CJA Statement on the Supreme Court’s Decision in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) does not impose liability against organizations for acts of torture and extrajudicial killing.  The decision was issued in a case filed by a U.S. citizen who was arrested by Palestinian Authority intelligence officers, imprisoned, tortured and ultimately killed.  The Court found that the term “individual” as used in the TVPA only encompasses natural persons and, as a result, does not impose liability against any organizations.

Justice Sotomayor, writing on behalf of a unanimous Supreme Court, states that "the text of the TVPA convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not.  There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension.  But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this Branch to do otherwise."  Crucially, the Court noted that the TVPA still imposes liability on natural person defendants, including "officers who do not personally execute the torture or extrajudicial killing” but who issue “an order to torture or kill.”  Citing one of CJA’s cases, Chavez v. Carranza, the Court thus reaffirmed that political and military leaders can be liable for their subordinates’ abuses.

We cannot underestimate the importance of ensuring that victims have the right to seek redress and accountability against paramilitary organizations, corporations, and any other entities that are responsible for severe human rights abuses.  Human rights crimes are almost always designed, orchestrated, financed and supported by states, organizations, corporations and other non-natural persons.  

CJA’s clients, all of whom are survivors of torture and other human rights abuses, are often the victims of atrocities committed by paramilitary organizations.  The reality on the ground in countries where human rights atrocities flourish is that they are often committed by paramilitary and other organizations.

For example, CJA’s plaintiffs in Doe v. Constant were targeted by FRAPH (Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti), a notorious death squad and paramilitary organization that operated under Haiti’s 1991-1994 military regime.  FRAPH brutalized pro-democracy activists employing extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arson, rape and other forms of torture.  Their signature atrocity was the use of sexual violence to punish and intimidate women for their perceived political sympathies or associations.

Similarly, our clients in Cabrera v. Jimenez Naranjo (aka Macaco) are victims of one of the most violent paramilitary forces in the Americas, the  United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (known as the AUC).  Since the 1980s, 70,000 civilians have been killed in an internal armed conflict in Colombia. The AUC is responsible for the vast majority of these civilian deaths as well as the forced displacement of millions.  Our clients are the surviving families of two civil society activists in Colombia, both members of the Program for Peace and Development in the Middle Magdalena, who were brutally killed by AUC paramilitary forces.  

CJA calls upon Congress to take action to ensure that organizations who are responsible for egregious human rights abuses, such as torture, extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity, be held liable.