Archimedes Trajano, a 21-year-old engineering student, attended a 1977 public meeting at the Mapua Institute of Technology in the Philippines . When he stood and asked critical questions of the speaker, Imee Marcos-Manotoc, the daughter of then-President Ferdinand Marcos, she ordered her security guards to arrest him. They tortured him for more than 12 hours, crushing his bones and skull and grinding lit cigarettes into his body, and then showed his mutilated body to his mother, Agapita Trajano.
After the Marcos family fled the Philippines in 1985 and settled in Hawaii, Agapita Trajano sued Imee Marcos-Manotoc under the precedent established in the Filartiga case. In March 1991, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii declared that Marcos-Manotoc had indeed caused Trajano’s death, and ordered a default judgment against her of more than $4 million in damages . This judgment is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the course of this litigation the Justice Department submitted amicus briefs which sought to limit the scope of Filartiga and make it more difficult, if not impossible, to penalize foreign torturers in the United States. On the other side, international law experts submitted amicus briefs validating the Filartiga precedent.
In October 1991, CCR and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of Yale Law School submitted an amicus brief, joined by 18 international law scholars, to support the district court verdict in Trajano and to reaffirm Filartiga.
Marcos-Manotoc raised new claims in her appeal, stating first that by ratifying the Torture Convention, Congress had nullified the 200-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act, the law under which Filartiga was decided .
Secondly, she claimed that she was immune to prosecution under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
Amici refuted both arguments, pointing out that the Torture Convention extended Filartiga, not the reverse, and that, “No court, including the Ninth Circuit, has ever granted immunity from liability for acts as heinous as those alleged here.” Showing their concern about Bush Administration’s efforts to weaken the Filartiga precedent, they emphasized that Marcos-Manotoc was relying on Justice Department arguments in her appeal.
A decision in the Ninth Circuit is pending.
Michael Ratner, Beth Stephens, Jose Luis Morin, David Cole, with Harold Hongju Koh and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of Yale Law School