Illinois District Court Accepts Amicus Brief Regarding Lawsuit Against Jiang
At 10 AM CST, the United States District Court Northern District of Illinois concluded its hearing and ruled to accept the Amicus brief signed and submitted by more than three dozen members of U.S. Congress, asking the Court to continue proceedings for the case. This Amicus brief was in response to another brief submitted by the Department of State recommending the dismissal of the lawsuit.
The Amicus brief submitted by the members of Congress iterated several legal points, asking the Court to continue proceedings in the lawsuit against former head of the Chinese regime Jiang Zemin on counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and other charges.
The brief was authored by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), the ranking democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee. The brief opens as follows, "Amici Curiae are a number of members of Congress who have a long-standing interest in foreign affairs and are concerned about human rights and human rights conditions in the People's Republic of China."
"Not to Embarrass China, But to Persuade the Defendants to End Their Persecution of Falun Gong"
The brief points out that the congressional group is concerned about the human rights issues in this lawsuit. "..human rights concerns, such as those raised by this case, have long been considered a key aspect of U.S. foreign policy, and in ways which particularly involve the United States Congress."
The brief cites several laws passed by Congress to "protect citizens around the world from human rights abuses and violations" and mentions how some apply to the Jiang case.
"This lawsuit was filed not to embarrass China, but to persuade the defendants to end their persecution of Falun Gong ... it is highly consistent with the goals set forth in [U.S. Department of State's] annual review of human rights."
In March, the U.S. State Department issued its annual Human Rights Report, in which Falun Gong was mentioned more than 80 times, highlighting the severe persecution against the practice in virtually every section of the report, including "arbitrary" and "unlawful" killings, arrest and detention as well as denial of freedom of belief, speech, assembly and association.
The Courts Are No Place for Diplomatic Pressure
The Congressional brief says the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act makes it clear that such lawsuits should be decided "by the courts" and not through diplomatic pressure.
Indeed, pressure on U.S. government officials has been heavy-handed since the lawsuit was first filed in October 2002. Included in the DOJ Amicus brief was information about frequent pressure from high-level Chinese officials to have the case against Jiang dismissed. According to Legislative Assistants on Capitol Hill, the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., Yang Jiechi, has been personally calling U.S. Senators and Representatives in an effort to stifle support for the Congressional Amicus.
Foreign Policy Concerns Do Not Override Due Process, Head-of-State Immunity Does Not Apply
The brief points out, "This approach to litigation against the Government of the People's Republic of China is also troubling in light of the character of the government and Mr. Jiang's manner of reaching the head of it."
The brief also says, "Mr. Jiang rose to power for his hard-line approach to crushing the democracy movement of 1989. Throughout his rule -- one that the U.S. State Department itself calls an 'authoritarian rule' -- reputable sources such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the State Department's own Country Report on Human Rights have documented severe and systematic human rights abuses by Jiang's government against his own people."
The Congressional brief states that due process in U.S. courts should not be "obviated" due to foreign policy concerns.
The DOJ Amicus had cited concerns that the lawsuit against Jiang and similar suits would risk "provoking retaliatory lawsuits against U.S. officials." The Congressional brief, however, says this concern was already raised and dismissed by Congress and then by President Bush when he signed into law the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991.
"These potential dangers," said President Bush at the time of the signing, "do not concern the fundamental goals that this legislation seeks to advance. In this new era, in which countries throughout the world are turning to democratic institutions and the rule of law, we must maintain and strengthen our commitment to ensuring that human rights are respected everywhere."
The Congressional brief also contests that head-of-state immunity applies to Jiang.
"We see no policy or prudential reason to accept a suggestion of immunity by the executive branch with respect to a former head of a country that is a totalitarian regime," states the brief, "and that does not afford the opportunity for its citizens to petition its government for grievances or to make claims against the governments for wrongdoing."
"Indeed, international law makes clear that individuals that are responsible for gross violations of human rights may be subject to prosecution even if they were heads of state at the time that the offenses occurred," the brief states.