Clinic News

Clinic Helps Victims of Human Rights Abuse Pursue Justice in U.S. Supreme Court (3/30/2004)

Students in Boalt's International Human Rights Law Clinic filed an amicus curiae brief involving two cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain and United States v. Alvarez-Machain will decide whether survivors of severe human rights violations can use the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) to sue their perpetrators in U.S. courts. Using firsthand accounts from victims of human rights abuses, the brief argues that the ATCA is a critical tool for victims in their pursuit of justice. Written by students Adam Day '05, Catherine Meza '05 and Volinka Reina '04 under the supervision of Clinic Director Laurel Fletcher, the brief was submitted on behalf of individual survivors who have filed ATCA cases, the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs, and the Center for Justice and Accountability. Oral arguments for the case were heard on March 30, 2004.

The cases before the Court stem from the 1990 kidnapping of Dr. Alvarez-Machain. Under the direction of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Alvarez-Machain was taken from Mexico to the United States by Mexican nationals in order to stand trial for his alleged role in the death of a DEA agent in Mexico. After being acquitted of the charges, Alvarez-Machain used the ATCA and Federal Tort Claims Act to bring civil claims against the United States and a Mexican national who participated in his delivery to the United States. In hearing the case, the Court will consider whether the ATCA creates a private right of action--determining whether the act can be used to pursue civil claims against human rights abusers living in the United States.

In addition to the amicus brief, Clinic students Day, Mezza, and Reina compiled every published court opinion interpreting the ATCA (as of March 2004). The Clinic's ATCA Case Compendium is the first such compilation of ATCA jurisprudence of which we are aware. The summaries synthesize the pertinent factual background as well as the legal arguments and defenses raised in each opinion. It provides practitioners, activists, journalists, and scholars a succinct reference tool regarding this important area of law.