Clinic Helps Victims of Human Rights Abuse Pursue Justice in U.S. Supreme Court

Contact: Erin Campbell, Communications Dept., 510-643-8010,

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. “We were able to bring together survivors of some of the worst acts in the world–including genocide and torture–and let their voices be heard,” says Day. “This brief is an overwhelming statement that justice is not merely an abstract idea, but something that has a real effect on real people.” Oral arguments for the case will be heard on Tuesday, March 30.

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 2002 Law Building’s International Human Rights Law Clinic used the ATCA to help win a $54.6 million verdict for three Salvadorans who proved they were detained and brutally tortured by two Salvadoran generals now living in the United States. Oral arguments for the case will be heard on Tuesday, March 30.