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Legislation that has been passed by the U.S. Senate, and is currently before a joint House-Senate conference committee, makes important contributions in the battle to contain and eliminate terrorism and, consequently, in the struggle to protect the most fundamental of human rights. It is important that the Justice for Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism bill be enacted. If sophisticated terrorist operations are dissected into their essential components, four tiers are revealed: the actual perpetrators � suicide bombers or anyone else who kills or maims victims or otherwise wreaks havoc and destruction; the controllers, who recruit the perpetrators, brainwash, train and equip them, and give them their marching orders; the guiding minds, who conceive and plan acts of terrorism; and the facilitators who, by providing financial and other wherewithal, make it possible. It is trite to say that, for counterterrorism measures to be effective, they must be comprehensive, both in the sense of attacking at all four levels as well as in terms of thoroughness at each level. Apart from affirming the right to sue states that sponsor terrorism, the bill improves on a trend commenced in 1996, by further eroding the ability of foreign nations to claim state immunity when being sued for complicity in acts of terrorism. Specifically, it shores up the notion that their commercial assets are open to attack in proceedings to enforce judgments against them. Moreover, the bill also fine-tunes the extension of the limitations period for commencement of litigation arising out of such acts to 10 years. Lying at the heart of all this are significant modifications to components of what might be termed the Marquess of Queensbury rules of litigation. Deeply entrenched considerations of comity have made it expedient, over the years, for states to accord immunity from suit to one another, as well as to their governmental and diplomatic representatives. Normal bilateral relations would be impossible if states and their representatives were freely subject to suit in each other’s courts. But however logical principles of immunity are, they are human-made creatures of legislation. As such, they should, and indeed do, give way when policy considerations so require. Thus, although sovereign immunity was initially absolute, applying irrespective of the nature of the governmental activities at issue, with the increasing propensity of governments to engage in commercial activities, an exception was carved out for litigation arising from such activities. An exception arising out of government involvement in financing, or other facilitation of, terrorism is no less logical. At heart, it recognizes that enabling terrorism � and a fortiori its actual perpetration � can in no sense be termed a legitimate governmental activity. Indeed, it is wrong in the extreme to permit governments so engaged to hide behind traditional notions of immunity that apply to normal sovereign functions. Likewise, there is much to be said for setting time limits for commencement of litigation arising out of particular events or acts, thereby striking a balance between giving potential plaintiffs ample scope to make the necessary preparations and allowing potential defendants the peace of mind, and ability to plan for the future, that comes with no longer having to fear the threat of court action. By contrast, terrorists and their supporters deserve no such courtesy. The scourge of terrorism is the worst form of assault on civilized society in the modern era, and there is no reason why those involved in it should be allowed any respite. In fact, there is every reason why the limitations period for terrorist-related litigation should be removed altogether. There is no statute of limitations in international law, and cases arising out of acts of genocide and crimes against humanity that took place decades ago are regularly being commenced. A similar policy is entirely appropriate, vis-�-vis terrorism, in the U.S. legal system. A key component in efforts to eliminate terrorism lies in maximizing the pressure on governments that are involved in it. By ensuring that states themselves can be held directly liable, and that their potential exposure will continue over a protracted period, the United States increases the prospects that states will be hit in a way that hurts, namely financially. The bill now before the conference committee is an important additional weapon in the armory deployed to discourage and eliminate terrorism. It thus not only conforms with the United States’ counterterrorism obligations under international law, but also constitutes an affirmation of the first and most basic human right, the right to live, by making terrorism, with its concomitant threat to human life, more costly and, therefore, less attractive. It is to be hoped that the bill is passed at the earliest possible moment. Harry Reicher, an NLJ columnist, teaches international human rights at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is scholar-in-residence at Kean University in Union, N.J.

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