American University Washington College of Law Dean to Argue Freedom of Expression Case Before Inter-American Court of Human Rights, April 1

Group aims to change ambiguous Venezuelan law that convicted retired general

As part of American University Washington College of Law’s Impact Litigation Project, Dean Claudio Grossman, staff attorney Agustina Del Campo ‘05, and second-year student Adrian Alvarez are heading to the Dominican Republic for an April 1 hearing before a special session of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. They will argue the case Uson Ramirez vs. Venezuela in which Francisco Usón Ramírez was convicted of dishonoring and disrespecting the armed forces of Venezuela.

 “Mr. Uson’s case contains serious violations to the rights to freedom of expression, due process, and access to justice, in violation of both the American Convention on Human Rights and Venezuela’s own constitution,” says Grossman, a former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “This hearing will both exonerate Mr. Uson and provide evidence that Venezuela’s laws criminalizing speech should be reexamined.”

Uson was prosecuted and sentenced to five and a half years in prison for “dishonoring and disrespecting the armed forces of Venezuela” during a media interview in May 2004. However, during the live television interview, Uson did not disclose any military secrets or, at any time, speak disrespectfully of any soldier or person in particular, but merely commented on a hypothetical question posed by his interviewer. In addition, Uson, a retired General, was tried by a military court instead of a civil one, for a crime that was not a military crime in nature. He was convicted in July 2004, and released in December 2007. Today, though released from prison, he remains under the strict control of the Venezuelan parole system, and is not allowed to leave the country. Since Uson has exhausted all ordinary measures within his domestic judicial system, the Inter-American system is his last resort for exoneration after having served three and a half years in prison.

The Washington College of Law Impact Litigation Program, working together with Venezuelan attorney Hector Faundez Ledesma, has been involved in the litigation of Uson’s case since 2006. More than 10 students have worked on this case over the past three years with the Impact Litigation Project, including second-year student Adrian Alvarez, who is also co-editor in chief of the Human Rights Brief. Alvarez has helped the project prepare for the hearings and he will assist the team with the written closing arguments following the hearing.

 “Very few people, and certainly very few law students, get the opportunity to witness the operations of the Inter-American Court, and actively participate in the preparation and litigation of an individual case,” says staff attorney Agustina Del Campo.  “Adrian’s commitment to human rights, and the Inter-American system particularly, has contributed greatly to our work in preparing for this hearing.”

The April 1 hearing will be the first time WCL’s Impact Litigation Project has participated in oral arguments before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an autonomous judicial institution of the Organization of American States established in 1979 whose objective is the application and interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Washington College of Law is dedicated to promotion of human rights and its faculty members have been involved in human rights cases in Guantanamo Bay, Chile, and other areas around the world. The Impact Litigation Project at WCL seeks to promote the rule of law and democracy through international litigation of pivotal cases selected for their maximum ability to shape and change policy and legislation within the region, and to advance changes to public policy and human rights standards and legislation. As “impact litigation” is a particularly effective tool to promote positive change, cases are selected precisely for their importance to and maximum impact on strengthening democracy in Latin America. “Impact Litigation” includes litigation, training, support of third parties international litigation, as well as other activities which impact decision makers, policy makers, jurisdictional bodies and society at large.