Grace Harriett is an International Human Rights Clinic student
Clients of the International Human Rights Clinic (“Clinic”) at Santa Clara University School of Law, along with partners and clients from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFK), and civil rights activists Shaun King and Justin Hansford testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”) to denounce human rights violations stemming from the lack of accountability and impunity of police killings in the United States.
On December 7, 2017, victims and legal experts addressed the Commission and U.S. government representatives from the Department of State in Washington, D.C. during the Commission’s 166th period of sessions. The hearing highlighted the lack of effective investigations and prosecutions in cases of unjustified killings and excessive use of force by police, both at the federal and the state level, particularly where the victims are members of minorities, indigenous, Native American, Black and Latino communities, as well as persons with mental illness and people experiencing homelessness. Speakers also highlighted the multiple barriers preventing victims from having access to effective remedies. Furthermore, the hearing addressed the recent policy changes at the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ direction limiting federal oversight into police killings.
Clinic students provided the legal research necessary to substantiate the request for this thematic hearing, as well as assisted in drafting written submissions to the Commission and in preparing the oral testimonies. Primarily, Clinic students focused on denouncing the impunity for the extrajudicial killing of Luis Góngora Pat, a homeless Mayan immigrant man from Mexico who was unlawfully shot multiple times and killed by police in San Francisco’s Mission District on April 7, 2016. Luis Góngora Pat’s family has been demanding justice in this case, but after more than 20 months, the investigation is still pending.
Unfortunately, the delegation representing the U.S. government did not include officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or other relevant federal, state, and local officials. The Acting Deputy Chief of the U.S. Permanent Mission to the Organization of American States, Genevieve Libonati, highlighted the DOJ’s ability to conduct investigations, but mainly referred to the information publicly available on the DOJ’s website. Ms. Libonati assured the Commission that her delegation would provide the DOJ, state, and local agencies with the information and concerns raised at the hearing and would supply the Commission with any relevant responses.
The Clinic and its partners submitted a series of recommendations, in particular concerning the need for prompt, thorough, transparent, and independent investigations into excessive use of force and killings by police, in conformity with international human rights obligations and standards, and asked that the Commission include them in the Commission’s forthcoming report on the use of force by law enforcement in the United States.
In addition to the testimonies presented at the hearing, ACLU, RFK, and the Clinic provided written statements to the Commission available online. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also provided a statement of support.
The hearing in its entirety is available online: Reports of impunity for extrajudicial killings in the United States.