Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



This Article explores the relationship of Swiss banks and their tradition of bank secrecy to the activities of a particular group of depositors: war criminals and other human rights violators. The Article focuses on litigation brought in U.S. courts by plaintiffs seeking access to Swiss bank deposits made by the Nazis and Ferdinand Marcos. The Article examines the possibility of holding banks accountable under international law for assisting a customer who has committed a serious breach of international law. Part I introduces the role of bank secrecy in the current litigation. Part II describes the Swiss tradition of bank secrecy. Part III examines the continued popularity of Swiss banks as loci for the "retirement accounts" of dictators, despite Swiss reform efforts. Part IV analyzes the Holocaust Victims Asset Litigation and discusses the claims in detail. Part V describes the Marcos human rights litigation as an example of claims that Swiss banks were functioning as agents of a dictator. Part V discusses the possible establishment of "indigenous spoliation" as an international crime, and its possible application to culpable bankers. Part VII summarizes the lessons of the Marcos and Holocaust cases, and notes especially the need for clearer legal standards and effective international legal mechanisms.