Catherine Amirfar

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP 

Catherine Amirfar is a litigation partner in the International Dispute Resolution Group and Co-Chair of the firm’s Public International Law Group. Her practice focuses on international commercial and treaty arbitration, international and complex commercial litigation and public international law. She is a member of the firm’s Management Committee.

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. 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 broadly 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 received the State Department’s Superior Honor Award in recognition of her contributions to the Department. She is among the youngest advocates ever to argue before the International Court of Justice and is ranked among the top international legal practitioners in the world by Chambers Global (2019).

She 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 has served as Vice President of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), for which she has been co-hosting a podcast called “International News Behind the Headlines”, and currently is a member of the American Law Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, the State Department’s Advisory Council on International Law, and the Court of Arbitration of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre. She also serves as Co-Chair of the ICCA-ASIL Task Force on Damages in International Arbitration.

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 laudefrom 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, from Stanford University in 1995.

Ms. Amirfar is recognized as a leading lawyer in numerous legal industry publications, including:

  • Chambers and Partners:
    • 2019 – –where she is widely recognised as a “very talented lawyer” who “is really, really good in investment arbitration.” She is very active in the field, acting as counsel for investors and states in a range of disputes. She also offers significant experience in commercial mandates, notably in the pharmaceuticals sector. (Arbitration (International) –Global-wide). Chambersalso has noted that she attracts praise as a “phenomenal lawyer” and “an incredible oral advocate.” Based in New York, she is highly sought after for her adept handling of big-ticket investment treaty disputes and is commendably active as PIL counsel to states on international environmental law and human rights issues. (Public International Law – Global-wide).
    • 2019 – –where she is well regarded for her representation of sovereigns and multinational corporations in complex commercial and investment treaty arbitrations. Fellow practitioners describe her as “incredibly accomplished” and note her “impressive skills” in arbitral disputes. Her credentials in the field are considerably burnished by her former role advising on international law in the US Department of State. (International Arbitration –USA).
    • 2018 – where she is ranked among the top international arbitration attorneys in the world, and sources describe her as “a class act,” and praise “her mastery of the relevant laws and her use of emotional intelligence to communicate effectively.”
    • 2014 – which described her as “very composed, intelligent and a master of investment arbitration.”
  • Benchmark Litigation:
    • 2019 – where sources say she is “an incredible expert on all things international treaty-wise.”
    • 2018 and 2017 – which recognized her as one of its “Top 250 Women in Litigation,” stating that her “expertise in international commercial and treaty arbitration, international and complex commercial litigation, and public international law practice is [ ] ‘one of the best in the country.’”
    • 2014 and 2015 – named her a Litigation Star
  • Who’s Who Legal: Arbitration:
    • 2019 – where she is named a Thought Leader and “draws praise as ‘an excellent advocate’ with a stellar investment treaty practice. ‘She’s a star and does a superb job in complex cases.’”
    • 2018 and 2017 – where she was lauded as “absolutely first rate, with a spectacular breadth of experience.”
  • The Legal 500 US:
    • 2018 – where she is ranked as a Leading Lawyer and described as “strategically savvy.”
  • Chambers USA:
    • 2014 – where she was selected as the “Pro Bono Private Practice Lawyer of the Year”
    • 2012 – which reports that she is “wonderful, by all accounts a rising star who always delivers”
    • 2010 – which stated that she is “viewed as ‘an emerging star in international arbitration’” who “plays a key role” in the firm’s public international law practice
  • Chambers Latin America:
    • 2013 – which describes her as “one of the leading figures of the next generation,” who impresses sources with her “natural, educated and sophisticated arguments.”


  • The State of Qatar and Qatari entities and individuals in international claims arising out of the measures imposed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt against Qatar, including winning an order for provisional measures in proceedings before the International Court of Justice against the United Arab Emirates, investment arbitrations and claims in other international tribunals.
  • The United Nations in successfully asserting its rights under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and corresponding U.S. law to obtain dismissal of suit against it in federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
  • Oy Metsä-Botnia in its $1.3 billion greenfield investment in the Orion pulp mill project in Uruguay and the Case Concerning Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay) in the International Court of Justice, which concerns that project. Argentina commenced proceedings against Uruguay in the ICJ pursuant to a bilateral treaty concerning the River Uruguay, which forms a shared border between the two countries, claiming that Uruguay had violated the treaty by allowing construction of the mill.
  • American Express Corp. in an intellectual property dispute in U.S. federal court resulting in a landmark decision in favor of its trademark rights in “Blackcard.”
  • A European bank in an ICSID case against the Government of Greece related to Greece’s sovereign bond restructuring.
  • An investment firm in two Bilateral Investment Treaty cases against the Government of Laos arising under the ICSID Additional Facility Rules and the UNCITRAL Rules.
  • A leading Brazilian company in two ICC arbitrations seated in São Paulo (and parallel litigations in Brazil and France) totaling US$400 million relating to an investment in a Brazilian food retail business.
  • The Government of Mexico in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), on its successful claims against the United States for violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in respect of 52 Mexican nationals sentenced to death in state court proceedings in the United States.
  • The petitioner in Medellin v. Texas and Medellin v. Dretke, in which the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the U.S. constitutional issues arising from the President’s and individual Mexican nationals’ efforts to enforce the ICJ judgment in Avena.
  • A tire manufacturing company in successful and favorably settled ICDR and CPR arbitrations, respectively, involving a US$20 million dispute over a contract to provide tires for a mining equipment manufacturer.
  • A Brazilian battery manufacturing company in a successful ICC arbitration involving US$25 million in damages over a contract purchase price dispute.
  • A Chilean natural gas company in an ICC arbitration involving a US$200 million dispute over a long-term supply agreement that settled on favorable terms.
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as amicus curiae in Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States, in which the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the rights of the Guantanamo detainees to judicial review of their detention.
  • NML Capital Limited in a request by Argentina to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for provisional measures against Ghana arising from the arrest in Ghana of an Argentine frigate on NML’s application.


  • New York University School of Law, 2000, J.D.
  • Stanford University, 1995, B.A.

Bar Admissions:

  • New York


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