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UIA Toronto Congress Main Theme Panel to Explore Legal Remedies for Victims of Terrorism

By Jerry Roth
Main Theme Coordinator
(Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP)
San Francisco, CA, United States 


International terrorism continues to plague society, and the damages to victims -- physical, psychological, property and financial -- are devastating. Legal remedies for terrorism victims are evolving around the globe, often with political, economic and social implications.  Our panel explores remedies for victims in different jurisdictions.

Over the past decades, terrorist incidents have multiplied around the world. The impact on victims is devastating -- death or serious physical injuries, psychological wounds, destruction of property, and serious financial injury. Most jurisdictions permit legal actions to recover compensation against the terrorists themselves, but they are often unidentified, killed or imprisoned, and/or financially insolvent. As a result, few such actions have been brought. Other meaningful remedies exist, however, and they vary significantly in different countries. Those other remedies, against nations, insurers and other third parties, raise a host of legal as well as political and social issues. At bottom, each jurisdiction is striving to answer questions such as who should bear the terrible costs of terrorism and what are the obligations of states and private third parties to prevent terrorism.

The first part of our panel will explore the remedies against state actors. This include actions against state sponsors of terrorism, as well as states that may be found not to have done enough to deter terrorism or protect those within its borders. Actions of either kind involve difficult assessing government responsibility for actions by non-state actors; accessing information that may be considered secret under international law, state action or law enforcement principles; and resolving assertions of sovereign immunity or similar defenses that often shield state actors from legal liability. The relationship between a state actor and terrorists acting from or within its borders may be murky; witnesses often balk at providing evidence; and diplomatic relations may be strained. Some jurisdictions provide funds for victims of terrorism, regardless of any state fault -- the underlying principle is that society has an interest in compensating entirely innocent victims of crimes that are considered to be political rather than for the personal gain of the offender.

We will also explore remedies against third parties. One obvious source of compensation is insurance, but coverage of injuries from terrorism has spawned a great deal of legal debate. Some jurisdictions have dealt with the issue by enacting legislation regarding insurance coverage. Insurance claims arising from such massive calamities as the attacks on the World Trade Center have given rise to an entire body of law that differs among nations. But insurers are not the only third parties who face claims. Victims have sought to recover from private parties that have facilitated terrorism, either knowingly (such as foundations proved to sponsor terrorist activity) or negligently (such as legitimate financial institutions who fail to take precautions against financial transactions by terrorists). More recently, victims have looked to recover from social media companies whose websites were used by terrorists to communicate with one another during attacks (for example, actions by some victims of the Bataclan attack against Facebook and other sites).

In short, the panel promises to raise -- and hopefully answer -- fascinating questions about how our legal systems address the entitlement of terrorism victims to compensation for their injuries.


Jerry Roth
Main Theme Coordinator

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