Post Date: December 7, 2005

On November 30, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica, dismissed Brazil’s preliminary objections to a case involving the death of a man in custody of a Brazilian mental health institution. James Cavallaro, clinical director of the Human Rights Program at HLS, served as lead counsel to the victim’s family, and a team of HLS students – Jonathan Kaufman ’06, Fernando Delgado ’08 and Deborah Popowski ’08 – prepared submissions and assisted with the litigation in Costa Rica. Jane Hopwood LL.M. ’06 also worked on the initial oral arguments.

“As students, we felt remarkably lucky to get involved in a case in front of the highest human rights court in the Western Hemisphere,” said Kaufman. “It was a humbling and gratifying experience to put our skills to work in helping the victim’s family find justice.”

Immediately after the Court’s decision, Brazil accepted its international responsibility for the physical abuse and death of the victim, Damião Ximenes Lopes. In so doing, it recognized the position set out in previous amicus curiae submission prepared by Brazilian NGOs in collaboration with HLS’s Emily Schaffer ’01 and Cavallaro. The submission argued that Brazil should be internationally liable for the custodial death in light of its delegation of state functions to the private clinic.

HLS students Delgado, Popowski and Kaufman worked with Brazilian attorney Renata Lira of the Global Justice Center and lead counsel Cavallaro to develop legal arguments, prepare witnesses for the petitioner and cross-examine witnesses for the State.

A decision on the remaining issues is expected in mid-2006.