Last week marked the 35th anniversary of the murder of Joelito Filártiga. In 1976, when he was 17 years old, Joelito was abducted and tortured to death by Americo Norberto Peña-Irala, an inspector-general in the Paraguayan police. Joelito’s sister and father filed suit against Peña-Irala in New York under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).
The Second Circuit’s 1980 decision in Filártiga v. Peña-Irala is often considered the Brown v. Board of international human rights litigation in U.S. courts—a landmark that laid the foundation for a line of cases allowing individuals to seek justice for international law violations including torture, extrajudicial killing, and crimes against humanity. Peter Weiss, who served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs, recently wrote a nice article about the significance of decision.
More than three decades later, human rights attorneys continue to litigate cases using the principles and precedent of Filártiga. As someone lucky enough to work on these sorts of suits, I’m constantly inspired and motivated by the strength and thoughtfulness of our clients. It’s worth pausing to remember Joelito and to recognize the courage and persistence of his family, as well as the many other survivors who continue to seek justice and accountability.