Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

Summary of Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

An act of Congress passed in 1976 and having effect from January 19, 1977, clarifying the circumstances under which foreign states, their political subdivisions, and state-owned corporations may lose sovereign immunity and become subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. The act reaffirms that foreign states, per se, are immune from suit in the United States, but clarifies exceptions under which U.S. jurisdiction may be exercised. The act stipulates that a foreign state is not immune where it waives immunity, expressly or by implication; where the foreign state engages in commercial activities in the United States, or undertakes actions in the United States to further commercial activity elsewhere; and where the suit is brought against a commercial entity owned or controlled by a foreign state. Normally, the property of a foreign state is not subject to attachment, except where the state expressly waives immunity. Exception to this rule may apply in the case of funds impounded where a foreign state is in default of loan obligations; this point is unclear and relies upon opinions expressed in Congress that loans are inherently “commercial”in character.

The abrogation of state immunities authorized by the act is subordinate to any immunities granted by the United States in treaties of friendship, commerce, and navigation.

(Main Author: William J. Miller)

Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in 2011

United States views on international law (based on the document “Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law”): The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1330, 1602–1611, governs immunity from suits for foreign states in U.S. courts. The FSIA's various statutory exceptions, set forth at 28 U.S.C. §§ 1605(a)(1)–(6) and 1605A, have been subject to significant judicial interpretation in cases brought by private entities or persons against foreign states. Accordingly, much of U.S. practice in the field of sovereign immunity is developed by U.S. courts in litigation to which the U.S. government is not a party and in which it does not participate. The following items describe a selection of the significant proceedings that occurred during 2011 in which the United States intervened or participated as amicus curiae.


See Also

  • Privileges
  • Immunities
  • Foreign Sovereign Immunities