Foreign official immunity is not abrogated by actions in violation of jus cogens international law norms, the D.C. District Court ruled Thursday (opinion in PDF).
At issue was whether plaintiffs in an Alien Tort Claims Act/Torture Victims Protection Act suit against coal company Drummond Co. could compel the testimony of Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe regarding events that occurred while he held public office.
The State Department submitted a Statement of Interest suggesting immunity for Uribe for actions taken or information obtained while he was a government official.
Plaintiffs, who represent beneficiaries of 113 people allegedly executed by the paramilitary AUC, claimed that since Uribe’s alleged cooperation with the group while in office violated jus cogens international law, they are not within the scope of official immunity.
In his decision, Judge Bates notes that the D.C. Circuit Court, in Belhas v. Ya’alon, found no jus cogens exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Bates writes that similar logic applies to common law immunity.
“As soon as a party alleged a violation of a jus cogens norm, a court would have to determine whether such a norm was indeed violated in order to determine immunity – i.e., the merits would be reached. When the foreign official is the defendant, there will effectively be no immunity – a civil action by definition challenges the legality of the official’s acts.”
The underlying case, Giraldo v. Drummond Co. Inc., is in the Northern District of Alabama. Justia.com docket here.