Cohen Milstein’s Human Rights Practice has been recognized as one of the best private international human rights practices in the world. We represent individuals who have been victims of torture, human trafficking, forced and slave labor, sexual violence, and other violations of international law. 

We are not afraid to take on the world’s most powerful global corporations or to challenge the United States or foreign governments on hot button issues.  Our goal is to deliver justice. 

Scope of Services

We represent individuals who have experienced, among other things:

  • Forced labor by multinational corporations, military contractors, diplomats, or in supply chains both in the United States and abroad
  • Human trafficking
  • Terror attacks and drone strikes
  • Electronic spying and tracking of human rights advocates and others by foreign states or businesses
  • Kidnapping, assault, and other crimes committed by foreign states on U.S. soil
  • Torture, rape, murder, and other forms of violence committed by security guards working for U.S. businesses overseas

We have also served as counsel for amici, including former federal judges, members of Congress, and prominent scholars, in significant cases before the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals. We have written on the use of evidence obtained by torture, the scope of the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act and complex issues of civil procedure.

Making an Impact

In addition to obtaining significant recoveries for our clients, we often establish important legal precedent on behalf of victims of human rights abuses. Our work has frequently served to correct the historical record.

  • Holocaust-era Atrocities: We represented Holocaust survivors who sued the Swiss banks that collaborated with the Nazi regime during World War II. The lawsuit, which produced a $1.25 billion settlement, exposed the extent of business participation in the Holocaust and led historians to reexamine their assessment of Switzerland’s relationship with Nazi Germany. Our practice also successfully represented survivors of Nazi-era forced and slave labor against the German and Austrian companies that profited from their labor.  These cases were resolved by international negotiations that resulted in a 10 billion DM settlement for over 1.5 million survivors in more than 41 countries.
  • Human Trafficking and Forced Labor: The Human Rights Group filed one of the first claims under the federal human trafficking statute (the TVPRA) and has continued to focus on representing survivors of human trafficking and forced labor.  We have represented domestic servants as well as individuals trapped in supply chain forced labor.  We have represented men and women who were trafficked by diplomats, by military contractors, in the fishing industry and to work cleaning houses in Northern Virginia.  In one recent case, after we obtained a full recovery for our client, the Department of Justice followed our suit with criminal charges, resulting in a guilty plea by the perpetrator.
    • Fishing Boat Slavery:  We filed and settled the first successfully resolved case of fishing boat slavery in the world.  We represented two Indonesian men who escaped from a fishing boat when it docked in California.  The settlement included provisions intended to protect future seamen, including a code of conduct for ship captains and a hand-out for seamen informing them of their rights and who to call for help.
    • Forced labor and human trafficking by U.S. military contractors: We represented the families of twelve Nepali men and five additional surviving Nepali men who were lured to Jordan with the false promise of well-paying hotel jobs, but instead their passports were confiscated, they were imprisoned and then taken against their will a U.S. military base in Iraq, where they were put to work for U.S. military subcontractors during the Iraq war.  Twelve of the men were killed by insurgents. Our work received international attention and is the focus of the book, The Girl from Kathmandu | Twelve Dead Men and a Woman's Quest for Justice, by Cam Simpson (HarperCollins, 2018).   The claims were ultimately resolved, including under innovative proceedings pursuant to the Defense Base Act.
    • Domestic Servitude: We have represented several women who were trafficked into domestic servitude, including by diplomats.
  • 9/11 Terror Attack: We represented, pro bono, victims of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, obtaining one of the highest awards for an injured survivor from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
  • Guantanamo Bay Detention: We represented, pro bono, individuals detained by the United States government at Guantanamo Bay who were ultimately cleared for release without charge.

Recognition for Our Work

We have been recognized repeatedly for our dedication to the public interest and for our litigation success.  Among other honors, our lawyers have been awarded:

  • The Human Trafficking Legal Center’s Human Trafficking Advocate of the Year for 2020
  • The National Law Journal Pro Bono Award
  • The Beacon of Justice Award from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association
  • The Frederick Douglass award from the Southern Center for Human Rights
  • The Friendship Award from the America Nepal Friendship Society for “outstanding contribution to the protection of the human rights and freedom of Nepali citizens”
  • A Certificate of Appreciation from the United States Ambassador to Nepal
  • The 2006 Fierce Sister Award from the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

We bring a passion for justice to our representation of survivors and victims of human rights abuses.

Representative Matters

  • ExxonMobil-Villagers of Aceh Litigation (D.D.C.): We represent eleven villagers from Aceh, Indonesia, who allege that they or their relatives were victims of torture, extrajudicial killing, and other abuses committed by security guards working for Exxon Mobil. The case is being heard in a United States court but involves claims under Indonesian law.  The case has been hotly litigated for 20 years, including two trips to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (both successfully argued by Partner Agnieszka Fryszman).  Cohen Milstein pioneered the use of remote deposition technology to take over 20 depositions of eyewitnesses located in rural Aceh. The parties are currently awaiting a trial date.
  • Chiquita (S.D.Fla): We represent hundreds of Plaintiffs who allege that they or their family members were victims of torture or extrajudicial killing committed by the AUC, a paramilitary death squad paid by Chiquita.  The victims included labor organizers, elected officials, and activists on Chiquita’s banana plantations. The AUC was designated by the United States government as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” That designation made supporting the AUC a federal crime. After an inquiry by the U.S. Justice Department, Chiquita pled guilty and admitted to making over 100 payments to the AUC but has thus far refused to compensate the families whose loved ones were murdered.
  • Kurd v. The Republic of Turkey (D.D.C.): We represent fifteen people, including a seven-year-old-girl with her father, a mother pushing a four year old in a stroller, students, and local small business owners, who had gathered at Sheridan Circle in Washington, D.C., to peacefully protest the Erdogan regime’s treatment of its Kurdish community.  They were brutally attacked by President Erdogan’s security detail, who pushed past a line of law enforcement officers to kick, stomp and bludgeon the demonstrators.  The attack was captured on video, resulted in criminal indictments and was condemned by the United States Congress.  The Republic of Turkey claimed it was immune from suit, but the district court disagreed and the Court of Appeals upheld the decision in a unanimous opinion (the case was successfully argued by Partner Agnieszka Fryszman).
  • Ratha v. Phatthana Seafood (C.D. Cal.): We represent Cambodian villagers who allege that they were trafficked into Thailand and subjected to forced labor at seafood processing factories that were owned by and did business with U.S. business entities.
  • Paul Rusesabagina Kidnapping (D.D.C.): We represent U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Paul Rusesabagina and his family against the Republic of Rwanda, the President of Rwanda and other members of the government staff for allegedly spying on Paul and his family, luring him away from his home in Texas to kidnap him and take him back to Rwanda, where he was imprisoned, tortured and subjected to a sham show trial.  Mr. Rusesabagina is perhaps best known for saving thousands of lives during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when he was the hotel manager of Hôtel des Mille Collines, a story that inspired the Academy-Award-nominated film, Hotel Rwanda.