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Bay Activists Win Fight to Get Human Rights Cases Tried in USA

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  • Dan Clore
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Published on Sunday, August 11, 2002 in the San Francisco Chronicle Bay Activists Win in
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 15, 2002
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      Published on Sunday, August 11, 2002 in the San Francisco
      Chronicle

      Bay Activists Win in Fight to Get Human Rights Cases Tried
      in U.S.

      by Robert Collier

      Bay Area organizations, backed by high-powered corporate
      attorneys, are taking the lead in a growing movement that
      uses U.S. courts to go after abusers of human rights
      worldwide.

      Far from being just a rhetorical exercise, the potential
      impact of the movement became clear three weeks ago, when
      the Center for Justice and Accountability, based in San
      Francisco, won a $54.6 million judgment against two former
      Salvadoran generals living in Florida.

      The ruling in favor of San Francisco high school teacher
      Carlos Mauricio and two other Salvadorans, who were tortured
      by security forces during El Salvador's civil war in the
      early 1980s, was the movement's biggest legal victory to
      date.

      More than a dozen other cases are under way. The guiding
      doctrine is "universal jurisdiction" -- a legal concept
      stating that war crimes and other human rights cases can be
      tried in any nation's courts, no matter where the abuses
      took place or where the alleged offenders currently live.

      "Universal jurisdiction is gaining force, and although it's
      far from clear how far the courts will take it, there are
      more and more cases all the time," says Naomi Roht-Arriaza,
      a professor of international law at Hastings College of the
      Law in San Francisco.

      Roht-Arriaza points out that the two federal laws that
      support the concept are not new -- the Alien Tort Claims Act
      dates from 1789, and the Torture Victims Protection Act was
      enacted in 1991.

      "There haven't been changes in the laws, but there's much
      more awareness by judges and litigants that these laws are
      out there," she says.

      The Center for Justice and Accountability, a six-person
      nonprofit organization with only a $550,000 annual budget,
      is pursuing five other cases against individuals from China,
      Indonesia, Chile, Serbia and Honduras.

      In one case, Gen. Johny Lumintang, the No. 2 official in the
      Indonesian army, is being sued by six victims of human
      rights abuses by troops under his command in East Timor.
      Lumintang initially chose to ignore the case -- a
      miscalculation, as he found out in September when a
      Washington, D.C., court awarded the plaintiffs $66 million.
      Now, the court is deciding whether to accept Lumintang's
      request to contest the charges.

      Other cases brought by the center include:

      -- China. Six Falun Gong practitioners are suing Liu Qi,
      mayor of Beijing and president of the Beijing Organizing
      Committee for the 2008 Olympics, for his alleged
      responsibility for police repression of the religious group.
      Liu was served with the complaint at San Francisco
      International Airport in February.

      -- Chile. Armando Fernandez-Larios, a former Chilean army
      officer living in Miami, is being sued for his alleged
      involvement in the "Caravan of Death" - - a helicopter death
      squad that tortured and killed at least 72 political
      prisoners.

      Meanwhile, another significant victory may be near in a case
      brought by three Bay Area activist groups -- Global
      Exchange, Sweatshop Watch and Asian Law Caucus -- against 26
      clothing corporations over abuses against Chinese workers in
      Saipan, a U.S. island in the western Pacific. Sources say
      all but one of the defendants, which include San Francisco
      firms Gap and Levi Strauss, are offering to pay the
      ex-workers $20 million and create a monitoring system to
      prevent labor abuses in their factories. A settlement is
      expected in the coming weeks.

      But the universal-jurisdiction movement has had its
      setbacks, even in countries that have laws strongly
      supporting the concept.

      Two years ago, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon failed in his
      attempts to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto
      Pinochet to stand trial in Spain for human rights abuses. In
      April, a Belgian appeals court threw out a lawsuit against
      Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over his alleged role in
      massacres of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in 1982. That
      case is being appealed to the Belgian Supreme Court, and the
      nation's parliament is debating a law that would allow the
      trial to go forward.

      Although most of the U.S. cases originate with low-budget
      nonprofit groups such as the Center for Justice and
      Accountability, much of the actual prosecution is carried
      out by corporate law firms that donate their services pro
      bono. In a complex, long-running case, the value of these
      services can amount to millions of dollars.

      The Salvadoran plaintiffs' case, for example, was led by a
      three-lawyer team from Morrison & Foerster, an international
      law firm based in San Francisco. The Caravan of Death
      plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys from Wilson,
      Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, a large corporate law firm based
      in Palo Alto.

      On Monday, Morrison & Foerster is scheduled to receive the
      American Bar Association's annual award for pro bono work.
      Last year, the firm gave $21 million in free legal services
      to nonprofit groups or poor individuals.

      According to Amnesty International, there are hundreds of
      foreign human rights abusers now residing in the United
      States -- many of them, like the Salvadoran generals, in
      luxurious retirement.

      Their former victims, along with organizations like the
      Center for Justice and Accountability and their teams of
      blue-chip lawyers, have plenty of work left to do.

      --
      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      All my fiction through 2001 and more. Intro by S.T. Joshi.
      http://www.wildsidepress.com/index2.htm
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:
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      Said Smygo, the iconoclast of Zothique: "Bear a hammer with
      thee always, and break down any terminus on which is
      written: 'So far shalt thou pass, but no further go.'"
      --Clark Ashton Smith
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