Reyes v. Lopez GrijalbaHONDURAS: FORCED DISAPPEARANCES
In 2002, CJA filed a case against former Honduran military intelligence chief Juan López Grijalba on behalf of six torture survivors and families of the disappeared. On March 31, 2006, CJA received a default judgment and concluded a trial on damages. The court held López Grijalba legally responsible for torture, extrajudicial killings and disappearances and ordered him to pay $47 million to six plaintiffs. This is the first case in which a Honduran military leader has been held liable for human rights abuses committed during the 1980s.
In 2004, López Grijalba was deported to Honduras. The Attorney General of Honduras approached CJA in May 2006 to assist in a criminal prosecution of López Grijalba for human rights abuses based on evidence developed in our U.S. civil case.
Battalion 316From the late 1970's through 1984, a Honduran military intelligence unit called Battalion 316 carried out a series of forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture against suspected political subversives: more than 150 persons were killed or disappeared. As chief of the National Investigations Directorate (DNI) and later chief of intelligence for the Armed Forces General and Joint Staffs, Juan Evangelista López Grijalba exercised principal command and control over this death squad.
Oscar and Gloria Reyes were abducted from their home along with their 12-year-old daughter and two employees. Oscar and Gloria endured brutal torture at the hands of Battalion 316 interrogators under López Grijalba’s command.
On the evening of July 8, 1982, armed men dressed in ski masks raided their home. The men handcuffed the Reyes couple, their l2-year-old daughter, their housekeeper and an employee of the small market in their garage. One of the men kicked their 12-year old girl in the head, breaking her glasses. Oscar and Gloria were detained for more
than five months before being exiled to the United States.
Hans Albert Madisson López was abducted by military intelligence agents on the same night as Oscar and Gloria Reyes and in the same neighborhood. Many believe that Madisson’s abduction was a case of mistaken identity. He was a university student with no known political affiliation, and his brother was a soldier with the General Staff. Nonetheless, Madisson was forcibly disappeared, tortured and finally decapitated.
Manfredo Velásquez, a teacher, graduate student and student union leader was abducted in broad daylight in September 1982. His family and friends never saw him again. One man who was detained at a DNI safe house testified that he heard a voice call from an adjacent cell, "Help me, fellow. My name is Manfredo Velasquez."
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, several cases were filed to challenge the impunity of military officials in Honduras. Witnesses in some proceedings were killed or intimidated, and many of the perpetrators simply refused to appear before the courts. In 1997, Oscar and Gloria Reyes lodged a criminal complaint in the First Criminal Court of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, against Billy Fernando Joya Amendola, a member of Battalion 3-16, for his direct role in their abduction and torture. The court was unable or unwilling to pursue the charges, and refused to investigate.
ComplaintOn July 15, 2002 CJA filed Reyes v. Grijalba before the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The suit was brought under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Oscar and Gloria Reyes; Ricardo and Zenaida Velásquez, the son and sister of Manfredo Velásquez; and Martha Madisson and Karen Burgos, sisters of disappeared university student Hans Madisson. The complaint alleges that Grijalba is liable for the acts of torture, disappearance, and extrajudicial killing perpetrated by his subordinates under the command responsibility doctrine: Grijalba authorized, encouraged, or permitted the abuses, and then helped to cover them up.
Grijalba DeportedShortly before the filing of the complaint, Grijalba was arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in April 2002. In the immigration proceedings, INS argued that Grijalba was ineligible for Temporary Protected Status because he had been responsible for persecution in Honduras. Lopez Grijalba put on a vigorous defense, denying that he had been a persecutor. CJA worked closely with immigration authorities to facilitate witness testimony and provide critical evidence for the case. Grijalba was ordered deported to Honduras in October 2004.
Default Judgment & Damages TrialOn March 16, 2006, CJA and pro bono co-counsel Carlton Fields presented evidence in a trial on damages before U.S. District Court Judge Joan A. Lenard. CJA clients Oscar and Gloria Reyes gave extensive testimony about their torture and prolonged arbitrary detention.
On March 31, Judge Lenard ordered Lopez Grijalba to pay $47 million to the six plaintiffs. In her written opinion, she held López Grijalba legally responsible under the command responsibility doctrine for torture, extrajudicial killings and disappearances in the Central American nation, stating that his conduct was “highly egregious.”