May 16, 2011

Appeals Court to Hear Arguments in Case Charging Former Bolivian President for Role in 2003 Massacre

PRESS RELEASE

May 16, 2011, Miami, FL —The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument tomorrow in Miami, Florida in Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzain.  The case brings claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) on behalf of ten Bolivian plaintiffs against the former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and Bolivian defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for their roles in a 2003 massacre that included targeted killings of unarmed civilians.  Both defendants now live in the United States.

“The United States should not be a safe haven for individuals who commit serious human rights violations,” said Judith Brown Chomsky of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who will argue the appeal on behalf of the plaintiffs.  “The Alien Tort Statute is an important tool for fighting impunity, and allows our clients to seek justice for the deaths of their loved ones.”

The oral argument will be heard tomorrow morning, May 17, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. at the King Federal Justice Building, 99 Northeast Fourth Street, Miami, FL.

The district court previously ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on the motion to dismiss, allowing claims for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity to proceed against both defendants.  The defendants are contesting this ruling on appeal.

The oral argument will address three legal questions: (1) whether the defendants are entitled to immunity, despite an explicit waiver of immunity from the Bolivian government, which the U.S. government accepted; (2) whether the case presents a non-justiciable political question; and (3) whether the complaint, alleging intentional killings of peaceful civilians, states cognizable claims for extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity under the Alien Tort Statute.

The original complaints against Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín were filed in September 2007.  The complaints allege that the two defendants ordered Bolivian security forces to use deadly force, including high-powered rifles and machine guns, to suppress popular protests against government policies by targeting unarmed civilians in Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara community.  During September and October 2003, 67 men, women, and children were killed, and several hundred were injured.  Both defendants fled Bolivia in late October 2003, and have lived in the U.S. for the past eight years.

The attorneys on the case are Judith Brown Chomsky and Beth Stephens of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Susan Farbstein, Tyler Giannini, and James Cavallaro of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School; Steven Schulman, Michael Small, and Jeremy Bollinger of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP; David Rudovsky of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP; Ira Kurzban of Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger & Tetzoli; and Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, De Simone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP.

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Alison Roh Park, CCR (212) 614-6480, apark@ccrjustice.org; David Lerner, Riptide Communications (212) 260-5000, dlerner@riptideonline.com; Cara Solomon, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School (617) 852-6872, csolomon@law.harvard.edu.