The PJI Legal Team has intervened multiple times to support victims in U.S. litigation against Chiquita Brands International, Inc., for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Colombia.
Counsel for the plaintiffs include EarthRights International, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Paul Hoffman, Arturo Carrillo, Judith Brown Chomsky, and John DeLeon.
In March 2007, after an inquiry by the U.S. Justice Department, Chiquita Brands International pled guilty to knowingly providing material support to the AUC, a paramilitary organization widely known for its violent attacks on Colombian civilians and designated a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the United States government. The United States described Chiquita’s support to the AUC as “prolonged, steady, and substantial” in the August 2008 Sentencing Memorandum submitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and found, after a full investigation, that “Chiquita’s money helped buy weapons and ammunition used to kill innocent victims.” Chiquita has so far done nothing to compensate the victims.
Doe v. Chiquita Brands International, No. 08-01916 (S.D. Fla.), was originally filed in New Jersey and was subsequently coordinated with other similar cases as In re Chiquita Brands International Inc. Alien Tort Statute and Shareholder Derivative Litigation in West Palm Beach, Florida. According to court documents, Chiquita provided the AUC with shipments of arms and ammunition as well as more than $1.7 million over the course of seven years in regular monthly payments, all with the knowledge that the AUC was a violent organization responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearances, war crimes, among other crimes. Based on official sources in Colombia, paramilitaries were responsible for killing or disappearing more than 100,000 civilians during this period, and they committed more than 10,000 acts of torture.
On June 3, 2011, the District Court for the Southern District of Florida allowed the Plaintiffs’ claims for torture, extrajudicial killing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity to continue in federal court. In 2014, Plaintiffs added claims against individual defendants under the Torture Victim Protection Act. In 2016, the court rejected Chiquita’s claims that the case should be heard in Colombia rather than in the U.S.
In April 2018, as the parties engaged in active discovery and at the request of victims’ counsel, PJI Co-Director Kathy Roberts filed an expert declaration in the case. Her intervention clarified the common practice of taking voluntary depositions overseas in human rights litigation and the inapplicability of The Hague Convention to such testimony. This intervention helped clear the path for the plaintiffs to offer and take testimony outside the United States.
On February 15, 2019, plaintiffs’ counsel filed a motion for summary judgment. Defendants also filed a motion for summary judgement on the same day. The District Court dismissed the case against Chiquita and other defendants on September 5, 2019, among other reasons because it considered an indictment in the Colombian Justice and Peace process to be inadmissible hearsay.
On June 5, 2020, PJI joined an amicus brief filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit along with the Center for Justice & Accountability, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law, and with several international human rights scholars and practitioners with expertise in human rights litigation in U.S. federal courts and international tribunals, particularly with respect to evidentiary standards and practices used in cases involving widespread violations and atrocities. The brief argued that bedrock evidentiary principles in U.S. law direct courts to consider the totality of evidence, including circumstantial and pattern evidence, in determining whether a case can proceed to trial. The brief further argued that the district court erred in its analysis of the evidence presented when dismissing the case before trial, performing a piecemeal analysis on admissibility rather than looking at the totality of the evidence.
On July 8, 2021, PJI intervened at the U.S. Supreme Court by filing another amicus brief, on which PJI was joined by the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and represented by Foley Hoag LLP. This brief asked the Supreme Court to review a decision by the 11th Circuit, which had allowed the trial court to lift an order protecting identifying information of victims and witnesses without a showing of good cause as to why that protection was no longer needed. PJI’s brief argued that survivors of international crimes and grave human rights violations often participate in justice processes at great risk to themselves and to their families, and that protection from public disclosure of their identities and personal information is thus often essential for their access to justice. As a result, the brief continued, the lower court’s decision risked obstructing access to justice for survivors of international crimes and grave human rights violations both in this case and throughout the federal judiciary. The brief further underlined that international courts and tribunals adjudicating international crimes and grave human rights abuses routinely order protective measures from public disclosure to safeguard the privacy and security of survivors, balancing the rights of the accused perpetrators to a public trial with the imperative to protect survivors of atrocity crimes. The Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ petition for review on October 4, 2021.
On September 6, 2022, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s 2019 dismissal of the case, allowing the case finally to proceed to a jury trial. In reversing the district court, the Eleventh Circuit found substantial evidence of paramilitary involvement in the killings the victims allege Chiquita is responsible for. Among its rulings, the Eleventh Circuit held that the expert testimony presented was sufficient to admit an indictment from the Colombian Justice and Peace Process either as a business record or as a public record.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this ruling is that it accepts the admission of circumstantial evidence and expert testimony to show that murders that occurred at times and places where the AUC was in control and in a manner that fits with the AUC’s methods and motives, to show that the murders were committed by the AUC. That conclusion will apply to hundreds if not thousands of the victims in this case.Marco Simons, General Counsel of EarthRights, “Appellate Court revives human rights case against Chiquita,” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 6 September 2022.
Learn more about the history of Chiquita and the AUC in Colombia on the EarthRights Cancel Corporate Abuse page or The Chiquita Papers at the National Security Archive. See also the Center for Justice & Accountability’s page on the role of the AUC in Colombia.
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