Blog: Press Releases
May 31, 2018
Judge Overturns Unanimous Jury Verdict That Found Former Bolivian President and Defense Minister Responsible for Massacre of Indigenous People
Plaintiffs Argue Jury Made Right Decision, Promise Swift Appeal
May 30, 2018, Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Today, a federal judge overturned the verdict of a unanimous jury that found the former president of Bolivia and his minister of defense responsible for extrajudicial killings carried out by the Bolivian military, which killed more than 50 of its own citizens and injured hundreds during a period of civil unrest in September and October 2003. The jury’s decision, announced on April 3, came after a 10-year legal battle spearheaded by family members of eight people killed in what is known in Bolivia as the “Gas War.” The jury awarded a total of $10 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiffs. The trial marked the first time in U.S. history a former head of state has sat before his accusers in a U.S. civil court.
Today, Judge James I. Cohn upheld a motion by the defendants that argued there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict. The plaintiffs contend that the evidence presented at trial was more than sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude—as all 10 jurors did—that Bolivian soldiers killed the plaintiffs’ family members, and that the former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, are responsible for those deaths.
“The judge’s decision to overturn the jury’s unanimous verdict cannot change the truth, which the 10 jurors saw during the trial and affirmed after deliberating for nearly five days,” said Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a plaintiff and member of the indigenous Aymara community of Bolivia, who were victims of the defendants’ decision to use massive military force against the population. “We have been fighting for justice for our family members for over fourteen years, and we have no plans to stop now. We will appeal this decision.”
Both Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín have lived in the United States since they fled Bolivia following the massacre in 2003. In Bolivia, in 2011, former military commanders and government officials who acted under Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín’s authority were convicted for their roles in the 2003 killings. Both Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín were indicted in the same case, but could not be tried in abstentia under Bolivian law.
During the nearly month-long trial, the 10 jurors listened to the testimonies of 30 witnesses and heard evidence of at least 58 civilian killings and hundreds of civilian injuries carried out by the military in September and October 2003. The plaintiffs argue that the jury could have reasonably inferred that the death toll reflected the military’s deliberate use of lethal force against unarmed civilians, and that Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín consciously failed to stop the killings.
“The jury sat in trial for three weeks, deliberated for five days, and we are confident that they reached the right conclusion that the former President and Defense Minister were responsible for these killings. The judge depended on an erroneously high standard of evidence to overturn this verdict—that the defendants needed to have a premeditated plan to kill civilians—which the law does not require,” said Judith Chomsky, an attorney for the plaintiffs, cooperating through the Center for Constitutional Rights. “This case is not over, and we intend to swiftly appeal this decision.”
The family members are represented by a team of lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, and the law firms of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, and Akerman LLP. Lawyers from the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) are cooperating attorneys.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.
Juez revoca veredicto unánime del jurado que halló al expresidente boliviano y al antiguo ministro de Defensa responsables de masacre de indígenas
Los Demandantes argumentan que el jurado tomó la decisión correcta, prometen pronta apelación
30 de mayo, 2018, Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Hoy, un juez federal revocó el veredicto de un jurado que unánimemente halló al expresidente boliviano y a su ministro de Defensa responsables de los homicidios culposos realizados por los militares bolivianos, quienes mataron a más de 50 de sus propios ciudadanos e hirieron a cientos durante un período de disturbio civil en septiembre y octubre de 2003. La decisión del jurado, anunciada el 3 de abril, llegó después de una batalla legal de 10 años conducida por los familiares de ocho personas asesinadas en lo que se conoce en Bolivia como la “Guerra del gas.” El jurado otorgó un total de $10 millones en compensación por daños a los demandantes. El juicio fue la primera vez en la historia de los EUA en que un antiguo mandatario de estado se sentó frente a sus acusadores en una corte civil estadounidense.
Hoy, el juez James I. Cohn defendió una moción de los demandados que argumenta que la evidencia no era suficiente para respaldar el veredicto. Los demandantes contienden que la evidencia presentada en el juicio era más que suficiente para que un jurado razonable concluyese—así como lo hicieran 10 miembros del jurado—que los soldados bolivianos mataron a los familiares de los demandantes, y que el expresidente Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada y su ministro de Defensa, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, fueron responsables de esas muertes.
“La decisión del juez de revocar el veredicto unánime del jurado no puede alterar la verdad que vieron los 10 miembros del jurado durante el juicio y que afirmaron después de deliberar por casi cinco días,” dijo Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, un demandante y miembro de la comunidad indígena aymara de Bolivia, la cual fue víctima de la decisión de los demandados de usar fuerza militar masiva contra la población. “Por más de catorce años hemos luchado por justicia para nuestros familiares y no pensamos detenernos ahora. Apelaremos esta decisión.”
Tanto el expresidente boliviano, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, como su antiguo ministro de Defensa, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, han estado viviendo en los Estados Unidos desde que huyeron de Bolivia después de la masacre de 2003. En Bolivia, cinco excomandantes militares cuyas acciones dependían de Sánchez de Lozada y Sánchez Berzaín fueron condenados en 2011 por sus roles en las ejecuciones de 2003. Tanto Sánchez de Lozada como Sanchez Berzaín fueron imputados en el mismo caso, pero no pudieron ser juzgados in abstentia según la ley boliviana.
Durante casi un mes en juicio, los 10 miembros del jurado escucharon los testimonios de 30 testigos y escucharon la evidencia sobre al menos 58 civiles asesinados y cientos de civiles heridos por los militares en septiembre y octubre de 2003. Los demandantes argumentan que el jurado pudo inferir razonablemente que la cantidad de víctimas refleja el uso deliberado de fuerza letal que hicieron los militares contra civiles desarmados, y que Sánchez de Lozada y Sánchez Berzaín se abstuvieron conscientemente de detener esa matanza.
“El jurado estuvo en el juicio por tres semanas y deliberaron por cinco días, y estamos seguros de que llegaron a la conclusión correcta de que el expresidente y el antiguo ministro de Defensa fueron responsables de esos homicidios. El juez se respaldó en un estándar erróneamente alto de evidencia para revocar este veredicto—que los demandados precisaban tener un plan premeditado para matar civiles—algo que la ley no requiere,” dijo Judith Chomsky, una abogada de los demandantes, cooperante a nombre de Center for Constitutional Rights [Centro por los derechos constitucionales]. “Este caso no ha terminado y tenemos la intención de apelar esta decisión con prontitud.”
Los familiares están representados por un equipo de abogados de Center for Constitutional Rights, Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, y los bufetes de Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, y Akerman LLP. Las(los) abogada(os) de Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) [Centro por la ley, la justicia y la sociedad (Dejusticia)] son abogadas(os) de cooperación.
Para mayor información, visite la página del caso (case page) del Center for Constitutional Rights.
May 23, 2018
This piece originally appeared as a spotlight feature on Harvard Law School’ s Today homepage on May 22, 2018, written by Ian Spaho.
In recognition of their demonstrated excellence in representing clients and undertaking advocacy or policy reform projects, Amy Volz ’18 and Ha Ryong Jung (Michael) ’18 were named the 2018 recipients of the David A. Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award at Harvard Law School. The award is named in honor of the late Clinical Professor David Grossman ’88, a public interest lawyer dedicated to providing high-quality legal services to low income communities.
Described by nominators as “the embodiment of Grossman’s tireless pro bono spirit,” Volz contributed thousands of hours of pro bono service to clients through the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), the International Human Rights Clinic, and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC).
At HLS, Volz co-founded the Immigration Response Initiative, a student group comprised of nearly 400 students. The Immigration Response Initiative focused on more than a dozen projects, including legal research for the American Civil Liberties Union; state and local advocacy for immigrant-friendly policies; and support for HIRC’s litigation efforts to stop the Muslim Ban. Volz wrote answers to frequently-asked-questions related to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and helped organize DACA renewal clinics for members of the Harvard community. She also drafted portions of an amicus brief to stop President Trump’s Executive Order from cutting refugee admissions. She did all of this work pro bono without receiving any academic credit.
Volz also put together a noteworthy report detailing a range of issues, including detention, denial of parole or release from detention, criminalization of asylum seekers, and the expansion of expedited removal proceedings. The report became the basis for a request for a hearing before the Inter-American Commission and litigation before the Canadian courts.
“Amy is a consummate professional and clear communicator who is thoughtful about her role as well as her place on a team. She listens effectively but, at the same time, she is always prepared to offer her opinions and ideas,” wrote her nominators from the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. “She is smart, enthusiastic, thoughtful, and totally reliable.”
Her commitment to social justice is also evident in her work with the International Human Rights Clinic, where she worked for two years. Throughout this time, she worked on a complicated lawsuit, Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, which was litigated in U.S. federal court on behalf of the family members of Bolivian citizens who were killed by the Bolivian military in 2003. The suit brought claims against Boliva’s former president and minister of defense for their roles in orchestrating these killings. In April, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the families, awarding them $10 million.
“Volz was involved in all aspects of the litigation and her work was nothing short of outstanding. She developed a deep, detailed knowledge of a very intricate case, from the most minute factual details to larger strategic decisions, a testament to not only her intelligence but also her commitment,” her nominators wrote.
“Her ability to connect with people in such a meaningful way, combined with her deep understanding of the case and the evidence that we needed to provide at trial, helped us elicit the testimony that we needed to prove our case from multiple difficult witnesses,” said Clinical Professor of Law and Co-Director of the International Human Rights Clinic Susan Farbstein, who also nominated Volz.
“I am incredibly honored to be a recipient of this award and grateful for the many opportunities I have had to get involved in clinical and SPO work at HLS,” said Volz. “Working with amazing mentors in the Immigration & Refugee Clinical Program and the International Human Rights Clinic has been the greatest gift of my time in law school. I am excited to carry on the lessons I have learned here as I begin my career.”
Ha Ryong Jung (Michael)
Ha Ryong Jung, a native of South Korea, was recognized for his unparalleled commitment to clinical education and the field of children’s rights. At HLS, he contributed more than 2,000 pro bono hours with the International Human Rights Clinic, Child Advocacy Clinic, and HLS Advocates for Human Rights. He also worked pro bono at the regional office of the United Nations Children’s Fund in Thailand, Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Boston Juvenile Court, and Volunteer Lawyers Project.
“Jung has spent the better part of his lifetime building his capacity to promote the human rights of children, particularly the neediest children,” wrote his nominators in the Child Advocacy Program. They noted that his clinical and academic work were outstanding, showing a drive to learn, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to make connections.
In the Child Advocacy Clinic, Jung received special recognition for his important contributions to his placement organization and the quality of his participation and engagement in the clinic seminar. He worked on laws and policies affecting children and young people, including those undergoing removal proceedings and experiencing custody complications due to undocumented parents facing deportation. “His thoughtful and reflective contributions made him a beloved member of his fieldwork office and the class,” wrote his nominators.
Jung has taken his clinical experiences and infused them into other aspects of his law school life. He is the first student to complete the Harvard-wide Child Protection Certificate Program administered by the Harvard François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Additionally, he re-ignited HLS’ student group Child & Youth Advocates, organizing events and skills-based training related to child welfare, education, and juvenile justice. He also created a student database to encourage networking among HLS students and graduates interested in the field of child advocacy.
One of his most impressive accomplishments, according to his nominators, was establishing the Child Advocacy Hub, which connects organizations working on children’s issues to law students interested in working remotely on short-term projects. Seeing an unmet need in the legal services community for additional help, and a desire on the part of HLS students to volunteer, Jung came up with the idea of matching the two groups. With this vision and his exceptional organizational and leadership skills, he reached out to stakeholders and launched the Hub in early 2018. “Jung’s efforts were driven by his ability to identify a problem and solve it, and also by his deep drive to ensure that the range of opportunities to gain skills and participate in child advocacy-oriented activities for current and future HLS students is as robust as possible,” wrote his nominators.
“Jung is truly a one-of-a-kind person and student, and he is undoubtedly going to make significant contributions to the field of children’s rights once he begins his career,” his nominators concluded.
Reflecting on his three years at HLS Jung said, “When I was notified about this award, my first reaction was one of puzzlement and amazement because I knew so many students who were deserving of an award, and I never considered myself to fit that definition. However, the feelings that followed were of immense gratitude and honor with the understanding that the individuals I deeply admire had recognized my work as contributing to the lives of children and trusted that my efforts will firmly persist. I feel blessed to have been a part of the International Human Rights Clinic and the Child Advocacy Clinic for most of my time in law school, and those experiences have undoubtedly taken me a step closer to becoming an effective advocate for children. This award is the greatest gift that I have received, and it will serve to be an immeasurably valuable source of support and encouragement for me as I continue my pursuit of helping to protect children and their rights.”
April 13, 2018
Spotlight Feature: Clinic team help hold Bolivian ex-leaders responsible for killings in historic case
Posted by Cara Solomon
This post originally ran on the Harvard Law Today homepage under the title, “After a decade of tireless fighting, a measure of justice.”
When the verdict came down, most of the litigation team was in the second row of the courtroom, leaning forward, tense with the waiting, trembling at times. But Thomas Becker ’08, was in the front row beside the plaintiffs, his arm around the shoulders of Felicidad Rosa Huanca Quispe, whose father was shot dead in the street all those years ago.
There was no other place for him to be. He had spent the past decade on and off in Bolivia, working in partnership with the plaintiffs–attending victims’ association meetings, tracking down witnesses, investigating leads. They were not only his inspiration. They were also his friends.
When Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín reached Federal District Court last month, it had already made history: the first time a living former head of state faced his accusers in a human rights case in U.S. court. Now, as the judge read the verdict form, Becker found the words hard to believe.
Had the jury really just found two of the most powerful men in Bolivian history liable for the extrajudicial killings of eight indigenous people–and awarded the plaintiffs $10 million in damages?
With more than 25 witnesses and hundreds of pages of evidence, the case against Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Carlos Sánchez Berzaín seemed clear—how they had deployed massive military force to quash protests, leading to scores of civilian deaths. Still, Becker turned around for reassurance from Susan Farbstein ’04 and Tyler Giannini, co-directors of the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), which was co-counsel in the litigation from the start.
“Susan was smiling with tears running down her face, and Tyler was nodding in his Zen-like way,” said Becker. “And I knew that after a decade of tireless fighting, the plaintiffs had gotten some form of justice.”
In the summer of 2006, Becker was a rising 2L, living in Bolivia, and immersed in the social justice movement around “Black October,” the military violence that killed more than 50 and injured more than 400 in the fall of 2003.
The fight for accountability was already well underway, and would later lead to the Trial of Responsibilities, which found five members of the Military High Command guilty for their role in the killings. But the men who had unleashed the military on civilians—Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín—had fled to the United States in the aftermath of the violence, and lived there ever since.
At some point, Becker remembered something he’d learned about in his 1L year. It was called the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), and it allowed people to sue in U.S. courts for human rights violations. What if lawyers in the United States could use it to help the victims’ associations here get some justice for their loved ones?
He reached out to experts in ATS litigation—Paul Hoffman, Judith Chomsky, and Giannini—to see what was feasible.
For Giannini, it felt reminiscent of another long-shot ATS case: Doe v. Unocal, brought by Burmese villagers against the company for human rights abuses related to a gas pipeline project. Back in 1995, when the organization he co-founded, EarthRights International, decided to sue a corporation for human rights violations, the reception was less than enthusiastic.
“People thought we were nuts,” he said.
But Giannini served as co-counsel on that case for a decade, right up until it settled. So when Becker called with the idea of suing the president of Bolivia, he had a receptive audience: this was not a litigator put off by long odds.
April 3, 2018
In Clinic Case, Jury Finds Former Bolivian President Responsible for Extrajudicial Killings of Indigenous People; Awards $10 Million in Damages
In a landmark decision today, a federal jury found the former president of Bolivia and his minister of defense responsible for extrajudicial killings carried out by the Bolivian military in September and October 2003. The decision comes after a ten-year legal battle spearheaded by family members of eight people killed in what is known in Bolivia as the “Gas War.” It marked the first time in U.S. history a former head of state has sat before his accusers in a U.S. human rights trial. The jury awarded a total of $10 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiffs.
Both the former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and his former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, have lived in the United States since they fled Bolivia following the massacre known as “Black October.” During that period, more than 50 people were killed and hundreds were injured. In Bolivia, in 2011, former military commanders and government officials who acted under Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín’s authority were convicted for their roles in the killings. Both Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín were indicted in the same case, but could not be tried in abstentia under Bolivian law.
The lawsuit originated from a collaborative effort between the International Human Rights Clinic and Bolivian lawyers, advocates, and community members seeking justice for the 2003 violence. Dozens of students have worked on the case since 2006.
“After many years of fighting for justice for our family members and the people of Bolivia, we celebrate this historic victory,” said Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a plaintiff and member of the indigenous Aymara community of Bolivia, who were victims of the defendants’ decision to use massive military force against the population. “Fifteen years after they fled justice, we have finally held Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín to account for the massacre they unleashed against our people.”
In Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, the families of eight Bolivians who were killed filed suit against Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín in 2007. Today’s verdict affirms the plaintiffs’ claims that the two defendants were legally responsible for the extrajudicial killings and made decisions to deploy military forces in civilian communities in order to violently quash opposition to their policies.
“To me, it was the biggest honor of my life to work with the plaintiffs and learn from them in their struggle for justice,” said Thomas Becker ’08, who brought the idea for the lawsuit to IHRC after spending time in Bolivia and learning about the massacre there. “It’s an extraordinary privilege to witness this and be a small part of this.”
The three-week trial included the testimony of 29 witnesses from across Bolivia who recounted their experiences of the 2003 killings. Twenty-three appeared in person. Eight plaintiffs testified about the deaths of their family members, including: Etelvina Ramos Mamani and Eloy Rojas Mamani, whose eight-year-old daughter Marlene was killed in front of her mother when a single shot was fired through the window; Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, whose pregnant wife Teodosia was killed after a bullet was fired through the wall of a house; Felicidad Rosa Huanca Quispe, whose 69-year-old father Raul was shot and killed along a roadside; and Gonzalo Mamani Aguilar, whose father Arturo was shot and killed while tending his crops.
One witness, a former soldier in the Bolivian military, testified about being ordered to shoot at “anything that moves” in a civilian community, while another recounted witnessing a military officer kill a soldier for refusing to follow orders to shoot at unarmed civilians. Witnesses recounted how tanks rolled through in the streets and soldiers shot for hours on end. Others testified about how the president and minister of defense committed to a military option instead of pursuing dialogue with community leaders to reach a peaceful resolution.
In 2016, a U.S. appeals court held that the plaintiffs could proceed with their claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), which authorizes suits for monetary damages in U.S. federal court for extrajudicial killings. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín then sought and were denied a review by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017, and the case moved forward in U.S. District Court. After a review of the evidence gathered by both sides, District Court Judge James I. Cohn ruled on February 14 that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
“There are just no words for what the plaintiffs have done over the past ten years to seek justice for their lost loved ones as well as many others who were killed in Bolivia,” said Tyler Giannini, Co-Director of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. “Today the jury gave the plaintiffs a huge victory, and showed that the former president and his defense minister are not above the law.”
“When I heard the verdict, I almost couldn’t believe it,” added Susan Farbstein, Co-Director of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. “The only thing I could think of was: We didn’t let down the plaintiffs, we didn’t disappoint them, we did our jobs.”
As co-counsel, the International Human Rights Clinic has been involved in all phases of the litigation from the outset, including researching and drafting for the complaint and various motions and briefs, assisting with oral arguments, and undertaking more than a dozen investigative missions to Bolivia since 2007. Over the past year, during the discovery phase, students traveled to Bolivia numerous times, and assisted with document review, interrogatories, and the depositions of plaintiffs, witnesses and experts; more than a half dozen students worked on every facet of the case during the three weeks of trial.
“It was fascinating to work under the legal team and have complete faith in their talent and ability to manage such a complex case,” said Amy Volz ’18, who traveled to Bolivia on four fact-finding trips. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
After the jury announced its verdict, the defendants made a motion asking the judge to overturn the jury’s finding of liability against both defendants. Both parties will submit briefing on this issue in the coming weeks.
“We’re not one to leave halfway through the fight,” said Baltazar Cerro. “We will struggle until the last moment.”
In addition to the Clinic, a team of lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firms of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, and Akerman LLP are representing the family members. Lawyers from the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) are cooperating attorneys.
February 20, 2018
Posted by Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini
We’ve got thrilling news today: After more than 10 years of litigation, our case, Mamani et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, is finally headed to trial. This is an historic event. It’s the first time a former head of state will stand trial in the U.S. for human rights abuses.
In less than two weeks, on March 5, the former President and Minister of Defense of Bolivia will stand trial in Federal District Court in Florida for their roles in a 2003 civilian massacre in Bolivia. And our clients will be in the courtroom to see it, and to testify.
We would not be here without the work of our partners, listed below, and dozens of clinical students who have contributed over the years, from fact-finding to drafting briefs to thinking strategically about how to move the case forward. Foremost among those students is Thomas Becker, JD ’08. This case started as a seed of an idea in his mind, and he has been working tirelessly on it ever since.
Most importantly, we want to thank our clients, who have kept their wounds open so this case could move forward on behalf of those they lost, and the many other Bolivians whose lives were irrevocably damaged by the actions of these defendants. They inspire us every day with the extraordinary courage and dedication they have shown at every step of this journey.
Please see below for the press release in English and Spanish.
U.S. Judge Orders Case Against Former Bolivian President for Role in 2003 Massacre to Proceed to Trial
Marks First Time in U.S. History a Former Head of State Will Sit Before Accusers in a Civil Human Rights Trial
February 20, 2018, Miami, FL – A federal judge has ruled that the former president of Bolivia and his minister of defense must face trial in the United States in a civil case alleging that the Bolivian military massacred more than 50 of its own citizens during a period of civil unrest in 2003. This is the first time that a former head of state will sit before his accusers in a civil human rights trial in a U.S. court. Last week, the judge rejected the defendants’ final effort to avoid trial (ruling English and Spanish), denying a motion filed by the former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and his former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, both of whom live in the United States. The trial will begin in the federal court in Fort Lauderdale on March 5, 2018.
“The former president and his minister of defense must now listen as we testify about what happened,” said Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a member of the indigenous Aymara community of Bolivia, which led the protests where the government security forces opened fire. “We look forward to this historic opportunity to have our day in court.”
In Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, as detailed in the Court’s February 14 order, the families of eight Bolivians killed filed suit against Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, alleging that they planned the extrajudicial killings. The lawsuit alleges that, months in advance of the violence, the two defendants devised a plan to kill thousands of civilians, and intentionally used deadly force against political protests in an effort to quash political opposition. In addition to the deaths, more than 400 unarmed civilians were shot and injured.
In 2016, a U.S. appeals court held that the plaintiffs could proceed with their claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), which authorizes suits in U.S. federal court for extrajudicial killings. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín then sought and were denied a review by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017. After a review of the evidence gathered by both sides, District Court Judge James Cohn ruled on February 14 that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
“The trial will offer indigenous Aymara people, who have historically been excluded from justice, a chance to testify about events that led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries,” said Beth Stephens, an attorney for the Plaintiffs (cooperating through the Center for Constitutional Rights).
The lawsuit alleges claims by nine plaintiffs including: Etelvina Ramos Mamani, whose eight-year-old daughter Marlene was killed in her mother’s bedroom when a single shot was fired through the window; Teofilo Baltazar Cerro, whose pregnant wife Teodosia was killed after a bullet was fired through the wall of a house; Felicidad Rosa Huanca Quispe, whose 69-year-old father Raul was shot and killed along a roadside; and Gonzalo Mamani Aguilar, whose father Arturo was shot and killed while tending his crops.
The family members are represented by a team of lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, and the law firms of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP, Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, and Akerman LLP. Lawyers from the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) are cooperating attorneys.
Chandra Hayslett, CCR, (212) 614-6458, email@example.com
Juez de los EE.UU. Ordena Que El Caso Contra el Ex-Presidente Boliviano Por Su Papel en la Masacre de 2003 Procederá a Juicio
Marca Primera Vez en La Historia de Estados Unidos Que Un Jefe De Estado Será Sometido a Un Juicio de Derechos Humanos Frente a Sus Acusadores
20 de febrero, Miami, Florida, Estados Unidos – Un juez federal de los Estados Unidos ha ordenado que el ex-presidente de Bolivia y su ministro de defensa serán sometidos a juicio en los EE.UU. en un caso civil alegando que el ejército Boliviano masacró a más de 50 de sus propios ciudadanos en un período de disturbios civiles en 2003. Será la primera vez que un ex-jefe de estado se sentará frente a sus acusadores en un juicio civil de derechos humanos en una corte en los Estados Unidos. La semana anterior, el juez rechazó el último esfuerzo de los acusados a evitar el juicio, negando una moción que presentaron Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, el ex-presidente de Bolivia, y su ex-ministro de defensa, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, los dos cuales viven en los EE.UU. El juicio comenzará en la corte federal en Fort Lauderdale, Florida el 5 de marzo de 2018.
“El ex-presidente y su ministro de defensa ahora tendrán que escuchar mientras testificamos sobre lo que pasó,” dijo Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, un miembro de la comunidad originaria Aymara, la cual dirigió las protestas donde las fuerzas de seguridad del gobierno abrieron fuego. “Esperamos esta oportunidad histórica para tener nuestro día en la corte.”
En el caso Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada y Sánchez Berzaín, como se describe en la orden de la corte del 14 de febrero, las familias de ocho Bolivianos que fueron asesinados demandaron a Sánchez de Lozada y Sánchez Berzaín, alegando que planificaron las matanzas extrajudiciales. La demanda alega que, meses antes de la violencia, los dos acusados idearon un plan para matar a miles de civiles, e intencionalmente usaron fuerza letal en contra de las protestas políticas para reprimir la oposición política. Encima de las muertes, se disparó a más de 400 civiles desarmados que salieron heridos.
En 2016, una corte de apelación de los Estados Unidos sostuvo que los demandantes pudieron seguir con sus reclamaciones bajo el Acto de Protección para Las Víctimas de Tortura (TVPA por sus siglas en ingles), lo cual autoriza casos en el tribunal federal de Estados Unidos para matanzas extrajudiciales. Sánchez de Lozada y Sánchez Berzaín luego pidieron que la Corte Suprema de Estados Unidos tomara el caso, y fueron negados. Después de revisar la evidencia colectada de los dos lados, el Juez de la Corte del Distrito James Cohn ordenó el 14 de febrero que los demandantes habían presentado suficiente evidencia para seguir al juicio.
“Este juicio ofrecerá al pueblo Aymara, que históricamente ha sido excluida de la justicia, una oportunidad para testificar sobre los eventos que resultaron en docenas de muertes y cientos de heridas,” dijo Beth Stephens, una abogada para los demandantes, cooperando con el Centro de Derechos Constitucionales (Center for Constitutional Rights).
La demanda alega reclamaciones de nueve demandantes incluyendo: Etelvina Ramos Mamani, cuya hija de ocho años Marlene fue asesinada en el dormitorio de su madre cuando una sola bala fue disparado a través de la ventana; Teofilo Baltazar Cerro, cuya esposa embarazada Teodosia fue asesinada cuando se disparó una bala a través de la pared de una casa; Felicidad Rosa Huanca Quispe, cuyo padre de 69 años fue asesinado a tiros al lado de una carretera; y Gonzalo Mamani Aguilar, cuyo padre Arturo fue asesinado a tiros mientras cuidaba sus cultivos.
Los familiares son representados por un equipo de abogados del Centro de Derechos Constitucionales, La Clínica de Derechos Humanos Internacionales de la Facultad de Derecho de Harvard, y los bufetes de abogados Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP, Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, y Akerman LLP. Abogados de la organización Dejusticia son abogados cooperantes.
Chandra Hayslett, CCR, (212) 614-6458, firstname.lastname@example.org
November 20, 2017
Clinic and HRW Document Use of Incendiary Weapons by Coalition of Syrian Government and Russian Forces
(Geneva, November 20, 2017) – Countries should respond to reports of new use of incendiary weapons in Syria by working to strengthen the international law governing these exceptionally cruel weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 28-page report, “An Overdue Review: Addressing Incendiary Weapons in the Contemporary Context,” documents use of incendiary weapons by the coalition of Syrian government and Russian forces in 2017. It urges countries at a UN disarmament meeting, held in Geneva from November 22 to 24, 2017, to initiate a review of Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). This protocol, which regulates incendiary weapons, has failed to prevent their ongoing use, endangering civilians.
“Countries should react to the threat posed by incendiary weapons by closing the loopholes in outdated international law,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, which co-published the report. “Stronger law would mean stronger protections for civilians.”
Docherty, who is also senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, presented the report’s findings at a side event at the United Nations in Geneva today.
Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. They can be designed for marking and signaling or to burn materiel, penetrate plate metal, or produce smokescreens. Incendiary weapons cause excruciating burns, disfigurement, and psychological trauma, and they start fires that destroy civilian objects and infrastructure.
For the first time in nearly four decades, countries that are parties to the 1980 treaty have devoted a specific session at their annual meeting to Protocol III. The meeting will also address fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots.”
States parties should seize this opportunity to hold robust discussions about the harm caused by incendiary weapons and the adequacy of Protocol III, Human Rights Watch said. They should condemn recent use, support a formal review of the protocol, with an eye to strengthening it, and set aside more time for in-depth discussions in 2018.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch documented 22 attacks with incendiary weapons across five governorates of Syria by Syrian government forces or their Russian allies. From 2012 to 2016, Human Rights Watch documented at least 68 attacks by the same forces, as well as several cases of severe civilian harm. While Syria is not a party to Protocol III, Russia is.
As recently as November 12, photographs and video reportedly taken in Syria’s Idlib governorate as well as a report from Syria Civil Defense field workers indicate the use of air-delivered incendiary weapons, although Human Rights Watch has been unable to confirm these specific attacks.
The continued use of incendiary weapons in Syria shows that countries, including Syria, need to join Protocol III and comply with its restrictions on use in populated areas, Human Rights Watch said. The use also demonstrates the need for stronger norms, which can increase the stigma against the weapons and influence even those not party to the protocol.
Protocol III has two major loopholes. First, its definition excludes multipurpose weapons, such as those with white phosphorus, which may be primarily designed to provide smokescreens or illumination, but can inflict the same horrific injuries as other incendiary weapons. White phosphorus, for example, can burn through human flesh to the bone and reignite days after treatment if exposed to oxygen.
In 2017, the US-led coalition used white phosphorus while fighting to retake Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq from the Islamic State. While Human Rights Watch has not confirmed casualties from these incidents, the New York Times reported that munitions containing white phosphorous hit an internet café, killing approximately 20 people.
Second, while the protocol prohibits the use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in populated areas, it allows the use of ground-delivered models in certain circumstances. All incendiary weapons cause the same effects, however, and this arbitrary distinction should be eliminated. A complete ban on incendiary weapons would have the greatest humanitarian benefits.
In recent years, a growing number of countries have condemned the use of incendiary weapons and called for revisiting or strengthening Protocol III. At the meeting in Geneva, they should expand on their positions, and new countries should add their voices to the debate.
“Existing law on incendiary weapons is a legacy of the US war in Vietnam and a Cold War compromise,” said Docherty. “But the political and military landscape has changed, and it is time for the law to reflect current problems.”
The new report was researched and written by clinical students Allie Brudney, JD ’19, Sofia Falzoni, JD ’19, and Natalie McCauley, JD ’19, under the supervision of Bonnie Docherty.
May 18, 2017
Clinic and partners call on ICC to investigate role of Chiquita executives in contributing to crimes against humanity
Human Rights Coalition Calls on ICC to Investigate Role of Chiquita Executives in Contributing to Crimes against Humanity
Communities in Colombia Seek Accountability after two decades of impunity
Bogota, Colombia, May 18, 2017 – Today, on behalf of affected Colombian communities, a coalition of human rights groups called on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the complicity of executives at Chiquita Brands International in crimes against humanity. To date, no executive has been held to account despite the company’s admission that it funneled millions of dollars to Colombian paramilitaries that killed, raped, and disappeared civilians. If the ICC takes up the case, it would be the first time it moved against corporate executives for assisting such crimes.
In their submission to the court, the coalition of local and international human rights groups traces the executives’ involvement with payments made to the paramilitaries between 1997 and 2004. Even after outside counsel and the U.S. Department of Justice said such payments were illegal under U.S. law, the payments continued. The submission includes a confidential, sealed appendix that identifies by name fourteen senior executives, officers, and board members of Chiquita who the coalition argues should be the focus of the Prosecutor’s investigation.
The coalition, which consists of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR), relied on internal Chiquita documents and assistance from the National Security Archive at George Washington University to identify the Chiquita officials and show how they were involved with the crimes.
“The executives who oversaw the funding of paramilitaries should not be able to sit comfortably in their houses in the United States as if they did nothing wrong,” said a member of the Peace Community of San José de Apartado, which submitted a letter to the ICC about how the paramilitary violence personally affected them. “Families across Colombia have been waiting for accountability for too long.”
Chiquita could have acted differently, or could have left the country years before it did, but instead decided to continue its lucrative business while paying paramilitaries for so-called ‘security’ in the banana-growing regions. By 2003, Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia was its most profitable banana operation in the world.
“At the time, Colombian paramilitaries were notorious for targeting civilians, among them banana workers and community leaders,” said CAJAR, “but Chiquita’s executives decided to continue giving money to paramilitaries anyway.”
The Chiquita corporation already pled guilty in a U.S. federal court in 2007 to illegally funding Colombian paramilitaries. But accountability for the executives who oversaw and authorized the payment scheme has been elusive: while civil litigation is pending in U.S. courts against Chiquita executives, no criminal prosecution is on the horizon. Colombia has not been able to get jurisdiction over them, and there is no indication that the United States would extradite the executives.
“We request that the ICC expands its current inquiry in Colombia to specifically include Chiquita’s executives and officials,” said Dimitris Christopoulos, the President of FIDH. “The weight of the evidence should lead the Office of the Prosecutor to act if Colombian authorities are not able to.”
If Colombian authorities do not move ahead with this case, the submission asks the Prosecutor to request formal authorization from its Pre-Trial Chamber to open an investigation into Chiquita’s corporate executives.
The communication comes at a critical time in Colombia, as the country begins to implement an historic peace agreement after nearly half a century of conflict. The coalition’s submission urges the Office of the Prosecutor to monitor local Colombian proceedings to ensure its meets ICC standards, particularly with regards to the private sector support for the paramilitaries and business’ accountability.
“In times of transition to peace, corporate actors too often escape accountability for their egregious behavior in the past,” said Professor Tyler Giannini, a Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. “The prosecution of Chiquita officials for their payments to the paramilitaries would send a powerful message that impunity is no longer business as usual.”
* * *
For media inquiries:
Tyler Giannini (English), Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School +1 617 669 2340
Dimitris Christopoulos (English, French Greek), FIDH President : + 33 6 75 76 69 32
Jimena Reyes (Spanish, French, English) – FIDH Americas Desk director : +32 493 61 72 64 (email@example.com)
Sebastián Escobar, CAJAR: +57 3143776026
December 9, 2016
Formalize ‘Killer Robots’ Talks; Aim for Ban
Fully Autonomous Weapons on Disarmament Conference Agenda
(Geneva, December 9, 2016) – Governments should agree at the upcoming multilateral disarmament meeting in Geneva to formalize their talks on fully autonomous weapons, with an eye toward negotiating a preemptive ban, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 49-page report, “Making the Case: The Dangers of Killer Robots and the Need for a Preemptive Ban,” rebuts 16 key arguments against a ban on fully autonomous weapons.
Fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems and ‘killer robots,’ would be able to select and attack targets without meaningful human control. These weapons and others will be the subject of the five-year Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) from December 12-16, 2016.
“It’s time for countries to move beyond the talking shop phase and pursue a preemptive ban,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. “Governments should ensure that humans retain control over whom to target with their weapons and when to fire.”
The report is co-published with Human Rights Watch, for which Docherty is also senior arms researcher. Continue Reading…
October 20, 2016
Alleged abuses against civilians in non-ceasefire areas may constitute violations of Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement
Alleged abuses against civilians in non-ceasefire areas may constitute violations of Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement
Legal analysis shows ceasefire’s civilian protection commitments extend nationwide
(Cambridge, MA, October 20, 2016)– Reported abuses of civilians in non-ceasefire areas by the Myanmar military and other signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) would, if verified, constitute violations of key civilian protection provisions established by the agreement, said Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (the Clinic) in a legal memorandum released today. The military and other signatories should act immediately to address such reports, including by engaging with the mechanisms and processes established by the NCA and investigating alleged abuses.
The Clinic’s memorandum comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the signing of the NCA by the government and eight ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). While the agreement failed to include many of the EAOs that participated in the ceasefire talks, it was still heralded as a significant step in the country’s peace process. Over the past year, however, armed conflict has intensified in Shan State, Kachin State, and elsewhere, with reports of widespread abuse of civilians by the Myanmar military in particular.
“Ongoing abuses in conflict zones cast doubt on the military’s commitment to the NCA and undermine the trust between Myanmar’s government and ethnic nationality populations,” said Tyler Giannini, Co-Director of the Clinic. “Myanmar military officers can’t hide behind the fact the NCA was signed with only some ethnic armed organizations to abuse civilians in non-ceasefire areas.” Continue Reading…
October 12, 2016
For Immediate Release
South Africa: Protect Residents’ Rights from Effects of Mining
Government Response to Environmental and Health Threats Falls Short
(Cambridge, MA, October 12, 2016)—South Africa has failed to meet its human rights obligations to address the environmental and health effects of gold mining in and around Johannesburg, the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) said in a new report released today.
The 113-page report, The Cost of Gold, documents the threats posed by water, air, and soil pollution from mining in the West and Central Rand. Acid mine drainage has contaminated water bodies that residents use to irrigate crops, water livestock, wash clothes, and swim. Dust from mine waste dumps has blanketed communities. The government has allowed homes to be built near and sometimes on those toxic and radioactive dumps.
Examining the situation through a human rights lens, the report finds that South Africa has not fully complied with constitutional or international law. The government has not only inadequately mitigated the harm from abandoned and active mines, but it has also offered scant warnings of the risks, performed few scientific studies about the health effects, and rarely engaged with residents on mining matters.
“Gold mining has both endangered and disempowered the people of the West and Central Rand,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at IHRC and the report’s lead author. “Despite some signs of progress, the government’s response to the crisis has been insufficient and unacceptably slow.”
The report is based on three research trips to the region and more than 200 interviews with community members, government officials, industry representatives, civil society advocates, and scientific and legal experts. It provides an in-depth look at gold mining’s adverse impacts and examines the shortcomings of the government’s reaction.
For example, although acid mine drainage reached the surface of the West Rand in 2002, the government waited 10 years before establishing a plant that could stem its flow. In addition, the government has not ensured the implementation of dust control measures and has left industry to determine how to remove the waste dumps dominating the landscape.
The Cost of Gold calls on South Africa to develop a coordinated and comprehensive program that deals with the range of problems associated with gold mining in the region. While industry and communities have a significant role to play, the report focuses on the responsibility of the government, which is legally obliged to promote human rights.
The government has taken some positive steps to deal the situation in the West and Central Rand. This year, it pledged to improve levels of water treatment by 2020. In 2011, it relocated residents of the Tudor Shaft informal settlement living directly on top of a tailings dam. The government along with industry has also made efforts to increase engagement with communities.
Nevertheless, The Cost of Gold finds that the government’s delayed response and piecemeal approach falls short of South Africa’s duties under human rights law. As a result, the impacts of mining continue to infringe on residents’ rights to health, water, and a healthy environment, as well as rights to receive information and participate in decision making.
“The government should act immediately to address the ongoing threats from gold mining, and it should develop a more complete solution to prevent future harm,” Docherty said. “Only then will South Africa live up to the human rights commitments it made when apartheid ended.”
For more information, please contact:
In Cambridge MA, Bonnie Docherty: firstname.lastname@example.org