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The Common Law of Foreign Official Immunity

Chimène I. Keitner

University of California Hastings College of the Law

December 10, 2010

Green Bag 2D, Vol. 14, Autumn 2010

In Samantar v. Yousuf, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the argument that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) should be read to encompass all suits brought against individual foreign officials for acts performed in an official capacity. Instead, an individual defendant’s immunity “is properly governed by the common law.” Individual immunities fall into two categories: status-based immunities, which enable certain incumbent foreign officials to perform their duties unencumbered by legal proceedings; and conduct-based immunities, which shield individuals from legal consequences for some - but not all - acts performed during their tenure in office. International law, and many countries’ domestic laws, impose individual responsibility on officials who commit acts such as war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, even when they commit these acts under color of law. Conduct-based immunity will not automatically shield individual defendants from the legal consequences of these acts, whether in the form of criminal penalties or civil damages. Although dismissing all human rights claims on immunity grounds might be an efficient way to clear the docket of these cases, neither historical practice nor common law doctrine justifies that result.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 15

Keywords: foreign officials, sovereign immunity, Samantar v. Yousuf, common law, executive deference

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Date posted: August 9, 2010 ; Last revised: November 13, 2012

Suggested Citation

Keitner, Chimène I., The Common Law of Foreign Official Immunity (December 10, 2010). Green Bag 2D, Vol. 14, Autumn 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1656124

Contact Information

Chimène I. Keitner (Contact Author)
University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )
200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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