[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] ruled [judgment] Friday that citizens cannot sue foreign governments for torture. Under the State Immunity Act [text], a foreign state is immune from the jurisdiction of any court in Canada, unless that state has waived such immunity. In the case at hand, a Canadian citizen visited Iran in 2003 as a freelance photographer and journalist and was subsequently detained. While detained she was sexually assaulted, beaten and tortured, and later later died from a brain injury she sustained during her detainment. In Iran, only one individual was tried and was later acquitted, though the torture was linked to several members of the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor. After failing to achieve a conviction in Iran, the victim’s son initiated civil proceedings in Quebec, leading to Friday’s judgment. The court concluded, “although there is no doubt that the prohibition of torture has reached the level of a peremptory norm, the current state of customary international law regarding redress for victims of torture does not alter the [State Immunity Act], nor does it render it ambiguous.”
US courts have reached similar conclusions on suing foreign entities for torture that occurred outside the US. In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum [opinion, PDF] the US Supreme Court ruled last year that nothing in the Alien Tort Statute [text] rebuts the US presumption against extraterritoriality and that suits challenging torture and international law violations that took place overseas cannot be brought in US court [JURIST report]. The case was brought by a group of Nigerian refugees against Shell and other oil companies. The refugees alleged that the oil companies enlisted and aided the Nigerian government in torturing and victimizing Nigerian citizens.