The Alien Tort Statute (ATS)
is a U.S. federal law first adopted in 1789 that gives the federal courts jurisdiction to hear lawsuits filed by non-U.S. citizens for torts committed in violation of international law. When the ATS was drafted in the 18th century, international law dealt primarily with regulating diplomatic relations between States and outlawing crimes such as piracy, however international law in the 21st century has expanded to include the protection of human rights. In the 60 years from the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
in 1948 to the present decade, universal human rights have moved from being an aspirational concept to a legal reality. This remarkable evolution gave the ATS renewed significance in the late 20th century. Today, the Alien Tort Statute gives survivors of egregious human rights abuses, wherever committed, the right to sue the perpetrators in the United States.
Since 1980, the ATS has been used successfully in cases involving torture, state-sponsored sexual violence, extrajudicial killing, crimes against humanity, war crimes and arbitrary detention. The Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA)
, passed in 1991 and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, gives similar rights to U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike to bring claims for torture and extrajudicial killing committed in foreign countries.