April 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Courts Must Accept Executive Branch’s Determination of Foreign Heads of State’s Immunity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Habyarimana v. Kagame on Wednesday, October 10, 2012.

The widows of the former presidents of Rwanda and Burundi allege current Rwandan President Paul Kagame is responsible for their husbands’ deaths. The former presidents were killed when the plane they were in was shot down. This incident sparked the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The widows filed suit in Oklahoma federal court seeking to hold Kagame liable under the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, the Torture Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2340A, the Racketeeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962, and several other state and international laws. The executive branch of the United States filed a “Suggestion of Immunity” on behalf of President Kagame as a sitting foreign head of state. The district court dismissed the case based on this immunity. In affirming the district court, the Tenth Circuit held that a “determination by the Executive Branch that a foreign head of state is immune from suit is conclusive and a court must accept such a determination without reference to the underlying claims of a plaintiff.” This is so even though the acts complained of occurred before Kagame was head of state.

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