Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (“FSIA” or “Act”) is the primary avenue through which U.S. nationals can bring a lawsuit against a foreign sovereign, or government, and/or its agencies and instrumentalities.
The Act recognizes the customary international law principle of “sovereign immunity”, that a foreign state is immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of another foreign state. However, this principle has become more limited over time as commercial relations between governments have increased, making “complete” sovereign immunity impractical.
The Act maintains that foreign states have immunity from litigation in U.S. courts, but provides an exhaustive list of exceptions to this rule.
Our Firm primarily litigates FSIA cases pursuant to the Act’s Terrorism Exception, which allows suits to proceed according to the following general requirements:
- A direct or indirect victim (i.e. a close family member) can file suit if they were, at the time the act occurred:
- A U.S. national;
- A member of U.S. armed forces; or
- An employee or individual contractor of the U.S. government, acting within the scope of their employment or awarded contract.
- Against foreign states designated by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism at the time the act occurred or as a result of such act. The foreign state must remain designated at the time of filing the suit. The following foreign states are currently designated state sponsors of terrorism:
- North Korea
- To seek money damages for personal injury or death caused by an act of:
- Extrajudicial killing
- Aircraft sabotage
- Hostage taking
- The provision of material support or resources for such an act
Impact: The FSIA limits the principle of sovereign immunity to enable victims of human rights violations to hold responsible governments accountable.
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