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Berkeley Law brings US law enforcement death to international human rights body

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ROXANNA ALTHOLZ | COURTESY

The case marks the first time an extrajudicial death alleged against U.S. law enforcement has been brought before an international human rights body.

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NOVEMBER 30, 2022

Berkeley Law’s International Human Rights Law Clinic, or IHRLC, co-director Roxanna Altholz and Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, joined forces to represent a case before an international human rights body over the death of a Mexican immigrant who died during an altercation U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, over a decade ago.

Anastasio Hernández Rojas, a Mexican national, father of five and longtime San Diego resident, was in the custody of CBP when he was allegedly beaten and tasered by a group of Border Police agents, ultimately resulting in his death May 31, 2010, according to a petition by the IHRLC. Altholz alleged that the case involved an “orchestrated coverup” in which Border Patrol agents allegedly erased footage of the beating taken by witnesses.

“It came as no surprise in 2015 when the Department of Justice decided to close the criminal investigation in the United States and decided not to pursue charges against the agents,” Altholz said.

CBP and the U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

Altzholz said laws and investigative procedures in the United States “ensure violence and impunity” in this case, alleging that excessive use of force at the hands of the agents is a violation of international human rights standards.

Since Rojas’ death in 2010, at least 250 people have died during fatal encounters with Border Patrol agents, according to Altholz. However, no agent has ever been convicted for these deaths, Altholz added.

The case marks the first time an extrajudicial death alleged against U.S. law enforcement has been brought before an international human rights body, according to the IHRLC petition. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR — the body that is hearing the case — is an autonomous branch of the Organization of American States that promotes and publicizes human rights cases across the Americas, according to the IACHR website.

“This case is on the same level as of many of the forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings and massacres that I’ve litigated in Latin America. And if Colombia and Mexico and El Salvador and Guatemala can reopen investigations, the United States can too,” Altholz said.

Altholz, Guerrero and the IHRLC wish to expose the human rights violations occurring at the border. They are also urging the Department of Justice to reopen the investigation and give Rosas’ family an official day in court.

The IHRLC also wants an outline specifying the measures the U nited States should adopt to promote “justice and accountability” in this case and all cases moving forward, according to Altholz.

Altholz applauded the work of Guerrero and Alliance San Diego as well as Berkeley Law students, who spent hours conducting legal research, drafting pleas and interviewing witnesses and clients for the case.

“In human rights we say that light is the best disinfectant,” Altzholz said.

Contact Natasha Kaye at 

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NOVEMBER 30, 2022