Catherine Amirfar is Co-Chair of Debevoise’s International Dispute Resolution Group and the Public International Law Group, and a member of the firm’s Management Committee. Her practice focuses on public international law, international commercial and treaty arbitration, and complex international commercial litigation.
With over twenty years of experience, Ms. Amirfar has argued before federal and state courts throughout the United States, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and arbitration tribunals sitting around the world. She has deep expertise representing states, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and multinational companies.
Ms. Amirfar is consistently recognized at the very top of her field by the major legal directories, ranking in Public International Law (Global) (Band 1) and International Arbitration (USA) (Band 1). In Chambers Global (2022), clients declare that she “must be the best lawyer in the world for arbitration.” Chambers USA (2022) describes her as “brilliant, innovative and a superb advocate with an unrivaled sophistication in international matters.” She is also said to be “an excellent advocate, fierce in her delivery and mature in her judgment.” Benchmark Litigation (2021) recognized her as International Arbitration Litigator of the Year. The Legal 500 US (2022) describes her as “an amazing advocate for her clients” and “one of the best litigation/arbitration specialists in her field.” She receives praise for her “subject matter expertise, tactical abilities, and grounded demeanor.” Who’s Who Legal (2022) names her as a Global Elite Thought Leader, and describes her as “an extremely skillful advocate” and “a leading practitioner with broad experience” of international arbitration. In 2021, she also has been named a Litigator of the Week by The American Lawyer, an award which recognizes achievements in “the nation’s most complex high-profile cases” which impact “the biggest breakthrough decisions in America’s courtrooms.”
Ms. Amirfar has a long history of wider involvement in her field beyond client work. Ms. Amirfar is Immediate Past President of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), for which she has been co-hosting a podcast called “International Law Behind the Headlines.” ASIL is one of the most prestigious organizations within the field of international law, with 4,000 members from more than 100 nations. She also serves as a member of the U.S. Department of State’s Advisory Committee on International Law, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Advisory Committees of the American Law Institute for the Restatement (Fourth) of Foreign Relations Law of the United States and for the Restatement of the U.S. Law of International Commercial Arbitration. Ms. Amirfar is also a member of the Governing Board of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA), the leading global organization of international arbitrators and arbitration practitioners, the Court of Arbitration of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, and serves as Co-Chair of the ICCA-ASIL Task Force on Damages in International Arbitration. In 2021, Ms. Amirfar was appointed Deputy Co-Chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, an independent body that was established in July 2019 at the request of the United Kingdom and Canadian governments to provide advice to countries that are members of the Media Freedom Coalition of States.
Ms. Amirfar maintains a highly active pro bono practice, advising NGOs and individuals in a wide variety of human rights matters. Most recently, she has led work in conjunction with the Clooney Foundation for Justice on a number of high-profile cases seeking the release of unlawfully imprisoned journalists around the world. She is also representing plaintiffs in Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victims Protection Act cases in U.S. courts with co-counsel the Center for Justice and Accountability. These include civil suits against the alleged commander of the Lutheran Church massacre of approximately 600 unarmed civilians in Liberia, and the former Secretary of Defense of Sri Lanka for his alleged involvement in the attack, torture, and murder of a journalist. In 2014, Ms. Amirfar was selected by Chambers USA as the Pro Bono Private Practice Lawyer of the Year.
Prior to rejoining Debevoise in 2016, Ms. Amirfar spent two years as the Counselor on International Law to the Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State, and received the State Department’s Superior Honor Award in recognition of her contributions. During her tenure as Counselor, Ms. Amirfar advised the State Department on its most significant litigation matters involving international law and foreign relations, and liaised with senior officials of the Departments of Justice and Defense, the National Security Council and the Office of White House Counsel. She represented the United States before international bodies and advised the State Department on international legal issues arising in the areas of human rights, armed conflict, sovereign and diplomatic immunity, international arbitration and claims settlement, and the intersection of U.S. and international law.
Ms. Amirfar has written extensively on international arbitration, the relationship between international law and U.S. domestic law, international human rights and humanitarian law; investor-state disputes; and the law of consular and diplomatic immunities. She is a frequent lecturer on international law and has guest-lectured at Yale Law School and NYU Law School, among others.
Ms. Amirfar originally joined the firm in 2002 and became a partner in 2008. From 2000 to 2002, she clerked for the Hon. D.A. Batts, Southern District of New York. She received a J.D. cum laude from New York University Law School in 2000, where she was a Root-Tilden-Snow Scholar. She served as an editor for the NYU Law Review and was awarded top honors in the NYU Orison S. Marden Moot Court Competition. She received a B.A., with honors, in International Relations from Stanford University in 1995.