On June 24, 2013, family members of those killed in government-planned massacres in Bolivia in 2003 filed an amended complaint, with extensive new allegations that the defendants, former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and former Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, had devised a plan to kill thousands of civilians months in advance of the violence.
The family members are represented by a team of lawyers, including Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, and lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Stanford Law School’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, and the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.
The complaint (PDF) seeks damages against the defendants for their involvement in extrajudicial killings and crimes against humanity.
Since the case was originally filed in U.S. courts in 2007, seven former Bolivian officials, including high-ranking military leaders and members of the Cabinet, have been convicted for their participation in the violence.
The new complaint alleges that the defendants calculated it would take thousands of civilian deaths to stop anticipated protests over a controversial economic policy. The defendants specifically relied on military forces, including special forces, to target innocent civilians as part of their campaign of oppression, plaintiffs say.
The government’s violent response to expressions of popular discontent left dozens dead and hundreds injured in September and October 2003. As national outrage and protests intensified over the deaths and injuries, President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada resigned. He and Sánchez Berzaín then fled to the United States, where they currently reside. U.S. officials have refused extradition requests by Bolivian authorities for both men to face trial there and instead granted Sánchez Berzaín political asylum.
Over the past year, numerous Harvard Law students contributed to the process of preparing the amended complaint under clinical supervision from Professors Giannini and Farbstein. Melinda Kuritzky, JD ’13, and Domonique Worship, JD ’14, traveled to Bolivia with co-counsel from the Center for Constitutional Rights during the January 2013 term. Others helped with research and drafting of the complaint, including Yonina Alexander, JD ’12, Sam Birnbaum, JD ’14, Betsey Boutelle, JD ’14, Katja Bratrschovsky, LLM ’12, Catherine Cooper, JD ’14, Hanae Fujinami, JD ’14, Tessa Hayes, JD ’14, Janine Lopez. JD ’14, Ryan Mitchell. JD ’12, Dalia Palombo, LLM ‘12, Daniel Saver, JD ’12, and Phil Underwood, JD ’14.
For more information on the International Human Rights Clinic, visit their blog.