A former Bolivian president and his defence minister have agreed to pay damages to the households of individuals killed by the navy throughout their authorities, in a landmark settlement that units a precedent by which different overseas leaders may face accountability for human rights abuse in US courts.
The settlement considerations occasions in 2003, when huge protests broke out over then president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s plan to export Bolivia’s pure fuel. The military was despatched to clear blockades within the largely Indigenous and working-class metropolis of El Alto, killing greater than 60 protesters and injuring a whole bunch.
Each Sánchez de Lozada and his defence minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzain, resigned and fled to the US, the place they’ve lived ever since.
In 2007, a civil lawsuit was introduced in opposition to them within the US by eight Bolivian households whose relations had been killed in 2003.
Eleven years later, a federal jury discovered them answerable for the killings and awarded the plaintiffs $10m in compensatory damages.
Each defendants appealed, however on account of the settlement on Thursday, they’ve withdrawn their attraction and agreed to pay an undisclosed sum in compensatory damages to the households.
“With this settlement, the jury verdict stays intact,” stated Thomas Becker, the human rights lawyer who led the authorized motion. “And that’s crucial half: to ship this message that no chief can kill their individuals after which use the US as a refuge.”
Sánchez de Lozada had shut connections to the US: the son of an exiled diplomat, he was raised and educated within the Washington DC space. He later made his fortune via numerous oil and mining ventures and twice grew to become president of Bolivia.
Below subsequent administrations, Bolivia’s supreme court docket indicted the previous president and requested his extradition to Bolivia, however the requests weren’t accepted by the US.
Aslı Bâli, a legislation professor at Yale Regulation Faculty who was not concerned within the case, agreed that it set an necessary precedent.
“When somebody this high-profile is held accountable, it sends a message,” stated Bâli. “First, to human rights violators, that the US is not going to be a protected haven, and nobody is above the legislation. But additionally to victims and survivors, in Bolivia and world wide, that there are extra avenues for accountability than they could realise.”
The case was introduced below the Torture Sufferer Safety Act, a legislation that expanded US jurisdiction to instances of torture or extrajudicial killings dedicated exterior its territory.
It’s, in accordance with Bâli, essentially the most promising away to deliver human rights accountability instances like this to court docket within the US.
Such instances are few and much between due to their complexity, and the time and sources required to see them via.
“With a high-profile victory like this one, we’d now have extra funding and sources change into accessible to help the sorts of public curiosity organisations that deliver these instances,” stated Bâli.
“I feel there’s a good likelihood we’ll see extra instances like this,” she added.