Justice for survivors and victims of
human rights abuses.
We represent individuals who have been victims of torture, human trafficking, forced and slave labor, sexual violence, and other violations of international law.
Our Human Rights practice has been recognized as one of the best private international human rights practices in the world. 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.
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.
Cohen Milstein represents hundreds of Colombian citizens who allege that they or their family members were victims of torture or extrajudicial killing committed by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary group designated by the United States government as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization,” during armed conflict in Colombia in the 1990s and early 2000s. The victims included labor organizers, elected officials, and activists on Chiquita’s banana plantations. Plaintiffs allege that the deaths of their relatives were a direct and foreseeable result of Chiquita’s financial support of the AUC. The case is proceeding under Colombian law against Chiquita and under the U.S. Torture Victim Protection Act against individual Chiquita executives and board members.
Kurd v. The Republic of Turkey (D.D.C.): Cohen Milstein represents 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. Agnieszka Fryszman successfully argued the case at the Court of Appeals, obtaining a unanimous opinion holding that Turkey was not entitled to sovereign immunity for the attack.
Ratha, et al v. Phatthana Seafood Co. (C.D. Cal.): Cohen Milstein is representing seven Cambodian plaintiffs in a cross-border human rights lawsuit involving human trafficking, forced labor, involuntary servitude, and peonage by factories in Thailand that produce shrimp and seafood for export to the United States.
Adhikari v. KBR Inc. (Adhikari I & Adhikari II) (S.D. Tex.): Cohen Milstein represented the families of twelve Nepali men and five additional surviving Nepali men who were lured from remote villages in Nepal to Jordan with the promise of well-paying hotel jobs. Instead of the promised jobs, their passports were confiscated, they were imprisoned, and then taken against their will to Iraq. Twelve of the men were killed by insurgents. The surviving men arrived at U.S. military bases in Iraq and were put to work for U.S. military contractors and subcontractors in the mess hall, stocking warehouses, and collecting garbage.
Doe, Aceh, Indonesia v. ExxonMobil Corporation (D.D.C.): Cohen Milstein represented eleven villagers from Aceh, Indonesia, who alleged that they or their relatives endured horrific human rights abuses, including murder, torture, sexual violence, and kidnapping, at the hands of Indonesian soldiers contracted by ExxonMobil to guard its oil operations in the region. On May 15, 2023, a week before a jury trial was to start and after 20 years of litigation, the case settled. Although the case was litigated in U.S. federal court, Indonesian law applied to Plaintiffs’ claims and was applied by the Court. The case set numerous legal precedents during its 20-year history, during which it saw two trips to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (decided January 2007 and July 2011) and one to the Supreme Court (certiorari was denied in 2008). Each time, novel issues of foreign policy impact, extraterritorial jurisdiction, and choice of law were briefed and considered by the Court of Appeals. In August 2022, months before trial, the Court largely denied ExxonMobil’s motion for summary judgment, finding most of its arguments “entirely meritless.”
Paul Rusesabagina, et al. v. The Republic of Rwanda, et al. (D.D.C.): 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 for allegedly kidnapping Paul and taking him back to Rwanda, where he was imprisoned, tortured and subjected to a sham trial. Mr. Rusesabagina is perhaps best known for saving thousands of lives during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, a story that inspired the Academy-Award-nominated film, Hotel Rwanda. On March 16, 2023, the court held that three Rwandan officials must face plaintiffs’ claims. A week later, after negotiations with the White House, Rwanda released Paul and, after two-and-a-half years in captivity, he returned home to the United States.
News & INSIghtS
Today’s news, tomorrow’s change.
Agnieszka Fryszman on Holding U.S. Companies Accountable for Human Rights Violations Across Borders
The Legal 500
McDonald’s and Chuck E Cheese Tied to Alleged Foreign Worker Exploitation
Cohen Milstein Human Rights Practice Chair on Career Trajectory, Court Access and Crafting a Practice
The National Law Journal