Atrocity Alert 

Thursday, May 29 2003

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft wants to scrap an 18th-century law that allows victims of human-rights violations to seek compensatory relief.

In early May, Ashcroft’s Justice Department asked a federal appeals court to take another look at the Alien Tort Claims Act, a 214-year-old law that allows noncitizens the right to sue in U.S. courts for atrocities committed overseas. Ashcroft was out to help Unocal, which was sued in 1996 by Burmese villagers, alleging that the oil company should share blame for the rape, murder and acts of forced labor committed by Burmese soldiers providing security for its Yadana Pipeline project.

The law, passed by the first U.S. Congress, grants federal district courts jurisdiction over civil actions by a foreigner for abuses “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the U.S.” First used to prosecute pirates and protect foreign diplomats, the statute languished for almost 200 years until the late 1970s, when lawyers used it to successfully represent Dollie Filartiga, whose brother was tortured and killed in his native Paraguay by a police officer who had settled in the U.S.

Related Stories

  • Photography IS a Crime 2

    In the post-9/11 world, you can be questioned by federal agents simply for taking photos of what they believe are security-sensitive buildings. Not only that, but that questioning is often preceded by a "suspicious activity report" (SAR) that stays in your federal file. The ACLU of California is suing the...
  • 2776, a Comedy Space Opera Made By a Crazy Number of Famous People

    At first one thinks it's the shrooms — because only a noise like this can be manufactured psychedelically. Then you think "Nah, I’m just waking up from a weird dream and the radio is on." And before you can pinch yourself into reality, you realize "No, I’m wide awake and...
  • Marijuana Businesses Can Now Use Banks, But Maybe Not in California

    The Obama administration today took one small step for stoned kind by essentially saying banks are now allowed to do business with marijuana dispensaries. However, guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Justice are so strict that they will probably prohibit pot shops in California from taking advantage of this...
  • Cali Lives Strong

    Californians spend more in federal taxes than they receive back in services. And the same can be said for healthcare. According to an analysis by personal finance site WalletHub, California barely makes the top 20 (number 19) among states when it comes to "return on investment" (ROI) for healthcare costs...
  • Henry Rollins: Hemp Is Back 3

    I am in the back of an SUV, the seat in front of me almost against my knees. The great wide open of southeastern Colorado rolls by the window. Except for Kerri, who’s driving, everyone has a laptop open. Phone calls are coming in, logistics are being hammered out, something about...

Until now, no administration has sought to stop the cases, which have included a lawsuit filed by Nazi Holocaust survivors to recoup cash or insurance claims from Swiss banks after World War II. The case led to a $1.25 billion settlement negotiated by the U.S. government.

The Unocal case is now being heard by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California.

Memorial for Writer Eddie Little

Thursday, May 29: L.A. Weekly gathering, all welcome, at Boardner’s, 1652 N. Cherokee Ave., Hollywood, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., (323) 462-0621.

Friday, May 30: Family memorial, all welcome, at Warner Center Marriott, 21850 Oxnard St., Woodland Hills, 3 to 7 p.m., (818) 887-4800.

Monday, June 2: Funeral, all welcome, at Hollywood Forever Mortuary, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., 2:30 p.m., (323) 469-1181.

Reach the writer at cpelisek@laweekly.com

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Sexual Predator Is Targeting Females in Eastside Park

    A sexual predator is on the loose in an Eastside park, police warned today. Cops say the creep has targeted "lone females" walking in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park three times between January and July. He has groped, exposed himself and even attacked with a knife, the Los Angeles Police...
  • Foster the People's Downtown L.A. Mural Is Coming Down

    The controversial Foster the People mural downtown is coming down, the office of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today. Despite claims by the pop band that it had necessary permits and that the artwork was legitimately produced, the mayor's office states what we reported previously: The piece is on a...
  • U.S. Reps Call For Federal Intervention in Dodger TV Blackout

    A group of local U.S. representatives wants the Federal Communications Commission to help end Time Warner Cable's blackout of Dodger games for competing cable and satellite providers. Negotiations to bring the team's games to AT&T U-verse, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, DirecTV, Dish Network, Mediacom, Suddenlink Communications and Verizon FIOS have gotten...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • Street League Skateboarding Super Crown World Championship
    On Sunday, Street League Skateboarding touched down in the Galen Center at USC as part of a four-stop tour for SLS's Super Crown World Championship. The L.A. stop determined the roster for Super Crown, airing August 24th on FOX Sports 1. The final eight are Nyjah Huston, Luan Oliveira, Torey Pudwill, Shane O'Neill, Paul Rodriguez, Chaz Ortiz, Matt Berger and Ishod Wair. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Comic-Con's "Celebrity" Autograph Area
    A sometimes overlooked (but still incredibly unique) aspect of San Diego Comic-Con are the celebs available to sign autographs, as well as the autograph seekers themselves. If you've ever wanted to meet the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld or the guy who played Michelangelo in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, chances are, as you wander the Autograph Area, you'll be able to connect with someone you didn't even realize you were waiting your whole life to meet! All photos by Rob Inderrieden.
  • Real Madrid Soccer Practice at UCLA
    Fans came out to greet world champion soccer team Real Madrid as they practice at UCLA. This is the first time that soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has practiced with the team this year. All photos by Jeff Cowan.