No Civil Suit Against Paul Kagame

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issued an opinion on 10 October 2012 dismissing a civil suit against Rwandan President Paul Kagame following a request to do so by the Executive Branch (i.e., the State Department). Plaintiffs filed suit based on the Alien Tort Claims Act and other laws alleging that Mr. Kagame ordered the assassination of Presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira of Rwanda and Burundi, respectively, thereby setting off years of violence in the region and, most notably, the Rwandan genocide. It was alleged that the assassination of the ethnic Hutu presidents was designed to provoke violence against the Tutsi minority and justify Kagame’s seizure of power in Rwanda.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court dismissal of the action by citing, among other things, US case law on sovereign immunity[1] and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.[2] Essentially, the case law and statute amounted to a carte blanche for the executive to decide which individuals receive immunity and who do not based on their present status as a member of a foreign government.

Dismissing the suit against Kagame was with out a doubt the correct outcome in this case. Courts of one State do not have the authority to entertain a case against a sitting Head of State of another country. What is remarkable (in as much as it is not really remarkable at all) is that the Court of Appeals did not mention any of the fundamental international points of reference, such as the Arrest Warrant case or the recent judgment in Italy v. Germany both before the International Court of Justice. A foot note to either of these decisions would have been appropriate, especially given the fact that the US Executive’s position mirrors the present state of international law as elucidated by the ICJ.


[1] The principle citations were Spacil v. Crowe, 489 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1974); Samantar v. Yousuf, 130 S. Ct. 2278, 2285 (2010); Republic of Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 35 (1945); Ex parte Republic of Peru, 318 U.S. 578, 589 (1943); Ye. V. Zemin, 383 F.3d 620, 626 (7th Cir. 2004).

[2] Codified in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1602-11.

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Filed under International Human Rights, News and Events, Public International Law

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