Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991

Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An Act to carry out obligations of the United States under the United Nations Charter and other international agreements pertaining to the protection of human rights by establishing a civil action for recovery of damages from an individual who engages in torture or extrajudicial killing.
Acronyms (colloquial) TVPA
Enacted by the 102nd United States Congress
Effective March 12, 1992
Public law 102-256
Statutes at Large 106 Stat. 73
Titles amended 28 U.S.C.: Judiciary and Judicial Procedure
U.S.C. sections amended 28 U.S.C. ch. 85 § 1350
Legislative history
United States Supreme Court cases
Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority

The Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA; Pub.L. 102–256, H.R. 2092, 106 Stat. 73, enacted March 12, 1992) is a statute that allows for the filing of civil suits in the United States against individuals who, acting in an official capacity for any foreign nation, committed torture and/or extrajudicial killing. The statute requires a plaintiff to show exhaustion of local remedies in the location of the crime, to the extent that such remedies are "adequate and available." Plaintiffs may be U.S. citizens or non-U.S. citizens.

Although the Act was not passed until early 1992, it was introduced the previous year, and the official name of the Act is the "Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991."

In 1992, Sister Dianna Ortiz was the first to file a case under the act, in a civil action against former general and Defense Minister Héctor Gramajo of Guatemala, contending that, by his command authority, he was responsible for her abduction, rape, and torture by military forces in Guatemala in November 1989. A federal court in Massachusetts ruled in her favor, awarding her $5 million in damages in 1995.[1]

The TVPA has been used by victims of terrorism to sue foreign states that have been designated by the U.S. as state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iraq (which has since been removed from the list) and Iran. In May 2000, Miami based attorney Andrew C. Hall[2] and clients David Daliberti, Bill Barloon, Chad Hall, Kenneth Beaty and their wives were awarded a collective sum of almost $19 million for the pains the men suffered in captivity. see Daliberti v. Republic of Iraq, 97 F.Supp.2d 38 (D.D.C. 2000);[3] and also Weinstein v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 184 F.Supp.2d 13 (D.D.C. 2002). The Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 16021611,[4] prohibits foreign states from being sued in U.S. courts for most non-commercial issues.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(7), created an exception to the FSIA, allowing U.S. nationals to sue foreign states if the state has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and if the plaintiff's injury has been caused by the state's support of a terrorist organization. Following the passage of the AEDPA, numerous suits have been filed against state sponsors of terrorism, particularly Iran. Because some courts have held that the AEDPA does not create a cause of action against foreign states, plaintiffs have used the TVPA and the AEDPA in concert, first using the AEDPA to provide an exception to a foreign state's sovereign immunity, and then using the TVPA to provide a cause of action.[5]

The TVPA has also been used by victims of torture by agents of the United States. In Meshal v. Higgenbotham, a native-born American citizen alleges U.S. officials repeatedly threatened him with torture, forced disappearance, and other serious harm.

On April 18, 2012, in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the TVPA applies exclusively to natural persons and does not impose liability against any organizational entity.[6] The court's decision was based on the statute's use of the word "individual", as distinguished from "person" (the latter of which is usually defined in U.S. law and statutes as meaning an individual or an organization). The court examined the word both in context of its ordinary meaning and through the legislative history of the TVPA. The court noted that the original language of the TVPA bill had used the word "person" and that during a House committee markup, one of the bill’s sponsors proposed an amendment “to make it clear we are applying it to individuals and not to corporations.”


  1. Ratner, Michael. "Civil Remedies for Gross Human Rights Violations". Justice and the Generals: US Law. PBS. Archived from the original on January 21, 2015. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
  4. US Code, Cornell University
  5. Debra M. Strauss, Enlisting the U.S. Courts in a New Front: Dismantling the International Business Holdings of Terrorist Groups Through Federal Statutory and Common-Law Suits, 38 Vand. J. Transnat'l L. 679, 710 (2005)
  6. Asid Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, et al., No. 11-88

Further reading

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