Sanchez v. Reagan – International Law – CCR Docket 1985-1986

While the International Court of Justice (the World Court) was issuing a preliminary restraining order against the United States for its illegal actions against the government and peo­ple of Nicaragua in May 1984, CCR attorneys were arguing in a federal appeals court that our own domestic courts have a similar duty to apply international law and U.S. law to judge the legality of actions by U.S. government officials against Nicaragua.

The question of U.S. responsibility for violations of inter­nationally recognized human rights is at the heart of this law­ suit filed in November 1982 on behalf of Nicaraguan, French and German victims of raids carred out by contras. Twelve members of Congress and two Floridians were also plaintiffs.

The case alleged that U.S. officials are responsible for the injuries being inflicted upon Nicaraguan civilians by the con­tras. Using CCR ‘ success in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, which established that the Alien Tort Claims Act permits aliens to sue in federal court for wrongs such as tor­ture which violate international law, the plaintiffs argued that U.S . officials who direct and assist the contras in injuring people in Nicaragua are as responsible as those who inflict the injuries.

The members of Congress who were plaintiffs charged U.S. officials with violations of the War Powers Clause of the Constitution, which mandates that only Congress can declare war, and the Boland Amendment, which prohibited the U.S. government from using funds for military activity aimed at overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.

The district court dismissed the case and the court of appeals affirmed, denying aliens the right to sue high public officials for damages under the Alien Tort Claims Act. A motion for reconsideration will be filed with the court of appeals.

Michael Rat ner, Peter Weiss, Sarah Wunsch, Ellen Yaroshefsky, Margaret Ratner, Robert Boehm , with CCR cooperating attorneys William Schaap, Jules Lobel, and Marc Van Der Hout, National Lawyers Guild