Breaking Silence: The Case That Changed the Face of Human Rightsby R. White
Breaking Silence is a remarkable, consuming story, documenting not only the most celebrated case in the international human rights field but also the tragic and touchingly human story behind it that gives it life. Young, seventeen-year-old Joelito Filartiga was taken from his family home in Asuncion, Paraguay, and brutally tortured and murdered by the Paraguayan… See more details below
Breaking Silence is a remarkable, consuming story, documenting not only the most celebrated case in the international human rights field but also the tragic and touchingly human story behind it that gives it life. Young, seventeen-year-old Joelito Filartiga was taken from his family home in Asuncion, Paraguay, and brutally tortured and murdered by the Paraguayan police. Breaking Silence is the inside story of the quest for justice by his father-the true target of the police-Paraguayan artist and philanthropist Dr. Joel Filartiga. That cruel death and the subsequent uncompromising struggle by Joelito's father and family led to an unprecedented sea change in international law and human rights. Richard Alan White first became acquainted with the Filartiga family in the mid-1970s while doing research on Paraguayan independence. Later, in answer to a distressed letter from Joelito's father, he returned to Paraguay and journeyed with the Filartiga family on their long and difficult road to redress. White gives the reader a first-hand account, taking us into the family with him to give witness not only to their agony and sorrow, but to their resolute strength as well-strength that led to a groundbreaking $10 million legal decision in Filartiga v. Pena. The Paraguayan police officer responsible for Joelito's vicious murder, Americo Norberto Pena-Irala, was found hiding in Brooklyn and arrested.
That landmark decision, based on the almost obscure Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, ruled that U.S. courts could accept jurisdiction in international cases-recognizing the right of foreign human rights victims to sue-even though the alleged violation occurred in another country by a non-American and against a non-American. So fundamentally has the Filartiga precedent changed the landscape of international human rights law that it has served as the basis for nearly 100 progeny suits, and grown to encompass not only human rights abuses but also violations of international environmental and labor rights law. Today, there are dozens of class action suits pending against corporate defendants ranging from oil conglomerates destroying the Amazon rain forest to designer clothing companies running sweatshops abroad. Dr. Filartiga was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, and the Alien Tort Claims Act continues to be hotly debated among politicians and lawmakers. For more information on the ATCA and Breaking Silence, visit www.breakingsilence.us.
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