Legal Rights of Refugees: Two Case Studies and Some Proposals for a Strategy

In a recent decision of far-reaching implications, Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit not only identified one such right, but provided invaluable guidance as to how the broader question is to be addressed. This essay offers an analysis of the decision in Filarh’a, as well as a case presenting intriguing points of comparison, Tran Qui Than v. Blumenthal. It then proposes several generalizations concerning the identification of legal rights of refugees, suggesting a strategy for their enforcement, the upshot of which is this: creative marshalling and invocation of rights well established in the American legal tradition are the key to major breakthroughs of the Filarhga variety. Lawyers representing refugees hold that key in their hands. It is their responsibility to use it.