July 2, 1986 was a fateful day for two Chilean teenagers, Carmen Gloria Quintana and Rodrigo Rojas de Negri. De Negri, who had spent most of his life in exile in Washington, D.C., had returned to Santiago as a free-lance photographer. He and Quintana, a Santiago resident, were stopped by a military patrol which allegedly suspected them of planning to participate in a demonstration. They were brutally beaten, set on fire, dumped in the back of a truck, and left in a ditch on the outskirts of the city. De Negri died four days later. Quintana survived, but was disfigured for life.
In November 1986, CCR, working with a pro bono (volunteer) team of lawyers from Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, brought suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of de Negri’s mother and Quintana and her parents, charging the government of Chile and its armed forces with torture, summary execution and cruel and inhumane treatment in violation of international, U.S. and Chilean law.
The Chilean government objected to jurisdiction on a number of grounds, including sovereign immunity. Plaintiffs, relying in part on a precedent in the same court, argued that sovereign immunity does not apply in cases of gross violations of universal principles of international human rights law.
Defendants moved to dismiss on the basis of the Supreme Court’s decision in Amerada Hess, which held that violations of international law do not override the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. CCR prepared a response in the fall of 1990 arguing that this should not apply to gross human rights violations.
In April 1992, the District of Columbia District Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The court stated that the decision in Amerada Hess, which was rendered after this case was brought, established that there were no exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act except those specified in the Act, thereby excluding Chile’s responsibility for human rights violations.
Peter Weiss and Michael Ratner, with Donald Glascoff, Douglas Donoho, Amy Griffin, and Marjorie Appel