Blog: Criminal Justice
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February 17, 2021
Law Clinics Call for U.S. Government to Condemn Haitian President’s Actions
In solidarity with civil society in Haiti, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law have released a statement calling on the U.S. government to denounce actions by President Jovenel Moïse that threaten human rights in Haiti.
Issued on February 13, 2021, the statement describes alarming actions taken by Moïse in the week preceding that threaten the rule of law and suggest an escalating constitutional crisis. Among the many issues cited, the statement notes Moïse’s refusal to step down after the conclusion of his term, the arbitrary detention of notable political officials, the removal of Supreme Court justices, and state violence against protestors and journalists. The U.S. based law clinics identify the crisis as part of a trend of “grave, state-sanctioned human rights abuses in Haiti” and worry that Moïse’s continual affront toward democratic checks on his power indicates his inability to “oversee free and fair elections for his replacement.”
The statement urges the Biden administration to forge a new path in U.S.-Haiti relations.
“The current U.S. administration should not continue the improper pressure that the Trump administration placed on Haitian actors to acquiesce to an unconstitutional electoral process,” the statement says. “Instead, the Biden administration should support democracy and human rights and condemn Moïse’s attacks against Haiti’s constitutional institutions. Otherwise, Moïse may be emboldened to further restrict human rights and democracy.”
The statement also asks the U.S. to halt deportations, given the political instability. “Since the beginning of February, ICE has deported more than 600 people to Haiti, many without even the opportunity to request asylum. These flights have included many children, infants and pregnant women.”
The statement concludes by making specific recommendations for the U.S. government in order to “support the rule of law in Haiti and [to] call on the Haitian government to meet its international human rights obligations.” This week, the organizers reached out to the United Nations to clarify its position on the issue.Continue Reading…
October 13, 2020
Building Momentum: IHRC and ASP Launch Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Detention Settings
Posted by Zac Smith JD'21
Sexual violence is all too common in conflict and post-conflict settings, causing horrific physical and psychological damage and preventing peace building efforts. As recognized in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467 (2019), all individuals are at risk of sexual violence in conflict, and detention settings are a particular context of risk, especially for men and boys.
Taking up Resolution 2467’s call to increase international attention and coordination on the issue, the All Survivors Project and the International Human Rights Clinic partnered to author the Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in Detention Settings. Drawing from existing sources of international law and authoritative guidance, the document’s ten principles and accompanying commentary outline the international community’s responsibility to prevent and respond to CRSV.
On Wednesday October 7, academic experts, policy makers, and diplomats came together at a virtual side event to the UN Human Rights Council to officially launch the Principles and highlight their significance. (Watch a recording of the event here.) Moderator Lara Stemple, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies and International Student Programs and Director of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at UCLA School of Law, prefaced the conversation by underlining the driving motivation for the All Survivors Project’s work — including these principles — that “human rights protections must be afforded to all people, regardless of their individual characteristics.” Panelists included Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, who supervised the Clinic’s work on the project; HE Premila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict; Professor Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and leader of a recently completed global study of children in detention; and Sophie Sutrich, Head of Addressing Sexual Violence for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The event began with opening remarks from representatives of three states that have championed CRSV prevention. Situating the place of the Principles in wider efforts to cultivate international peace and prosperity,Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland and Ambassador Peter C. Matt of Liechtenstein underlined their importance and timeliness. As Ambassador Lauber observed, “the Principles are clearly intended to be of practical use, as they contain specific recommendations for implementation.”Ambassador Tine Mørch Smith of Norway explained that “the physical hurt suffered from conflict related sexual violence does not discriminate between male and female victims.”She committed that CRSV prevention, including a focus on men and boys, would be a priority when Norway takes its seat as a non-permanent Security Council member in 2021.Continue Reading…
September 24, 2020
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and the Thailand Institute of Justice recently released a Toolkit on Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures, a handbook with information and guidance on alternatives to incarceration. Part of a Criminal Justice Handbook Series, the toolkit approaches incarceration as a last resort, providing support and guidance to make sure that women are not detained or imprisoned unnecessarily. “Now more than ever, with the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, there is a need to look towards non-custodial measures for women offenders to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system, maintain the health and safety of those in prison and ensure effective rehabilitation,” says the press release on the Thailand Institute of Justice’s website.
Human rights lawyer Sabrina Mahtani led the drafting and research, which took place in large part at Harvard Law School while she was a joint Fellow-in-Residence in the Human Rights Program and the Office of Public Interest Advising. You can learn more about Sabrina at the end of this post.
Sabrina recently spoke with HRP about developing the toolkit and where she hopes it will make the most impact.
September 26, 2018
International Human Rights Clinic Students Contribute Research
Human Rights Watch released a brief on Tuesday documenting illegal imprisonment and serious abuses by Yemen’s Houthi rebel forces against detainees in their custody. The brief uses investigative and legal research conducted by students of the International Human Rights Clinic on Houthi practices of hostage-taking and torture, and documents dozens of cases in which Houthis held people unlawfully and profited from their detention since 2014. It also calls on the United Nations Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen to investigate and identify those responsible for abuses.
“The Houthis have added profiteering to their long list of abuses and offenses against the people under their control in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than treat detainees humanely, some Houthi officials are exploiting their power to turn a profit through detention, torture, and murder.”
International Human Rights Clinic students who contributed to this research include Zeineb Bouraoui, LLM ’18, Danesha Grady (Berkeley) ’JD 18, Tarek Zeidan, HKS MPA ’18, and Canem Ozyildirim, JD ’18.
Read the full brief here: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/25/yemen-houthi-hostage-taking.
September 11, 2018
Emily Nagisa Keehn Co-Authors Case Study on Reducing Overcrowding in South African Detention Facility
Emily Nagisa Keehn, Associate Director of the Academic Program, has recently co-authored an article with Ariane Nevin from Sonke Gender Justice on human rights advocacy to reduce overcrowding in South African incarceration facilities and its relationship to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other health outcomes. Part of a research series under the Evidence for HIV Prevention in Southern Africa (EHPSA) initiative, the case study focuses on advocacy and impact litigation directed at Pollsmoor Remand Detention Facility, one of South Africa’s most notoriously crowded and inhumane detention facilities and where Nelson Mandela was previously incarcerated and developed tuberculosis. Keehn and Nevin place the attempt to reduce overcrowding within the broader landscape of criminal justice reform in South Africa.
Pollsmoor Remand houses people awaiting trial and sentencing; it has experienced acute overcrowding since the early 2000s, with its occupancy spiking over 300% capacity. As the coauthors state:
“In 2015, after years of lobbying to reduce overcrowding and in the face of inertia on the part of policymakers and legislators, civil society escalated its advocacy and mounted a constitutional challenge in the Western Cape High Court with the case, Sonke Gender Justice v. the Government of South Africa.
In 2016, the judge ruled against the government and made a historic order to reduce occupancy to 150% of its capacity over a six-month period. By February 2017, the Department of Correctional Services…had already taken steps to reduce overcrowding at the facility from 252% to 174%…This case study describes the complex change process that enabled this reform and the contributions of different forms of advocacy by key actors.”
This paper is part of the series Included! How change happened for key populations for HIV prevention, commissioned by EHPSA to Sonke Gender Justice. EHPSA is a multi-country research initiative that examines HIV prevention in incarcerated populations, adolescents, and men who have sex with men. The full series of nine case studies and a discussion paper is available on the EHPSA website.
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 10, 2018
Emily Nagisa Keehn Co-Authors Article on Strategic Litigation to Address HIV and TB in South African Prisons
Congratulations to Emily Nagisa Keehn, Associate Director of the Academic Program, who co-authored with Ariane Nevin an article published this week in the Health and Human Rights Journal. The article, “Health, Human Rights, and the Transformation of Punishment: South African Litigation to Address HIV and Tuberculosis in Prisons,” examines the use of strategic litigation to develop and vindicate the health rights of incarcerated people in South Africa.
As the authors note: “The South African experience illustrates the value of an incremental strategic litigation strategy that begins with tackling narrow issues, such as access to anti-retroviral therapy (ART), and progresses towards challenging systemic drivers of disease, such as overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.” The article also examines “how South Africa’s strong and independent judiciary has facilitated change through the courts—despite the absence of popular support for penal reform—and how sustained lobbying, coalition-building, and mass media advocacy by activists have increased the impact of litigation.”
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 protected]
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, [email protected]
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