UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic

UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic

The UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic (UNROW Clinic) of American University Washington College of Law is a group of approximately eight students who work with Professors Michael E. Tigar and Ali Beydoun on important human rights cases. Members of the UNROW Clinic litigate international and domestic human rights claims in U.S. federal courts and international fora. The UNROW Clinic, which is unaffiliated with the WCL Clinical Program, is unique in its focus on impact litigation. The UNROW Clinic aims to change judicial interpretation of existing laws, following ideals similar to those employed in the cases that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education.

The Clinic’s complex international human rights cases have included representing the heirs of a Chilean General who was killed in 1970 with weapons provided by U.S. officials; representing the indigenous peoples of the Chagos Archipelago, who were forcibly removed from their islands in the Indian Ocean in the late 1960s and 1970s to build a U.S. Naval Base; and representing victims of torture and forced disappearance under General Pinochet’s brutal regime in Chile in the mid-1970s. One of these cases is currently before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The UNROW Clinic has successfully procured a judgment of just under $8 million against a defendant in one of these matters. [ [pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200506/04-5199a.pdf, Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit Default Judgment against Michael Vernon Townley] ]

UNROW cases

On September 11, 1973, Augusto Pinochet led a coup d’état deposing democratically-elected Socialist President Salvador Allende and establishing a military government. Pinochet’s repressive regime tortured, murdered, and disappeared thousands of individuals. Schneider v. Kissinger and González-Vera v. Kissinger are two suits brought by the UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic (UNROW Clinic) challenging U.S. involvement in human rights violations that occurred before, during, and after the 1973 coup.

Recently declassified U.S. government documents [ [http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB110/index.htm National Security Archive, The Pinochet File] ] and congressional reports [ [http://foia.state.gov/Reports/HincheyReport.asp, Hinchey Report] ] provided the information necessary to bring these suits against Henry Kissinger. The documents show that with the practical assistance and encouragement of the United States and the official and extra-official acts of Henry Kissinger, the Chilean terror apparatus conducted systematic human rights violations. The documents illustrate, for example, that on September 11, 1973, the Chilean military, with Henry Kissinger’s ongoing and continuous knowledge, funding, assistance, and encouragement, conspired to stage the coup d’état that overthrew the democratically elected President Salvador Allende and forced Chile into an era of widespread violence and terror.

Henry Kissinger’s assistance to the Chilean regime continued despite attempts by the U.S. Congress to halt covert CIA funding through the Hughes-Ryan Act Henry Kissinger was fully aware that the Chilean military was using this money for purposes of political repression; as such, his liability rests on well-established federal common law tort principles of third-party liability and international law principles of aiding and abetting and accomplice liability.

chneider v. Kissinger

Chilean military coup-plotters planned to kidnap General Rene Schneider, Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, because General Schneider opposed any attempt to block President Salvador Allende’s constitutional election [ [pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200506/04-5199a.pdf, Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit Judgment] ] . The kidnapping plot proceeded with support and financial assistance from Henry Kissinger and other high-level officials of the United States intelligence community. Coup-plotters attempted to kidnap and killed General Schneider. On September 11, 2001, the sons of General René Schneider filed a complaint against Henry Kissinger, Richard Helms, and the United States, seeking damages for summary execution, torture, wrongful death, and other claims.

González-Vera v. Kissinger

Pinochet sought to eliminate any and all opposition to his government. [ [pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200606/05-5017a.pdf, Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit Judgment] ] His repressive tactics resulted in approximately 3,000 deaths and 30,000 cases of torture. On November 13, 2002, 11 individuals who suffered grave human rights violations following the bloody coup that placed Pinochet in power brought suit against Henry Kissinger, the United States government, and Michael Vernon Townley for crimes against humanity, forced disappearance, torture, arbitrary detention, and wrongful death. The suit alleges that Henry Kissinger knowingly provided practical assistance and encouragement to the Chilean repressive regime before, during, and after the coup, with reckless disregard for the lives and well-being of the victims and their families.

Procedural History

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed both cases based on sovereign and diplomatic immunity, as well as the political question doctrine. Under immunity doctrines, states and their officials are generally exempt from suit for actions taken within the scope of their official duties. The political question doctrine precludes judicial review of government actions that fall within the sole discretion of the Executive.

The UNROW Clinic appealed both cases to the United States Supreme Court and argued that the political nature of the claims involved did not preclude review. Although the political question doctrine prevents judicial examination of Executive actions, courts should not use the doctrine to shield illegal Executive conduct. The Supreme Court considered the Schneider petition but ultimately denied review of the two cases. Both cases are currently before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Former Members

Karen Heymann, Melissa Mandor, Debra Spinelli-Hays, David Newmann, Kit Miller, Timothy Foden, Christine Paradisian, Aaron Lloyd, Erin Louise Palmer, Tara E. Castillo, Andrew Gibbs, Peter Asaad, Jodi Newman, Sebastian Amar, Jana del-Cerro, Emily Strunk, Shirley Woodward, Solomon Shinerock, Eamonn Foster.


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