Blog: Center for Constitutional Rights
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August 3, 2020
August 3, 2020, Miami – Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated a trial court judgment that had been entered in favor of Bolivia’s former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for the massacre of unarmed Indigenous people in 2003. A jury found the former officials liable under the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and awarded plaintiffs $10 million in damages in April 2018, after a month-long trial that included six days of deliberations. The trial marked the first time in U.S. history that a former head of state sat before his accusers in a U.S. human rights trial. In an unusual move, a month later the trial court set aside the jury verdict and entered its own judgment holding the defendants not liable based on insufficient evidence. In November 2019, two of the plaintiffs, whose young daughter had been killed by soldiers in the massacre, traveled to Miami to have their appeal heard. Today, the Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. In addition, the Court of Appeals held that plaintiffs were entitled to a new trial on related wrongful-death claims because the district court had abused its discretion in admitting certain evidence that was favorable to the defendants.
“This is such wonderful news,” said Sonia Espejo, whose husband Lucio was killed in the 2003 Massacre. “We have fought for so long. We will continue fighting, but for today, I feel happy. I feel calm.”
The appellate court held that plaintiffs provided sufficient evidence that “soldiers deliberately fired deadly shots with measured awareness that they would mortally wound civilians who posed no risk of danger. None of the decedents were armed, nor was there evidence that they posed a threat to the soldiers. Many were shot while they were inside a home or in a building. Others were shot while they were hiding or fleeing.”Continue Reading…
June 24, 2013
New Allegations of Government Planning in 2003 Bolivian Massacre
Months before violence, defendants calculated it would take thousands of deaths to stop protests
June 24, 2013, Miami, FL — As the tenth anniversary of government-planned massacres in Bolivia approaches, family members of those killed filed an amended complaint (English or Spanish) in Florida today with extensive new allegations that the Defendants, former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and former Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, had devised a plan to kill thousands of civilians months in advance of the violence. The complaint seeks damages against the Defendants for their involvement in extrajudicial killings and crimes against humanity.
Since the case was originally filed in U.S. courts in 2007, seven former Bolivian officials, including high-ranking military leaders and members of the Cabinet, have been convicted for their participation in the violence of 2003. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, however, have found a safe harbor from justice in the United States for nearly a decade.
The new complaint alleges that the Defendants calculated it would take thousands of civilian deaths to stop anticipated protests over a controversial economic policy. They refused to consider dialogue, traditional police practices, or other less violent alternatives to massive lethal force against the protestors. The Defendants specifically relied on military forces, including special forces, to target innocent civilians as part of their campaign of oppression, plaintiffs say. New details also show how the Defendants were intimately involved in carrying out the planned violence, including participating in the operations against the civilian population.
“The United States should not be a safe haven for perpetrators of violent attacks on unarmed civilians,” said Beth Stephens of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents the Plaintiffs. “That’s all the more true when the facts show that the Defendants had a direct involvement in the attacks.”
The government’s violent response to expressions of popular discontent left dozens dead and hundreds injured in September and October 2003. Among the Plaintiffs is Etelvina Ramos Mamani, who watched her eight-year old daughter Marlene die in her arms, after Marlene was targeted by a military sharpshooter as the child stood at a window in their home. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín had given orders to treat Marlene’s town and the civilians in it as a military target.Continue Reading…
March 20, 2013
Posted by Cara Solomon, Deborah Popowski and Stella Kim, JD '13
Yesterday, on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we joined our coalition partners in the launch of the Right to Heal initiative, a collaboration between Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), as well as other supporting organizations. One by one, standing in front of the White House, members of IVAW and OWFI delivered the message that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not over for them.
The organizations, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, announced that they would file a petition for a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, calling for U.S. accountability for the human cost of these wars. In testimonies that were both moving and motivating, speakers on both sides of the U.S.-led conflict in Iraq described the toll that a decade of war had taken on their communities, including the loss of thousands of lives; devastating trauma and injury with shamefully inadequate or non-existent medical care; a legacy of health and environmental poisoning due to toxic munitions and burn pits; gender-based violence as a weapon and byproduct of war; and a generation of orphans and displaced people.
Joyce Wagner, a longtime member of IVAW, spoke about the violence the war had unleashed on women, and specifically, about her experience with Military Sexual Trauma. We thank her for allowing us to reprint her comments below:
In recent years, the United Nations has taken a strong stance against gender-based violence, calling it a “pandemic” that concerns not only women, but every single person on the planet.
Worldwide, it is estimated that one in five women will be raped in her lifetime. In the US military, it is estimated that one in three women will be raped during her time in service. I am the one in three.Continue Reading…
March 11, 2013
March 26, 2013
“For Us, The Wars Aren’t Over: The Right to Heal Initiative”
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Food will be served
Ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Human Rights Program and organizations from across the Harvard and Boston communities mark the anniversary with speakers from two groups still living with the consequences of the last decade of U.S.-led wars: Iraqis and U.S. veterans and service members. Members of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and Iraq Veterans Against the War will speak about the costs of war they share. Together with attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Harvard Law School, they will discuss the Right to Heal Initiative, the partnership they have formed to fight for redress.
Yanar Mohammed, President, Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
Ms. Mohammed is the founder of OWFI, a nongovernmental organization that promotes women’s rights and interests in Iraq. She will speak about OWFI’s work in an Iraqi town near a U.S. military base that has seen dramatic increases in the incidence of birth defects, cancers, and other severe health ailments.
Matt Howard, Member, Iraq Veterans Against the War
Mr. Howard served two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps. He will discuss the costs of war for U.S. service members and veterans, particularly the obstacles that prevent too many from receiving proper medical and mental health care. IVAW and its subcommittee, Afghan Veterans Against the War, have advocated for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and for reparations to Iraqis for the costs of war.
Pamela Spees, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights
Ms. Spees will discuss CCR’s role as a support player in the Right to Heal’s collaborative project to ensure the U.S. takes concrete steps for health care, accountability, and reparations.
Moderator: Deborah Alejandra Popowski, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School
This event is being co-sponsored by: HLS Advocates for Human Rights, Harvard National Security and Law Association, Islamic Society of Boston, National Lawyers Guild (Mass. Chapter), Veterans for Peace (Ch. 9, Smedley D. Butler Brigade), BC Law Holocaust/Human Rights Project, HKS Human Rights Professional Interest Council, HLS American Constitution Society, HLS Democrats, HLS Human Rights Journal, Harvard International Law Journal, HLS Muslim Law Students Association, Harvard Women’s Law Association, HSPH Muslim Student Group, MIT Amnesty International, MIT Center for International Studies, MIT Muslim Student Association, Northeastern Univ. Arab Student Association, Human Rights Caucus at Northeastern Univ. School of Law, Tufts Univ. New Initiative for Middle East Peace, Tufts Univ. Fletcher School Human Rights Project
February 6, 2012
Panel Today, Wednesday, February 8: Is the Vatican Legally Accountable for Sexual Violence Against Children by Clergy?
February 8, 2012
“Sexual Violence against Children by Clergy: Is the Vatican Legally Accountable?”
12:00- 1:15 pm
Wasserstein 2019 Milstein West B.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the Center for Constitutional Rights have submitted a complaint to the International Criminal Court prosecutor, requesting an investigation of the Vatican for crimes against humanity. The filing charges that Vatican officials tolerate, enable, and fail to stop the systematic concealing of sex crimes by clergy against children.
Please join us for a discussion of the background and international legal framework for this action with: Barbara Blaine, Founder & President, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests; Pam Spees, Senior International Human Rights Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights; and Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law.
This event is open to the public, and is being co-sponsored by HLS Advocates for Human Rights; Women’s Law Association; Child and Youth Advocates; and the HLS Chapter of the ACLU.
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