Martinez-Baca v. Suarez-Mason Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

April 1987

Case Description 

Martinez-Baca v. Suarez-Mason is a case in which Argentinean General Guillermo Suarez-Mason was charged with human rights abuses during the military dictatorship in the 1980s.

As Commander of the First Army Corps in Argentina during the height of repression under the military dictatorship that ruled that country, General Guillermo Suarez-Mason was responsible for the abduction, torture, and disappearance of thousands of Argentine citizens. When Raul Alfonsin came to power in 1984, ending the military reign, Suarez-Mason fled the country to avoid being called to account for his crimes. In January 1987, Suarez-Mason, whose name was contained on an Interpol list of fugitives, was arrested in Foster City, California, where he was held for extradition.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) represented Horacio Martinez-Baca, Alfredo Forti, and Debora Benchoam, three of Suarez-Mason’s victims, in a case patterned on Filártiga v. Peña-Irala. In the 1980 Filártiga case brought by CCR, the court held that foreign nationals may sue malfeasors for violations of internationally recognized human rights, even where the acts occurred abroad, so long as the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

Martinez-Baca was abducted, tortured, and detained without charges for more than four years. Forti was abducted with his mother and four brothers; his mother has not been seen since. Benchoam was imprisoned without charged for four and a half years, and her brother was tortured and killed. The three sued Suarez-Mason in April 1987, seeking in excess of $10 million in damages. A year later, the court entered a judgment for Martinez-Baca of $21 million. Later that month, Suarez-Mason was extradited to Argentina to face criminal charges there for his human rights violations.