Ninth Circuit Munoz Ruling Reaffirms U.S. Obligation to Investigate Allegations of Torture

New York City – Human Rights First today praised the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that it will reconsider en banc the decision in the case of Jose Luis Munoz Santos v. Linda R. Thomas (Munoz) that the organization argues fails to address U.S. obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) and customary international law.

“This is an important victory toward obtaining a more thorough investigation into claims of torture in this case, which if left undressed could undermine not only our domestic legal framework, but the nation’s obligations under international law,” said Human Rights First’s Melissa Hooper. “Since the Ninth Circuit rarely takes cases en banc, their decision to hear the appeal reflects the exceptional importance of this case. We urge the court to honor the United States’ obligations under the Convention Against Torture as it reconsiders this decision.”

Jose Luis Munoz Santos is a Mexican national who faces extradition based on the statements of two witnesses who allege that their testimonies were obtained through the use of torture by Mexican police. The extradition court that heard the case refused to consider the allegations of torture because they contradict earlier witness statements incriminating Munoz Santos. Yesteday’s ruling overturns the March decision by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit that had upheld the extradition court’s ruling.

Human Rights First, together with other civil society groups, urged the Ninth Circuit through an amicus brief, to review that decision en banc, arguing that the March decision was incompatible with U.S. obligations under international and domestic law, including under the Convention Against Torture. If the en banc panel does not correct that ruling, Munoz Santos will be extradited without investigation into the torture allegations upon which the case rests.

The Ninth Circuit has decided to review this case en banc because it involves and issue of “exceptional importance.” In order to take a case en banc, a majority of active, non-recused judges is required to decide that the court’s initial decision conflicted with established precedent or presented an issue of exceptional importance. Oral argument before the en banc panel will take place during the week of January 11, 2016, at the Richard H. Chambers Courthouse in Pasadena, California, and will be open to the public and the press.

Human Rights First notes that Article 15 of the CAT, to which the United States is a signatory, prohibits the use of torture-tainted evidence in any judicial proceeding, including extradition proceedings. International legal authorities, including the U.N. Committee Against Torture, have stated that Article 15 requires a state party to investigate and evaluate any credible claim that evidence used to support extradition was obtained by torture. The organization further notes that the international norm against the use of torture is so strong that the prohibition on torture is considered part of international customary law — binding even on those countries that have not signed a particular treaty.


Published on October 23, 2015


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