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American Today



WCL’s Impact Litigation Project Argues Case Before International Court

By Mike Unger

Photo: WCL dean Claudio Grossman led a delegation from the law school to the Dominican Republic to argue a case before the Inter-American Court.

WCL dean Claudio Grossman led a delegation from the law school to the Dominican Republic to argue a case before the Inter-American Court.

Francisco Uson Ramirez’s last chance to clear his name rests with the Washington College of Law.

A former Venezuelan general convicted of dishonoring and disrespecting the armed forces, Ramirez is being represented by the AU law school’s Impact Litigation Project during his hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

WCL dean Claudio Grossman, staff attorney Agustina Del Campo ’05, and second-year WCL student Adrian Alvarez argued Uson’s case April 1 during a hearing in the Dominican Republic.

“Mr. Uson’s case contains serious violations to the rights to freedom of expression, due process, and access to justice, in violation of both the American Convention on Human Rights and Venezuela’s own constitution,” Grossman said.

The Impact Litigation Project was created in 2006 and received a grant to promote freedom of expression in the Americas. Its leaders heard about the Ramirez case and felt it fit perfectly into their mission. They contacted his Venezuelan lawyer, who now is co-counsel on the case.

“The Inter-American Court has ruled on criminalization of speech against public people, but it has not taken a clear stand on the criminalization of speech against institutions,” Del Campo said. “This is the first case that deals directly with comments of someone that didn’t really affect the honor of another individual, but allegedly the honor and reputation of a state institution.”

Uson was prosecuted and sentenced to five and a half years in prison for his comments in a Venezuelan media interview in 2004. He was tried by a military court as opposed to a civilian one. Convicted in July 2004, he was released from prison in December 2007, but remains on parole and is not permitted to leave the country. Having exhausted his appeals in Venezuela, the Inter-American Court is his last resort for exoneration.

“This is a completely new action against the state, it is not an appeal,” Del Campo said. “After the hearing, generally it takes anywhere from four to six months for a decision. The decision cannot be appealed.”

If the seven-judge panel sides with Ramirez, the court could order Venezuela to clear his record or eliminate laws that criminalize speech against the government, Del Campo said.

Ten students have worked on this case over the course of the last three years, and Alvarez played a key role in preparing for the hearing. He helped craft questions for witnesses, will help draft the final briefing, and over the summer will write an academic paper on the case.

“It’s an opportunity to see how attorneys practice before the Inter-American Court, how they craft their arguments, how a state responds to those arguments,” said Alvarez, co-editor-in-chief of Human Rights Brief. “As an attorney I think I’d like to work litigating before the Inter-American Court, and this is kind of my initial exposure.”