Date of Award

4-21-2009

Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Mohammed Hassan Ali - Chair

Second Advisor

Charles G. Steffen

Third Advisor

Bereket Habte Selassie

Fourth Advisor

H. Robert Baker

Abstract

International law today is a discipline rife with dissensions. This is largely because international law has meant different things to different generations of scholars and nation-states. In 1996 a United States circuit court in Atlanta affirmed a civil judgment against an Ethiopian defendant in an action initiated by Ethiopian citizens for violations of that country’s law and international law. But about a decade earlier in 1984 another appeal court denied to enforce claims against Libyan and Palestinian defendants under international law because according to the court, international law is dedicated exclusively to the relationship between independent states and not their citizens. Although such different interpretations may appear startling, over the previous centuries, courts have eschewed one view while embracing the other. It is thus imperative to examine what constitutes international law or under what authority a U.S. court could challenge another state’s treatment of its own citizens, in its own land, under its own laws. The Judiciary Act of 1789 which created the Alien Tort Statute, a relatively obscure piece of legislation is at the center of these actions. But what was the original intent of the Alien Tort Statute? Is it possible to reconstruct the meaning of that statute? To answer these questions, this dissertation critically interrogated the meaning of international law and the law of nations as it existed at the time of the founding of the United States. What was called the law of nations and subsequently international law revealed multiple meanings. In unpacking the history of the Alien Tort Statute, this dissonance was reflected in the conflicts which assailed the discipline. This dissertation therefore reproduces the dissensions as it analyzes and reconstructs a hitherto unexplored front in this debacle: lawsuits filed by some Africans in the United States under the Alien Tort Statute against their leaders and corporations for egregious human rights violations in Africa. In the end therefore, the issue becomes, can justice and reparations be achieved in United States courts for human rights violations committed in Africa?

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