Ensuring that Massachusetts victims of grave human rights abuses get their day in court
Dec. 2, 2015: In cases of torture, genocide, and other egregious international human rights abuses, Massachusetts should neither serve as a safe harbor for abusers nor deny access to justice to abuse survivors. Two members of the New England Law | Boston community made these important points on November 3, 2015, in Statehouse testimony in support of Bill S.877, “An Act extending the statute of limitations for certain actions involving international human rights abuses.”
Professor Lisa J. Laplante, director of the Center for International Law and Policy (CILP), and Jillian Carson ’17 explained that under current law, survivors of gross torts, amounting to violations of their human rights, must bring suit within three years. Laplante listed the heinous acts encompassed by the statute: torture, genocide, war crimes, attempted extrajudicial killing as well as actual killing of this sort, crimes against humanity, and human trafficking and forced labor.
“It often takes many years for survivors of these abuses to find their way out of perilous circumstances; they typically have very little money and resources; and survivors are often traumatized and unaware of their legal options,” testified Carson.
S.877 would provide survivors additional time to gather the resources and courage to confront their alleged oppressors. “This bill seeks to remedy a crucial inadequacy in access to justice for survivors of human rights abuses in the Commonwealth, by extending the statute of limitations for tort claims, like assault, battery or wrongful death, from three to ten years if those torts equate to gross human rights abuse,” said Carson.
Professor Laplante made clear in her testimony that the new bill, though potentially large in terms of its ultimate effect, is actually a fairly limited proposal. “This bill will not create a new cause of action,” she emphasized. “Rather, it is a modest change in procedure that will provide access to tort remedies for persons who have suffered extraordinary personal harms.”
Professor Laplante was asked to testify by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, which has worked with CILP for the past two years on this project. Testifying before a legislative body was a new experience for both her and Carson, and the two coordinated their statements and rehearsed thoroughly.
Prior to testifying, they discussed the bill with legislators and advocated for its passage. These efforts build on previous work that they and other members of the New England Law community conducted during the 2014–2015 year. Other students involved with the current research and lobbying efforts include Cayla Barbour ’18, Andrea Fetchik ’17, Mykola Ishchuk ’17, Daniel Lampke ’18, Johnnise Lopez ’18, and Sama Sayej ’18.