive relief. A twenty-million dollar settlement fund from Groups I and II is designated to pay back wages for workers (as compensation for “volunteer work”) and to establish and administer a monitoring agreement.” Smith, Erin Geiger, Case Study: Does I v. the Gap, Inc.: Can A Sweatshop Suit Settlement Save Saipan?, 23 Rev. Litig. 737, 752-53 (2004). However, it is worth noting that the Court didn’t believe this to be a ‘win’ for the plaintiffs: “The court finds that there was minimal success in the outcome of this litigation as originally contemplated by the plaintiffs. The defendants settled without admitting any liability or fault1 and the plaintiffs received only 2% or less of what they originally stated they were seeking.” Does I v. The Gap, Inc., CV-01-0031, 2003 WL 22997250 (D. N. Mar. I. Sept. 11, 2003). Still, in all, “Plaintiffs [we]re awarded attorneys’ fees of $3,150,000.00 and expenses in the amount of $4,687,651.97.”
  7. Bodner v. Banque Paribas, 114 F. Supp. 2d 117, 128 (E.D.N.Y. 2000): Holocaust litigation asserting ATS claims, eventually settled. “The putative class of Benisti plaintiffs is composed completely of aliens suing for torts in violation of international law, including allegedly aiding and abetting the Vichy and Nazi regimes to plunder plaintiffs’ private property, depriving members of the Jewish community in France the means to finance their escape, facilitating Nazi genocide, and other claims. Such deeds were allegedly achieved by methods including blocking and confiscating the deposit accounts and the safety deposit boxes of the members of the putative class in advance of any official compulsion to do so, requiring depositors to fill out detailed, anti-semitic, geneological questionnaires, and distributing a circular of the French Banking Association detailing a common plan to seize Jewish assets. Plaintiffs refer to United Nations resolutions and the work of the Nuremberg tribunals as further evidence of the content of customary international law and the Court finds that such analogies have merit.”
  8. Wang Xiaoning vs. Yahoo!: Undisclosed, but did cover Plaintiff’s legal fees.
  9. Wiwa v. Shell, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 11873 (2d Cir.) (June 3, 2009): $15.5 million settlement.
  10. Abiola v. Abubakar, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2937 (N.D. Ill., Jan. 15, 2008): “Based on discussions with the parties, it appears that the settlement in the case, the amount of which is evidently confidential, is being funded by the government of Nigeria, which is not a party to the lawsuit. It further appears that the government of Nigeria is the driving force behind the request to vacate the June 27, 2006 decision. The parties have adopted the request because it appears to be important, and perhaps necessary, to finalize the settlement.”
  11. Aguilar vImperial Nurseries (D.Conn. 2008): Human trafficking case. Default judgment entered against non-appearing defendants; confidential settlement reached with defendants Imperial Nurseries, Griffin Land & Nurseries, Gregory M. Schaan, Jim Wells, Frederick M. Danziger, and Anthony J. Galici.
  12. Mainawal Rahman Building & Construction Co., Ltd. et al v. Dyncorp International, LLC (E.D.Va. 2009): Claims brought against defense contractor for torts in Afghanistan. Settlement occurred on unknown terms.
  13. Abdullahi v. Pfizer, Inc., 562 F.3d 163 (2d Cir. 2009): Following the 2d Circuit’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, 621 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010), the Pfizer plaintiffs accepted a settlement in February 2011. Terms of the settlement are confidential, but “Pfizer spokesman Christopher Loder said the trust fund can pay a maximum of $175,000 per child to those able to prove death or permanent disability due to the 1996 trial of Trovan.” It seems like the payments will be made out of a $35 million trust fund established under a previous settlement with the Nigerian state of Kano.
  14. In re XE Services Alien Tort Litig., 665 F. Supp. 2d 569 (E.D. Va. 2009): Five consolidated cases. Plaintiffs were 45 Iraqi citizens and the estates of 19 deceased Iraqi citizens. Defendants were 11 corporations providing contract military services — a group of companies more that were more commonly known as Blackwater — along with two individuals, including Erik Prince, who owned and operated the companies. Settlement with the other individual defendant, a Blackwater employee, was reached first. Subsequently, following dismissal of parallel criminal charges, Xe settled the claims. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but from reports, it appears that plaintiffs averaged between $20,000 and $30,000 for claims for injuries, and $100,000 for the deceased plaintiffs. Many of the plaintiffs appear to be dissatisfied with the result; Blackwater, on the other hand, was reportedly “pleased” with the outcome.
  15. Shiguago et al. v. Occidental Petroleum Co. (C.D. Cal. 2010): Possible settlement. Case was dismissed with prejudice by stipulation; it appears that it could have been pursuant to a confidential settlement, but unconfirmed.
  16. Estate of Marani Manook v. Unity Resources Group (4th Cir. 2011): Suit by family of Iraqi woman against an Australian defense contractor. Marani Manook and another woman were shot by defendant’s contractors while the women were driving down a Baghdad street; claims were brought for war crimes and for the aiding and abetting of war crimes under the ATS, as well as for several additional domestic tortious causes of action. Plaintiff’s estate received a confidential out of court settlement.
  17. Al-Quraishi et al v. Nakhla et al. (4th Cir. 2012): ATS suit brought against L-3 Services, Inc., f/k/a Titan Corporatioan, for claims arising out of torture and CID treatment at Abu Ghraib. Confidential settlement reached in October 2012.

F. Defeated ATS claims after jury trial

  1. Ford v. Garcia*, aff’d in 289 F.3d 1283 (11th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1147, (2003): Jury trial held October, 2000, verdict to Defendants due to apparent constraints in jury instructions. (TVPA). First jury verdict in a contested trial under the TVPA only.
  2. Romero v. Drummond Co., 552 F.3d 1303, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 25861 (11th Cir. Ala., 2008): Verdict given July, 2007, finding Drummond not liable for deaths of the three union representatives.
  3. Bowoto v. Chevron, 621 F. 3d 1116 (9th Cir. 2010): In December 2008, a jury unanimously found for Chevron. Chevron then, somewhat ridiculously, requested attorney’s fees, which the court denied, noting allowing the Defendant to recover fees would have a “chilling effect” on future human rights litigation. The court was not particularly impressed with the request that Nigerian villagers should pay a billionaire corporation for its attorneys fees, as seen from the following discussion:

    Defendants argue that plaintiffs have not provided sufficient evidence to establish that plaintiffs are indigent. According to defendants, plaintiffs should also have provided the court with evidence of their assets. Defendants’ objection is not well taken. It can reasonably be assumed that plaintiffs do not earn pensions or accrue other significant assets through their work as, for instance, fish sellers in a Nigerian village. Defendants also argue that, because of the low cost of living in Nigeria, plaintiffs’ incomes “place them well above the average.” [FN2: Defendants cite a World Bank resource that lists the gross national product of Nigeria as amounting to $ 930 per capita in 2007]. While the Court accepts that the cost of living is lower in Nigeria than in the United States, defendants’ bill of costs seeks reimbursement for witness per diems, service of subpoenas, court reporters, videotaping, transcription, and photocopying in this county. The lower cost of living — and correspondingly lower incomes — in Nigeria would therefore suggest that plaintiffs are less able, not more able, to pay these fees, which are calculated according to U.S. standards. The Court finds that the declarations filed in conjunction with the instant motion, as well as evidence at trial about the abject poverty of villagers in Nigeria’s Ondo State, is sufficient to establish that plaintiffs are indigent. Bowoto v. Chevron Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38174 (N.D. Cal. 2009).

  4. Hawa Abdi Jama v. Esmor Corr. Servs., 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 17950 (3d Cir. 2009): Jury trial, jury found for Defendants on ATS claims. Decision reached on 11/07, trial ct. docket No. 2:97-cv-03093.

Updated, December 18 2010: Added a compilation of defendant victories under the ATS, for ATS cases from 1789-1990.

Updated, March 2013: Updates added on a few recent pending ATS matters that have now concluded.

-Susan

The ADE651 Bomb Detector Fraud and the Potential for an Alien Tort Statute Claim

This article in the New York Times,* on the worthless bomb-detective divining rods currently being used by Iraqi forces to deter terrorists, might provide the basis for an extremely interesting lawsuit under the alien tort statute. Assuming you could get personal jurisdiction, and ignoring the fact that practically speaking there are much better alternatives out there, could an alien suffering some kind of legal injury bring suit in the U.S. against the manufacturer of the device?

The bomb-sniffing rod at issue in the NYT article is the “ADE651® device,” produced by ATSC, Ltd., a UK company. The device is essentially a divining rod or ouija board; it has no external power source, no apparent means of explosives detection, and is only operable by those who have been “carefully trained” in its use. Oh, and Iraq has apparently spent $85 million on them.

The Lebanon distributor of the ADE651, Prosec, provides this handy picture of the device, along with the accompanying description:

“The range of detection is around 50 meters with obstacles and up to 600 meters in outdoor areas, the unit can also detect explosives submerged in water or buried underground. Detection from a hovering helicopter is also possible.”

The Prosec spokesperson then added, “It can also receive free cable, make perfectly popped popcorn every time, and roast a 9 lb. turkey in under an hour.”ade651 snakeoil

The principle behind ADE651’s ability to detect explosives has been variously described as “electrochemical (Thermo-Redox) detection,” “nuclear quadrupole resonance,” “electrostatic ion attraction,” or, as Jim McCormick, the owner of ATSC, explained it, “The principal is Electrostatics. It is more akin to Coulomb’s Law than Gauss’.”

Now, where would the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) claim lie in all of this? Clearly in a purely US-domestic matter this would be grounds for a pretty heavy fraud action, but the ATS is not an open ended jurisdictional grant. It provides only that “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.”

So in the hypothetical of a case brought by an Iraqi against ATSC, Ltd., the “by an alien” requirement is clearly met, as is the “for a tort only” requirement, as fraud can be the basis of a tort claim. However, given current ATS jurisprudence, fraud is not the kind of tort that is “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

So rather than the ADE651, a better test case would be provided by the GT-200, which is by produced by Global Technical, a UK corporation. (Global Technical, by the way, alleges on its website to be a “United Nations Registered Supplier.” Anyone out there know what the hell this means? I’m assuming it’s fraudulently made up by Global Technical, in which case the UN needs to do something about it now.) The GT-200 is a dowsing rod device much like the ADE651. It needs no external power source and runs off of the “electro-static electricity” created by the human holding it.

The FAQ of the product contains the following gems:

Q: Can GT200 detect all types of narcotics and explosives?
A: Yes.

Q: Is there anything that can stop or block the GT200 from detecting substances?
A: To date, we have not found anything that will totally block or stop the substance signal being detected.

Q: What is the maximum distance that the GT200 can detect?
A: The detection distance for general search is up to 700 meters. It can detect substances in water (fresh or salt) up to a depth of 850 meter. In the case of buried substance it can detect up to 60 meter deep. For aerial reconnaissance, the distance extends to 4 kilometers.

While fraud is clearly at work with the GT-200, there’s something else important about it as well: the deaths of three policeman in Thailand have been attributed to the ‘malfunction’ of a GT-200:

As for an explosive-detection device, called the GT-200, that malfunctioned in detecting bombs and preventing an attack, the police chief said he would discuss with technicians, but needed more information before commenting.

A fourth death caused by the device occurred last month, also in Thailand:

Recently, the GT200 showed false negative results on 6 October 2009 at a bombing near Merlin Hotel, Sungai-Kolok district, Narathiwat province which caused one death and several injuries, as well as on 19 October 2009 during a bombing at the Pimonchai market, Muang district, Yala. During these two incidents, officials were called beforehand to check a car and motorcycle under suspicion. The device was not able to detect any dangerous substances. The bombs exploded a few minutes after the examinations.

Unlike the hypothetical case alleging mere commercial fraud, if the GT-200 can be attributed to human deaths, whether in the course of war or in police actions, the jurisdictional basis for a claim under the alien tort statute just got a whole lot stronger.

Next up: Magic Bomb Wands, Corporate Liability, and the Alien Tort Statute.

Update: Jim McCormick, chief director of the company that makes the ADE651, has finally been arrested.

-Susan

*This is completely unrelated to anything above, but while writing this post I was amused to find that the author of the NYT piece apparently did some of his own research on web message boards, as you can see from his post here, asking one of the forum contributors (“DubiousDick”) to contact him. Isn’t contacting random internet commenters for a story something blogs do, rather than major national newspapers?

The Law of Aliens, Part III.2: Aliens in South Africa and Aliens in France

Editor’s Note: Yesterday, I said I’d write about the hypothetical example of aliens landing in Somalia. I was thinking I’d talk about the extremes — the differences in how international law would treat aliens in a failed state vs. aliens in the territory of a permanent member of the Security Council. But I’ve changed my mind; using Somalia makes the question too easy, as the lack of government there makes it exceedingly unlikely that other states would bother to respect Somalia’s territorial integrity in the event of an alien invasion. Instead, I’m going to borrow from District 9 and use South Africa as a hypothetical.

Situation #2: Aliens in South Africa

In a scenario similar to the premise of District 9, a lone alien spaceship lands in South Africa. The aliens’ behavior and appearance give no indication that they intend any harm to humanity, but the vast majority of States are unwilling to accept that at face value. South Africa, however, feels that it has the situation under control, and wants to treat with the aliens without foreign interference. The government of South Africa refuses to allow any other nations to visit the aliens or become involved in the situation, and only gives cursory answers to questions about the extraterrestrial visitors. Resolution through diplomacy does not appear likely, so if other states want to speak to, examine, or blow up the aliens, they can only do so by the use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of South Africa — something which is absolutely prohibited under international law.

Do other States, then, have any available options under international law besides engaging in illegal acts of war against South Africa?

Possibly. The United Nations Security Council does have the power to authorize use of force in certain situations. However, Article 2.7 of the UN Charter exempts matters within the domestic jurisdiction of a state from UN control, unless a threat to the peace is involved:

“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the members to submit such domestic maters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.”

Therefore, under Art. 2.7, if aliens land, and (1) by all appearances the aliens intend no threat to humanity, and (2) no one but the host state is aware of the alien presence, international law is not relevant. End of story. It would then be a matter essentially within South Africa’s domestic jurisdiction. (Plus, well, if no one knows about it, there’s no one who can raise the issue in the first place.)

If both these conditions are not present, then international law comes back into play.

Read the rest of this entry: When hosting aliens is a violation of international law »

The Law of Aliens, Part III.1: Extraterrestrials on the High Seas

Editor’s Note: Yeah, I know I said this was going to be a three part series, but then I got slowed up this week. So the series will still be three parts, it’s just that part III is going to be done in two installments.

What happens if extraterrestrials slip through our solar system undetected, and are only encountered for the first time when they arrive on Earth itself?

Space law would no longer be applicable; rather, the situation would be governed by more traditional and more firmly established notions of international law. Although international/space law has not yet reached an ironclad understanding on where precisely outer space begins, for purposes of domestic laws and aeronautics regulations, the limit is most often set as the lowest point from sea level where an object can orbit the earth, i.e., 62 miles/100 kilometers up. (Objects cannot orbit for long at this altitude, due to air resistance, but they can take a few spins around the block.) Australia, in fact, has been proactive at setting the 100km boundary, and it does seem likely that it is eventually going to become the standard delineation.

So if aliens visit earth and are doing anything other than orbiting the planet, it’s good old fashion international law that’s going to provide any legal framework for the alien visitation. This means that, in practice, law will be a lot more relevant than it would be in the case of an outer space encounter.

A state’s sovereignty over its territory is one of the most fundamental concepts of international law. A state may not take action within another state’s territory absent consent. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. But although many parts of international law are often discarded or ignored, respect for a sovereign state’s territory is taken very seriously indeed.

In contrast, it would be fair to say that, in the not exactly probable event of an alien encounter in space, international law would most likely be given minimum lip service and little more. Space law is an infant body of law, and for obvious reasons, it is overloaded on the opinio juris component as compared to the state practice component. That’s a good indication that, in the event of a dramatic change in circumstances, states will not be reluctant to act in ways inconsistent with space law as it is currently understood, and instead will seek to justify their actions after-the-fact on the basis of previously “undiscovered” interpretations of law.

So, in a nutshell: international law would not survive five minutes past the first alien encounter in space.

On Earth, however, territorial sovereignty has such a deeply established normative and positive force in shaping the relationships between states that even in the event of an extraterrestrial landing, international law would continue to play a predominant role in how the world community reacted.

The exact strictures of international law to be applied, however, will depend in practice upon the location where the aliens choose to land.

Situation #1: Aliens land in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and hover out over the high seas.

This is actually the worst possible scenario, for the aliens and probably also for earth. A “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem would quickly develop, as the high seas are open to all states. This includes a freedom of navigation, a freedom of overflight, and a freedom of scientific research. Essentially, every state would be free to go to, investigate, or attempt to talk to the alien spaceship — so that if North Korea wanted to start doing some “scientific research” on the ship, it would not be a straight forward matter for any State to justify prohibiting them from doing so.

If it turns out the aliens are friendly, Earth nations would be able to repel any attempts by non-state actors to attack the spaceship, as all States possess universal jurisdiction over pirates on the high seas. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to argue that unprovoked violence directed at a spaceship is an act of piracy, entitling other nations to use force to repel any attempts by private parties to act aggressively towards the spaceship.

But attacks on the spaceship by State actors will not be so easily regulated. Under Article 95 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, “Warships on the high seas have complete immunity from the jurisdiction of any State other than the flag State.” So if it’s North Korea acting aggressively against the aliens, we’ve got a problem.

True, Article 88 of the Law of the Sea Convention does declare that “The high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes.” But in the words of Captain Barbossa… this is really more of what you’d call a guideline than an actual rule. It doesn’t actually prohibit military actions, per se. It is international law of war, not the law of the sea, that would be the primary body of law to govern hostilities on the high seas. Although under international law, the threat or use of force is traditionally prohibited, it does not, technically speaking, prohibit the use of force against aliens.

Article 2:4 of the UN Charter declares, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” An alien spaceship does not obviously possess territorial integrity or political independence as a state, or at least not so clearly that North Korea couldn’t make a facially legitimate claim that Article 2:4 doesn’t apply to them. So the aliens would be fair game.

This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re defenseless, under international law. The right of self-defense is preserved in the UN Charter, and self-defense does extend to defense of others (I’ll assume for now aliens could qualify as part of the “collective” in Article 51) but in the chaos of an international free-for-all on the high seas, this would be of little practical protection. Besides, it’s not exactly settled law, regarding what acts a State can take against an extraterrestrial in the high seas before third party rights of self-defense kick in.

End result? The Law of the Sea isn’t going to be sufficient to protect or regulate any alien encounters on the high seas. If we’re lucky, however, the UN Security Council will be able to reach some kind of agreement and enable collective action to be taken. Under Article 42 of the UN charter, a blockade is one of the actions the Security Council can authorize to restore peace and international order. Although “blockades” are traditionally understood to apply to coastal navigation, it is not a heavy abuse of the language to say Article 42 would permit the Security Council to establish a blockade in the high seas. In this manner, the Security Council could authorize the use of force to protect the alien ship and to impose order on the normally unregulated oceans.

Next up tomorrow: The Law of Aliens, Part III.2: Extraterrestrials in Somalia South Africa and Extraterrestrials in France.

Previously: The Law of Aliens, Part I: The Law of Post-Atmospheric Extraterrestrial Encounters By National or International Organizations, and Part II — The Law of Outer Space Encounters With Extraterrestrials by Sub-State Entities.

-Susan

The Law of Aliens, Part II: The Law of Post-Atmospheric Extraterrestrial Encounters By Non-State Entities

The chairman of space history at the National Air and Space Museum has said that “[t]he idea that a private investor can put together the funds to develop rockets capable of a lunar mission is extremely speculative, verging on fantasy.” And so far, he’s been right.

But there are a fair few investors out there who want to prove him wrong, and one day, inevitably, if we ever want to truly expand into space rather than merely treat the cosmos as a glorified science lab, it’s going to take private commercial initiative to do it. So what happens if it’s a private corporate entity that first encounters intelligent extraterrestrial life?

Public international law (as opposed to conflicts of law) governs, in theory, only the relationships between sovereign states, not the actions of private individuals. The body of space law recognizes this, and rather than imposing restrictions on private spacecraft, it instead imposes obligations on states to regulate the space activities of non-governmental bodies under their jurisdiction.

As an initial matter, it is certainly legal under international law for non-government bodies to engage in space travel. The USSR, during negotiations over the Outer Space Treaty (“OST”), had originally wanted to ban all private space flight, but the U.S. refused to agree to this. However, whether private individuals can obtain property rights in space is a separate, more difficult, question. Although appropriations of resources by states is prohibited, this prohibition was not explicitly extended to cover non-governmental corporations. Many commentators have made the case that private ownership in space is therefore allowed, and have explained how ownership can exist even outside of state jurisdiction by reference to civil systems [PDF]:

The relationship between property and sovereignty differs under common law and civil law systems. The common law theory of title has its roots in feudal law. Under this theory the Crown holds the ultimate title to all lands, and the proprietary rights of the subject are explained in terms of vassalage. Civil law, on the other hand, is derived from Roman law, which distinguishes between property and sovereignty. Under this theory, it is possible for property to exist in the absence of sovereignty.

So for now I’m going to assume that, yes, private property in space is possible, based on a discovery-and-exploitation regime that grants rights to those who first make use of a new territory. (This will be partially in following with the property-ownership aspects of the Larkin Decision, from the Federation Court, holding that “the real owners [of a celestial body] were the flesh-and-blood men who had maintained the occupation.” See Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).)

Read the rest of this entry: The case of Asteroid Miners v. Aliens »

The Law of Aliens, Part I: The Law of Post-Atmospheric Extraterrestrial Encounters By National or International Organizations

In keeping with LL2’s long standing tradition of providing you with the hardest hitting and most practical legal exposés, this blog will now present an informative series on the law of alien contact.

To begin with, I should probably instead use the word “extraterrestrial” rather than “alien,” as alien is already a well established legal term of art. So this is not the law of foreigners in a state’s territory, but rather the law of contact with intelligent non-human entities that did not originate from earth.

What if First Contact happened tomorrow? How would humans react, and how would the law apply? Assuming the aliens didn’t immediately blast us out of existence, that is. I think it’s safe to say each state would want to have its own say in how things with the aliens go down, and that states would have their own individual opinions and conflicting agendas regarding the encounter. Which means, inevitably, they would each take whatever actions they deemed appropriate and then afterwords seek to justify those actions on the basis of contorted interpretations of international law. The United Nations would also want to establish a central role for itself in the fray, and because it does possess the institutional mechanisms that states tend to follow when seeking to take multinational action, the UN would likely emerge as the primary vehicle through which multilateral discussions and actions would take place.

So international law would be the natural language for states to use when framing these discussions. In this first post, I am going to examine how international law in its current form would govern an encounter in outer space between extraterrestrials and a national or international body. The next two posts will consider outer space encounters between aliens and private parties, and encounters with aliens on earth.

Read the rest of this entry: What if aliens land on a Canadian space ship? »

The Website Theory of Statehood

Although the definition of statehood under international law has not been definitively resolved, traditionally, per the Montevideo Convention, “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” In addition, recognition of a state by other states arguably plays a more important role in the statehood process.

However, I would like to propose a new criteria by which the claims of would-be sovereigns can be evaluated. In today’s world, e-governance is rampant. Politicians stay in contact with their constituents via their homepages, agencies administer regulations online, and court filings can be done with the click of a mouse. So whether or not an autonomous region has a permanent, defined web presence that has the capacity to assist its governmental activities is a vital consideration when examining claims of statehood. So, using the Website Theory of Statehood, how do existing unrecognized states stack up?

Taiwan: Taiwan’s somewhat unique status in the “Is it or is it not a state?” debate makes it a good starting place to test the theory. Taiwan’s pseudo-official statehood is reflected in the fact that it has its own country code top-level domain, of .tw. However, ccTLD’s are poor indicia of statehood in themselves; they are distributed by ICANN, and substate regions can also be issued them, such as Jersey’s .je and the Virgin Island’s .vi.

Still, Taiwan starts off on a good note by displaying two strong hallmarks of internet statehood — numerous web domains for each different branch of government and the use of the .gov subdomain for its various state webpages. For instance, the president is located at http://www.president.gov.tw/en/, while the National Assembly is at http://www.na.gov.tw/en/index-en.jsp. (Bonus Trivia Fact from the president’s web page: What do the U.S. and Taiwan have in common? Both out presidents have law degrees from Harvard.)

None of the websites of the various Taiwanese government branches get particularly high marks for style, but they aren’t offensively ugly at least, and they amply satisfy all requirements for accessibility and content.

Verdict: Although Taiwan may not be a recognized sovereign under international law, it is a thriving Internet State.

Somaliland: Although Somaliland’s website is not nearly as sophisticated as the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia’s, Somaliland gets credit for the fact it actually operates from within its own territory. The prominently placed waving Somaliland flag image is annoying, but by itself, not particularly offensive. All in all, in terms of web design, it’s about on the level of a page created by a marginally talented middle school student.

Of course, the webmaster’s yahoo email address is a significant mark against a finding of web sovereignty. And although the fact it maintains a separate website for its Upper Parliament might have won it back some points, as the website does not appear to have been updated at any point in the past three years, it’s really more of a net loss.

Interestingly, the neighboring autonomous state of Puntland has a much more sophisticated web presence, although it is not seeking sovereignty but rather continues to maintain it is a part of Somalia. Aside from the annoying page intro, Puntland’s website is respectable and decent looking. It actually reminds me of the websites of several county governments from my home state of Georgia: clearly governmental in nature and reasonably active, but still small-time government.

Verdict: Not a state, but I’ll give them a solid E for Effort. Somaliland ought to seek advice from Puntland on how to manage its e-statehood.

Kosovo: The websites for the various government branches of Kosovo are all clean, sharp, and authoritative, with a faint air of bureaucratic staleness. In other words, they look exactly like what you would expect for a sovereign state government’s website.

Meanwhile, the website for the Serbian Government of Kosovo is, while passable, somewhat clunkier. More importantly, the dismal imagery and content of the site is all extremely negative in tone, focusing on pictures of bombed out buildings and emphasizing the fear, instability, and chaos of the region.

The contrast between the two certainly weighs in Kosovo’s favor. Kosovo’s website is professional and businesslike, and gives the impression that it is the model of responsive and diligent governance. In direct opposition to this is the Serbian website, which stresses its inability to control the region and is primarily concerned with advancing a political agenda rather than engaging in ah actual governmental capacity.

Verdict: Although the facts on the ground may be drastically different, in terms of its website, Kosovo qualifies for Virtual Statehood.

Cabinda: The wannabe sovereign territory of Cabinda, located in Angola, is a classic example of the self-deluded unrecognized state. Cabinda’s inability to exercise sovereign governmental control over the region is rivaled only by its complete incompetence at web design. Tiled backgrounds, flying bird gifs, scrolling text, spinning “email” icon, images unapologetically created by MS Paint? My god. I’d call this a sad excuse for a geocities webpage, but that would be a gross insult to Geocities webpages everywhere — Cabinda hasn’t even yet progressed past the Angelfire-level of web design.

Verdict: Does not meet even the most minimal of qualifications for Internet Statehood.

Western Sahara: The proclaimed government of Western Sahara has no access to a ccTLD, but .eh has been specifically reserved for the nation once it manages to obtain a unified voice. In 2007, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the government that claims to speak for the sovereign territory of Western Sahara, tried to lay claim to the domain, but Morocco objected. As a result, ICANN refused to release .eh, stating that because of competing claims,

ICANN does not see a way to approve the .EH ccTLD delegation to one of the applicants without violating its long-standing policy unless the contesting parties are able to reach an agreement.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic still has a website, however: http://www.rasd-state.ws/

Note the .ws in the domain name. Now that’s actually a rather clever bit of statehood marketing right there. The .ws ccTLD is in fact registered to Samoa, although the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is cleverly passing off the “ws” as standing for Western Sahara. Who needs .eh, the intended ccTLD for the nation you claim control over, when your Samoan buddies will lend you a domain name that sounds like it was actually meant for you?

Sadly, the website is in Arabic, which I don’t actually speak. The page gets medium marks: although it is simple, it manages to avoid being hideous, and I am reasonably confident that if I could read Arabic the site would be easily navigable. However, judging by the page URL’s (in Spanish, which I can pretend to read), the website does not provide anything in the way of government services, which is a mark against it. However, there do appear to be “official government documents” in PDF form, which gives it a little cred.

Verdict: Although Western Sahara’s separatist government displays some promising signs of Virtual Statehood, they are still a fair distance away from achieving internet sovereignty.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Aesthetically speaking, South Ossetia’s webpage is my favorite of all the unrecognized states’. It is official looking and professional in appearance, and yet still manages to be friendly and pleasantly warm and inviting. You’d totally want to vacation in a country with a website like that — they seem like such nice people. Also, it’s got snow leopards.

Abkhazia’s website is slightly more severe in appearance, comes across as a no-nonsense kind of nation, and may or may not have been a law firm before it decided to declare itself state. The blue-grey color scheme? The overlapping boxes lay out? That is seriously every D.C. small-to-medium sized law firm homepage ever.

Tellingly, however, both Abkhazia and South Ossetia lack their own ccTLD, do not have separate web pages for different branches of government, and do not employ the use of.gov subdomains.

But this doesn’t rule them out entirely. One major point in the break-away regions’ favor is that their websites far outclass Georgia’s websites for the region. Just take a look at Georgia’s Abkhazia homepage: http://www.abkhazia.gov.ge/. It is ugly, slow to load, and contains graphics that appear to have been created by the same MS Paint artist that provided the images for Cabinda. Most of the English language pages are labeled “under construction,” and I’m honestly surprised they didn’t also include those little animated gifs of smileys wearing hard hats to show that. South Ossetia doesn’t even appear to have a .ge website that I could find, perhaps because Georgia revoked South Ossetia’s autonomy? At any rate, not having a web presence for it at all is a dismal way of showing your Internet Sovereignty over a region, Georgia.

Verdict for Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Have not yet achieved Internet Statehood, but are clearly serious contenders for the title. Recommend that Georgia take immediate steps to overhaul its own websites for the regions in order to firmly establish its claims of sovereignty.

Nagorono-Karabkh Republic: The website for the Nagorno-Karabkh Republic contains flashing banners and animated .gif files. This is an instant disqualification for statehood.

Verdict: Not a state. True sovereigns avoid anything that might induce epilepsy in their web visitors.

North Korea: Under International Law, North Korea is a recognized nation. However, under the new Website Theory of Statehood, North Korea should be considered a failed state. This may sound harsh, but given that the Admin of the website acknowledges that there is no internet access in North Korea and that no one in North Korea can actually see their own website, and that therefore the only people who use it are foreign North Korea enthusiasts, http://www.korea-dpr.com actually has more in common with a Beanie Babies fansite than it does a government webpage.

Although the website does at least exist and is moderately functional, it appears that a 13 year old goth boy was hired to design it. Sadly, the forum that was once featured on the site has since been removed. Apparently a web forum was too democratic for North Korea, as the old forum was replaced by a blog, which announced the change by stating: “Today we launch the new KFA Forum, which will mainly be driven by a few select moderators. Of course, everyone can still contribute with their thoughts, ideas, articles, etc, but we’ll be sure to have much more quality content for you.” In other words, the proletarians were not generating enough ‘quality content,’ so a more restrictive approach was adopted for their own good.

Notable features of the site include a FAQ, with helpful answers to questions such as, “Is North Korea a Dictatorship?”, “Is it true everyone in North Korea is starving?”, and “How can I join the North Korean army?”

Verdict: Not a state. I don’t care if the United Nations recognizes North Korea; when Transnistria, Puntland, and Nagorno-Karabkh have better web presences than you do, your statehood is officially revoked.

-Susan

Here, Have Some More Pirates — Part I

Sadly, with regards to the hijacking of the Arctic Sea, as of yet there does not appear to be a factual basis for any truly interesting questions of jurisdiction, despite the proliferation of nations involved with strong jurisdictional claims over some or all of the hijacking. Russia has asserted full jurisdiction over the incident, and at the moment it does not appear any other nations are objecting. The hijackers, now in Moscow, have been charged under the Russian criminal code for piracy and kidnapping:

“On the strength of the gathered evidence, seven captors have been charged with complicity in the commission of the crimes covered by Article 227, Part 3 and Article 126, Item “a”, Part 3 (piracy and kidnapping committed with the use violence and arms by organized group). The eighth suspect has been charged with masterminding the above crimes,” Markin said.

However, it looks as if the hijackers themselves have been making noises about the propriety of Russian jurisdiction over them, both under international law and domestic Russian law:

According to Russian media, hijacking suspects say their case should be heard not in Russia but in Malta, or Sweden – in whose Baltic Sea waters the alleged hijacking occurred. But Bastrykin stressed that Russia now has jurisdiction over the ship and the suspects.

“We have the full legal right to conduct investigative activities with both the ship and its crew,” he was quoted as saying.

Egons Rusanovs, a lawyer at Rusanovs and Partners, says:

Russia has no relation to the current preliminary investigation into this case. This fact contradicts concrete norms of international law, in particular, the convention on maritime law adopted in 1982. This case should be under jurisdiction of either Malta or Sweden.

Dmitry Pronin, a lawyer who represents detained Latvian citizen Vitalij Lepin, believes that “this arrest is illegal and it’s without ground, because in accordance with the Russian Criminal Code, the type of punishment should be decided within 48 hours after the factual detention. In this case it took four days to specify the preventive punishment.”

It’s hard to know if there’s any weight to the hijacker’s arguments without more than that, but I’m highly skeptical about their chances of prevailing on that front. Under the Article 105 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”),

On the high seas, or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State, every State may seize a pirate ship or aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board. The courts of the State which carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be imposed, and may also determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or property, subject to the rights of third parties acting in good faith.

This article reflects longstanding customary international law that grants universal jurisdiction over all acts of piracy on the high seas, and that any state may capture and punish pirates wherever they may be found where they are outside of any other state’s territory. Assuming Russia did capture the Arctic Sea in international waters, Russia is soundly exercising its universal jurisdiction by bringing the pirates to Moscow to stand trial under Russian law. I expect the hijackers are trying to argue they were never pirates in the first place, and so Article 105 is not applicable, but that’s questioning the factual basis of jurisdiction, not the legal basis.

Moreover, while it is hard to get a straight story on the nationalities of the hijackers, all of the Arctic Sea’s crew were Russian, and the hijackers were themselves either Russian or stateless people who habitually lived in Russia. Under Article 6(1)(c) of the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, this gives Russia some degree of an international obligation to establish jurisdiction over the pirates, and under 6(2)(a) and (b) clearly had the right to exercise such jurisdiction if it chose to do so.

So if Russia captured the pirate on the high seas, under a combination of passive personality jurisdiction, active personality jurisdiction, universal jurisdiction, and specific grants of jurisdiction under treaties, there is little argument to be made that Russia does not properly have jurisdiction over the pirates.

However, an important question that I’ve not seen definitively answered yet is where exactly in the Atlantic the Arctic Sea was captured by the Russian warship. Was it on the high seas, or in Cape Verde’s territorial waters? UNCLOS provisions on the seizure of pirates extend only to the high seas. Once in a nation’s territorial seas, authorization by the coastal state is required before any such enforcement action can be taken.

All I’ve been able to find on the exact location of the recapture is this:

“I have a report from the Russian Navy that the frigate is going to enter Cape Verde territorial waters,” Alexander Karpushin told the Russian News Service. “The warship has its own search plan.”

Cape Verde has declared that its territorial seas extend to the full 12 miles permitted under international law (see here [DOC]). Although the Russian warship would have had a right of innocent passage within that 12 mile territorial sea if the actual capture took place inside that limit, the question of jurisdiction gets trickier:

“[I]t is universally accepted under international law that law enforcement officials of one state may not act to enforce their laws in areas within the territorial sovereignty of another state. Therefore, the naval vessels or marine police from one state may not enter the internal waters, territorial waters or archipelagic waters of another state to patrol for pirates or to arrest persons for acts of piracy, regardless of where such acts took place.”

Of course, even if the Arctic Sea was in Cape Verde’s sovereign territory, Russia might well have obtained Cape Verde’s authorization before undertaking the capture. In part II of this post, I’ll take a look at what the legal status of Russian jurisdiction might be under the hypothetical scenario that no such authorization was sought or obtained.

-Susan