Martinez-Baca v. Suarez-Mason & Forti v. Suarez-Mason – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket 1989-1990

As Commander of the First Army Corps in Argentina during the height of repression under the military dictatorship that ruled that country, General Guillermo Suarez­ Mason was responsible for the abduction, torture, and disappearance of thousands of Argentine citizens. When Raul Alfonsin came to power in 1984, ending the military reign, Suarez-Mason fled the country to avoid being called to account for his crimes. In January 1987 Suarez-Mason, whose name was contained on an Interpol list of fugi­tives, was arrested in Foster City, Califor­nia, where he was held for extradition.

The CCR represents Horacio Martinez­ Baca, Alfredo Forti, and Debora Benchoam, three of Suarez-Mason’s victims, in a case patterned on Filartiga u. Pena-Irala. In the 1980 Filartiga case, brought by the CCR, the court held that foreign  nationals may sue misfeasors for violations of internation­ally recognized human rights, even where the acts occurred abroad, so long as the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

Martinez-Baca was abducted, tortured, and detained without charges for more than four years. Forti was abducted with his mother and four brothers; his mother has not been seen since. Benchoam was impris­oned without charges for four and a half years, and her brother was tortured and killed. The three sued Suarez-Mason in April 1987, seeking in excess of $10 million in damages. A year later, the court entered a judgment for Martinez-Baca of $21 million. Later that month, Suarez-Mason was extra­dited to Argentina to face criminal charges there for his human rights violations.

The Forti and Benchoam cases are pro­ceeding. In 1988 the district court held that disappearances constituted a violation of customary international law and plaintiffs Forti and Benchoam are seeking over $40 million in damages.

David Cole, Peter Weiss, Michael Ratner, with CCR cooperating attorney Samuel Issacha­roff; William C. Gordon; Kathy Bagdonas Jorclaneth, Paul Friedman, Joanne Hoeper and Tom Long of Morrison Foerster