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Let Terror Victims Sue Unrwa

Eugene Kontorovich WSJ, Feb. 16, 2024


“Some will howl that groups like Unrwa also do important humanitarian work, but it isn’t too much to ask of U.N. agencies that they internalize the costs of forming partnerships with designated terror groups and compensate victims.”


Imagine the consequences if an American municipal government were found to have allowed a known terror group to build a major base under City Hall. What if employees of a local public library had provided terrorists with supplies or joined in a campaign of murder, torture and hostage-taking? At the very least, everyone involved would be accountable for large damages to the victims in civil suits. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or Unrwa, has done exactly these things in Gaza. Yet no one in Turtle Bay is worried about being hauled into court.


The U.N. and its subsidiaries, as well as an alphabet soup of international organizations, enjoy absolute immunity from civil lawsuits in the U.S. — even for intentional crimes committed under their authority. Congress conferred this immunity in 1945 by passing the International Organizations Immunities Act. The U.N. and similar organizations were supposed to act for the benefit of humanity, and immunity would give them independence and protect them from harassing lawsuits.

Immunity for international organizations is modeled on sovereign immunity, one of the bedrock principles of international law, which bars countries from allowing their courts to hear damages suits against other countries.


Yet even with sovereign immunity, Congress established that if other states support or promote the murder or abuse of Americans, the victims or their families should be allowed to recover damages. In the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1979 (FSIA), Congress stripped states of their immunity for murder, torture and hostage-taking of American citizens, provided that the president designates the country as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Countries like Iran and North Korea are currently on the list.

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