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Litigation Litmus Test

Author: John B. Bellinger III, Adjunct Senior Fellow for International and National Security Law
January 18, 2010
Washington Times


Last month, to the embarrassment of the British government, a London judge issued a warrant for the arrest of former Israeli Foreign Minister and current opposition leader Tzipi Livni, in connection with alleged war crimes by Israeli defense forces during their intervention in Gaza a year ago.

Mrs. Livni cancelled a planned trip to London, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to apologize, stating that Israeli government officials are welcome in Britain "at any time." This month, the Obama administration could face a similar situation when it submits its views to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding whether a former defense minister of Somalia may be sued in federal courts for war crimes committed by Somalia armed forces.

Human rights groups consider the case a litmus test of the administration's avowed commitment to human rights. But the administration has a dilemma: If the Supreme Court concludes that former foreign government officials are subject to civil suits in the United States, it could open the door to human rights litigation against foreign government officials in the U.S. and complicate the administration's diplomatic initiatives.

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