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Justice & The Generals
El Salvador
Around the World
About the Film

U.S. Law - Background
Introduction Background The People The Debate Your View
Two of the most important factors in the Ford (churchwomen's case) and Romagoza (torture survivors' case) trials are the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) and the command responsibility doctrine.

The TVPA permits civil lawsuits against alleged perpetrators of torture or murder regardless of where the crimes were committed. The TVPA stipulates that defendants need not have performed such acts in order to be found guilty; superiors who order or permit murder or torture may also face trial. Under the TVPA -- and well as the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 -- the plaintiffs in the Ford and Romagoza cases may pursue legal remedy in U.S. courts.

Though the right to sue the generals in U.S. courts was established by the Filartiga case, the men's guilt remains in dispute. The plaintiffs and the defendants do agree on one thing: The generals did not personally commit the murders and tortures in question. But the plaintiffs seek to connect the generals to the crimes via the doctrine of command responsibility. This doctrine holds that under certain circumstances, military leaders should be held accountable for crimes perpetrated by subordinates against civilians.

Learn about three key human-rights cases tried in U.S. courts.

Case History: Filartiga v. Pena-Irala

Case History: Ford et al. v. García et al.

Case History: Romagoza et al. v. García et al.
Torture Victims
Protection Act
Civil trials have an important role to play as a means of enforcing human rights norms. Such cases do not require official approval. They can be brought by individuals who have control over the lawsuits and thus are less subject to political vagaries.
Command Responsibility
Military commanders are responsible for the acts of their subordinates. If subordinates commit violations of the laws of war and their commanders fail to prevent or punish these crimes, then the commanders also can be held responsible.