Beginning with the historic case against Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Kohn, Swift & Graf’s human rights lawyers pioneered legal concepts to compensate human rights victims. Until the Marcos case, which began in 1986, human rights victims had never received court-awarded compensation.

First Human Rights Class Action

The Marcos case was also the first human rights class action case in history. The only precedent for the case was the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial of 1946. Applying the concept of command responsibility, a jury found Marcos liable to almost 10,000 Filipinos for torture, summary execution, and disappearance.

Compensatory damages of almost $2 billion were assessed using a statistical model. The judgment proved difficult to collect owing to stiff opposition from the Marcos family—which hid Marcos’ wealth—and several governments. Yet Kohn, Swift & Graf’s human rights attorneys persevered and collected and distributed millions in compensation to joyful class members and their surviving families.

In the mid-1990s, as survivors of the Holocaust were aging, Kohn, Swift & Graf took the lead in filing human rights class actions against banks and insurance companies in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria that withheld monies from survivors at the end of World War II.   These cases were the first to link financial abuses to egregious human rights violations.

The firm also sued companies that had used slave and forced labor during the War. With the active mediation of the United States and foreign governments, the class action cases settled.  More than 2 million people, many from former “iron curtain” countries, received compensation from the more than $7.5 billion recovered. Kohn, Swift & Graf human rights attorneys played a key role in the negotiation of these complex settlements.

Additional Human Rights Lawsuits Pioneered by Kohn, Swift & Graf Human Rights Attorneys

The firm’s human rights lawyers have been at the forefront of other human rights lawsuits, both class actions and individual human rights cases, in which we litigated abuses that occurred in Bosnia, Cuba, and South Korea, and have investigated abuses in many other countries. Currently, the firm is co-counsel in South Korean courts, litigating more than 1,000 World War II forced labor cases against 69 Japanese companies.

For additional information about Kohn, Swift & Graf’s human rights practice, see Human Rights / Anti-Terrorism Lawyers.