In January 2009, the Second Circuit issued a landmark human rights decision, holding that customary international law (CIL) provides a cause of action under the Alien Tort Statute for a case alleging involuntary medical testing on humans.
The court in Abdullahi v. Pfizer, following the Supreme Court’s lead in Sosa v. Alvaraez-Machain, compared the disputed norm with the limited set of 18th century customary international norms over which the ATS was intended to provide jurisdiction. The court held that in order to sustain a CIL causes of action, the norm must be (1) universal and obligatory in nature, (2) of definite content, and (3) of mutual concern. The majority rejected the District Court’s approach, which examined the norm to see if it were self-executing in the United States.
The Second Circuit found evidence of the specificity and obligatory nature of the norm involved in this case by examining the Statute of the International Court of Justice, the Nuremberg Code, the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
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