Human Rights / Anti-Terrorism



The lawsuit brought by Kohn Swift against Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 was the first human rights class action in United States and world history. The only precedent for the case was the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial of 1946. 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’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 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 human rights attorneys played a key role in the negotiation of these complex settlements.

Barbed wire on top of a fence


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.



Statutory laws frequently relied upon by human rights lawyers include the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victim Protection Act:

Alien Tort Claims Act

The Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), also known as the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), provides a remedy in United States federal district courts to citizens of foreign countries whose human rights were violated when they were outside the U.S. Examples of human rights violations found actionable under the ATCA include torture, summary executions, and forced disappearances such as those litigated in the Marcos human rights litigation.

Torture Victim Protection Act

The Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) extends the remedies available under the ATCA to U.S. citizens who were tortured while in another country. The TVPA allows the institution of civil actions in U.S. federal district courts against human rights violators who committed violations under a foreign nation’s actual or apparent authority. The Act holds perpetrators or aiders and abettors of torture or extrajudicial killing liable in damages to the victims of torture or their survivors.