Foley Hoag Assists Republic of Chile in Request That U.S. Court Hold Former Member of Pinochet Dictatorship Accountable for Human Rights Violations

Firm represents the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Chile as amicus curiae in support of family of deceased Chilean musician and activist Victor Jara

December 19, 2017

Foley Hoag LLP has continued its representation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Chile in its participation as amicus curiae in a human rights case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The appeal deals with whether a U.S. court has jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute to award civil damages for human rights abuses committed by Lt. Pedro Barrientos, a former member of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, against deceased folk musician and political activist Victor Jara nearly 45 years ago in Chile.

Oral argument was held in the case on December 13, 2017, and was attended by the Ambassador of the Republic of Chile to the United States, H.E. Juan Gabriel Valdés Soublette, along with Foley Hoag attorneys Christina Hioureas and Benjamin Guthrie. Foley Hoag previously filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Ministry. The brief supported the plaintiffs in the case, members of Jara’s family, explaining that a U.S. court’s decision to accept jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims would be consistent with the Republic of Chile’s goals of justice and accountability for human rights abuses committed during the Pinochet regime.

The amicus brief further explains that Barrientos has been indicted in Chile on charges, including torture and extrajudicial killing. Although the Republic of Chile has requested his extradition from the U.S., the request has not been granted to date. With trials in absentia prohibited under Chilean law, criminal charges against Barrientos remain stayed, halting the completion of legal prosecution against him. The brief asserts that U.S. court action is therefore the only means by which Barrientos can be held accountable pending his extradition to Chile to stand criminal trial. 

Plaintiffs were awarded $28 million in damages under the Torture Victim Protection Act by a Florida jury in 2016, which found that Barrientos, currently a U.S. citizen, was responsible for the torture and death of Jara in September 1973 during the Chilean coup d’état overthrowing President Salvador Allende in favor of Pinochet. However, the District Court declined to exercise jurisdiction over other claims - including crimes against humanity, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and arbitrary detention - brought under the Alien Tort Statute. The current appeal asks the Court of Appeals to reverse that decision and permit the claims to go forward.

“We hope the U.S. Court of Appeals ensures Lt. Barrientos is held further accountable for his human rights atrocities committed during the Pinochet regime, including the death of Mr. Jara,” said Foley Hoag counsel and United Nations practice chair Christina Hioureas.

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