The case of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas is the first extrajudicial killing case brought against the United States to be heard by Inter American Commission
SAN DIEGO, CA — The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the investigative arm of the Organization of American States, found it has authority, over the objections of the Trump Administration, to decide a case involving the brutal beating of a San Diego resident by border agents that was covered up and never fully investigated. The U.S. Custom Border and Protection (CBP) has ambitions to become a national police force and a long history of using violent tactics in border communities and now in Portland and other cities. The IACHR's decision to determine whether its use-of-force and accountability policies comply with international human rights standards is timely with far reaching implications.
In a decision issued on July 28, 2020, the Inter-American Commission established that the petitioner family members had demonstrated prima facie human rights violations linked to the torture and killing of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas. The lawsuit challenges laws and policies that have shielded border agents from accountability for the killings of unarmed civilians. The IACHR has investigated some of the most egregious human rights abuses in the Americas, including the mass abduction and disappearance of 43 students in Mexico in 2014; the largest massacre in recent Latin American history, the massacre at El Mozote, El Salvador; and the disappearances of civilians during Argentina and Chile’s military dictatorships.
This is the first known extrajudicial killing case that will be decided involving the United States. The outcome of this case could set a precedent for other cases against border authorities and police who have killed with impunity.
This case is about more than one family. It's about a failed system of justice and accountability in this country. That issue has never been more important than it is now under an administration that considers itself above the law. The Anastasio case is an opportunity to challenge systemic issues and pursue policy change as a remedy that restricts use of force and increases oversight and accountability to end an era of impunity.
The case will now move on to the merits stage during which Anastasio’s family will have the opportunity to argue that the United States government failed to comply with its human rights obligations and request expert and witness testimony during public hearings. In the interim, advocates and artists are erecting a mural in San Diego’s iconic Chicano Park to honor Anastasio and the fight for dignity and justice in immigrant and border communities.
Maria Puga, widow of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas and petitioner in the case, said:
“More than 10 years have passed since my family’s life was completely upended by the killing of Anastasio, my husband and the father of my children, at the hands of border agents. This case before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights represents progress towards justice for Anastasio but also for all of the victims of Border Patrol. This deep wound remains open, and it hurts even more to see that more people are dying not just at the hands of border patrol but also at the hands of police. It is unacceptable that following the death of my husband, more than 110 people have died because of the actions of border agents, without any of the agents being held accountable. We are tired and desperate. This violence with impunity against our families must end.”
“Han pasado más de diez años desde que la vida de mi familia cambió radicalmente con el asesinato de Anastasio, mi esposo y el padre de mis hijos, a mano de agentes fronterizos. Este caso ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos representa un avance hacia la justicia para Anastasio pero también para todas las víctimas de la Patrulla Fronteriza. La herida de su muerte sigue abierta y duele aún más ver que siguen habiendo más muertes a manos de oficiales, tanto de la Patrulla Fronteriza como de la policía. Es inaceptable que tras la muerte de mi esposo, más de 110 personas más hayan muerto por causa de agentes fronterizos, sin que ningún agente haya rendido cuentas. Estamos cansados y desesperados. Esta violencia impune contra nuestras familias tiene que terminar.”
Andrea Guerrero, Alliance San Diego executive director and co-counsel, said:
“CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the country and acts with reckless disregard for life and near total impunity. This case is part of a national reckoning that needs to happen to reign in this agency and other law enforcement that abuse their power and put people in danger. At a time when the president is deploying CBP agents across the country to use violence against protesters challenging government actions, this case is crucial to bringing accountability to the agency as well as justice to the family of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas.”
Roxanna Altholz, co-director of UC Berkeley’s International Human Rights Law Clinic and co-counsel, said:
“This case exemplifies what is wrong with law enforcement and our legal system. Anastasio’s death like so many other killings of Black, Indigenous, and Latino men, women, and children was deemed reasonable because our laws sanction atrocious behavior by law enforcement. After today’s ruling, Anastasio’s widow and his children will have the chance to be heard by independent commissioners who will judge border agents’ actions and policies against the standards established by international human rights law.”
On May 28, 2010, border agents at the San Ysidro Port of Entry brutally beat and Tasered Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, a longtime resident of San Diego, leading to his death, which was classified by the San Diego County Medical Examiner as a homicide. An eyewitness recorded the incident and the video became international news, calling into question the brutality of CBP, which has long been alleged in the repeated abuse of border residents. The incident and the many others that followed it triggered Congressional inquiries, agency-wide investigations into the use of force, new use-of-force policies that, among other things, limited the use of Tasers, and the piloting of body-worn cameras by agents. But these have not been enough to reign in an agency with excessive power and little to no oversight or accountability.
The family of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas has brought a claim against the U.S. government for failure to properly investigate and prosecute this case. Not only was Anastasio’s life taken, but evidence was destroyed, eyewitnesses dispersed, and the investigation was woefully inadequate. Through this claim, the Commission has the opportunity to weigh in on a broken justice system and point to reforms that end the impunity of the nation’s largest law enforcement agency.
About Alliance San Diego
Alliance San Diego is a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) community empowerment organization working to ensure that all people can achieve their full potential in an environment of harmony, safety, equality, and justice. Our mission is to provide a means for diverse individuals and organizations to share information, collaborate on issues and mobilize for change in the pursuit of social justice, especially in low-income communities and communities of color. We pursue this mission through targeted civic engagement programs and strategic coalitions that focus on specific issues and policy reforms.
About UC Berkeley’s International Human Rights Law Clinic
The International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) designs and implements innovative human rights projects to advance the struggle for justice on behalf of individuals and marginalized communities through advocacy, research, and policy development.