January 2013

Asylum and Human Rights Clinic's amicus brief calls for justice for Guayubin Massacre victims, and in a unanimous decision, justice was met

On the evening of June 18, 2000, 37 Haitians attempted to enter the Dominican Republic. When they arrived in Guayubin, a city about 30 miles past the border, their truck was shot at repeatedly by soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Dominican Republic. Seven unarmed civilians were killed. Thirty others were wounded or injured.

Victims were repeatedly shot. The dead were left for hours before being buried in a mass grave. The survivors, including women and children, allege that they were forcibly detained by the military and never given rights to judicial or administrative process.

The incident, known as the Guayubin Massacre, was recently on trial as Nadege Dorzema et al. vs. Dominican Republic at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica.


On July 9, 2012, BU Law's Asylum and Human Rights Clinic filed an amicus curiae brief with the court. The filing was at the request of the litigation team on the case that included members of the McGill International Human Rights Clinic in Canada. Written and filed in both English and Spanish by BU Law Professor Susan Akram, Catalina Blanco Buitrago ('13), visiting LL.M. Timnah Baker and graduate fellow Shannon Jonsson ('11), the brief was joined by 35 other legal scholars—including co-signers Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, senior research fellow and professor of international refugee law at All Souls College at the University of Oxford, and Caroline Bettinger-López, director of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law.

A unanimous decision

On November 30, 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued its judgment in the case. In a unanimous decision, very favorable to the victims, the Court ordered over $900,000 in reparations for the victims, and ordered the Dominican Republic to reform its laws concerning the circumstances in which its law enforcement can resort to the use of force. In an 80-page decision, the Court made findings that are likely to become important precedent under the American Convention on Human Rights, including under Article 1 (non-discrimination against migrants); Article 22 (the prohibition against collective expulsions); and Articles 8 and 25 (guarantees of judicial protection). The Court took into consideration the amicus briefs of BU Law’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic and others in coming to its findings and conclusions. Of the issues briefed in BU Law students’ amicus submission, only the argument under Article 24 of the Convention (equal protection) was not addressed by the Court.

This case took 12 years of litigation to find vindication for the victims of the massacre. The Court’s decision is expected to make a major impact in preventing not only the Dominican Republic, but other states in the Americas, from gratuitous use of excessive force against migrants, and protecting the fundamental human rights of such migrants even when they irregularly cross territorial borders.

Writing an amicus brief: The student perspective

"Working on the amicus brief was an incredible experience from start to finish," said Jonsson, who worked as a graduate fellow at the AHR Clinic following her graduation from BU Law in 2011. "Our team at the clinic did a great job working through multiple drafts of the brief over the course of many months."

Catalina Blanco Buitrago ('13) said that the most rewarding part of the work was realizing how many people and organizations were willing to sign their names to the brief.

"It's one thing to shake your head in disapproval when you hear about the human rights abuses hundreds of miles away; it is a completely different thing to act upon that disapproval," she said.

"As a student who had only minimal experience researching international law and international law cases, there was a huge learning curve," Blanco Buitrago said. "I don't think anything else would have given me the opportunity to learn so much about international law in so little time."

Related links
>>BU Law's Asylum and Human Rights Clinic
>>What students are saying about clinics, externships and internships
>>BU Law students' amicus brief cited by Supreme Court in health care ruling

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