WASHINGTON — Foreign political organizations like the Palestinian Liberation Organization and multinational corporations cannot be sued for the torture or murder of persons abroad, including Americans, under the terms of a 1991 U.S. anti-torture law, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday.
Only individual perpetrators of such crimes can be held liable, the court said.
The decision is a setback for human rights activists who have sought to extend American law to target inhumane conduct aboard.
The justices said their decision was based on the words of the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991. That law authorized damage suits against “an individual” acting under the authority of a foreign nation who inflicts torture or murder.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, speaking for the court, said the “text of the TVPA convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this branch to do otherwise.”