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Siderman de Blake v. Republic of Argentina

    Brief Fact Summary. The Sidermans (P) fled to the United States after the military junta in Argentina (D) tortured Jose Siderman and threatened his family with death. These complaints were later filed by the Sidermans (P) in the U.S, while filing for damages in relation to the torture and the expropriation of their property.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A right which deserves the highest status under international law is the right to be free from official torture, and this right is fundamental and universal.

    Facts. Jose Siderman (P) was left in an isolated area after he was tortured for seven days by the military junta. During the period of his torture, anti-Semitic epithets were hauled at him and apart from this; his family was threatened with death unless they left Argentina (D) immediately. The Sidermanns (P) however complied with this order by fleeing to the United States after they sold their interests in 127,000 acres of land at a ridiculous discount.
    The military junta also cornered the profits and revenue from the Sidermans’ (P) corporation, INOSA. Alleging torture and expropriation of their property, the Sidermans (P) filed these complaints. A default judgment was given in favor of the Sidermans (P) for their claims on torture when Argentina (D) did not appear but the Sidermans (P) prayer on their expropriation was not granted by the Court. The judgment against Argentina (D) was later vacated by the district court on the grounds of Argentina’s (D) immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA). This judgment was appealed by the Sidermans (P).

    Issue. Does a right to be free from official torture deserve the highest status under the International Law? And is this right fundamental and universal?

    Held. (Judge not stated in casebook excerpt). Yes. A right which deserves the highest status under international law is the right to be free from official torture, and this right is fundamental and universal. The record did not throw light on shielding Argentina (D) from the Sidermans (P) claims that their family business was stolen from them by the military junta.
    This is suggestive of the fact that in respect to the Sidermans (P) claim, Argentina (D) has implicitly waived its sovereign immunity. Hence, the district court was wrong on this ground for dismissing the Sidermans’ (P) torture claims. The judgment was therefore reversed and remanded.

    Discussion. Though not all international law carries the force of a jus cognes norm, the prohibition against official torture has attained that status since jus cogens is derived from values which are held to be fundamental by the international community. Hence, whatever state that engages in official torture has contravened a jus cogens norm. The opinion of the court however was that there are exceptions to immunity if such contravention occurred outside the United States and the Congress must make them so. Hence, this contravention of a jus cogen norm did not confer jurisdiction under the FSIA.


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