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UW CHR v. CIA FOIA Lawsuit Media Advisory

September 30, 2015

University of Washington Center for Human Rights sues CIA under Freedom of Information Act

Lawsuit seeks release of documents relating to wartime atrocities in El Salvador

Who: University of Washington Center for Human Rights and Human Rights Institute of the Central American University (IDHUCA)

What: Announcement of lawsuit in bi-national press conference, followed by one-day conference on “Access to Information as a Human Right” at UW School of Law

When: Monday, October 5, 9:00am Pacific Time Zone

Where: Seattle: UW School of Law Room 115
San Salvador: UCA, Auditorio Julia Elba y Celina Ramos (Edificio de Aulas D), San Salvador

Why: On Friday, October 2, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UW CHR) will file suit against the CIA alleging noncompliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in response to the Center’s requests for the declassification of U.S. government documents relating to human rights violations committed during the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992).

Contact: Phil Neff, UWCHR,, 206 434 2475 (cell), 206 221-2031 (office)

On December 15, 2013, the UW CHR submitted a FOIA request seeking the declassification of CIA documents relating to retired Salvadoran military officer and politician Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez. Ochoa Pérez is the subject of open criminal complaints in El Salvador relating to his role as commanding officer in military operations which resulted in grave human rights violations. These include the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre, in which dozens of fleeing civilians were killed by troops under his command. On December 30, 2013 the CIA responded that it could “neither confirm nor deny” the existence of records, citing national security exemptions.

The UW CHR’s lawsuit alleges that the CIA has failed to meet its legal obligations under FOIA; among other arguments, the UW CHR cites some 20 previously declassified CIA documents relating to Ochoa Pérez. The Center’s lawsuit also challenges the CIA’s denial of records relating to UCLA Professor Philippe Bourgois, who survived the Santa Cruz massacre while conducting field study as a graduate student in 1981.

During the October 5 conference at the UW School of Law in Seattle, participants, including survivors of the Santa Cruz massacre and internationally recognized experts in human rights, will argue on behalf of “Access to Information as a Human Right,” especially in regards to cases of grave human rights violations.

Additional press materials:

Interview opportunities in Seattle:

  • Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, Director of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights
  • Mina Manuchehri, UW Law School student and UWCHR Lead FOIA Researcher, co-plaintiff in UWCHR lawsuit
  • Mirla Carbajal, lawyer with the Institute of Human Rights at the Central American University in San Salvador, representing survivors of the Santa Cruz massacre in criminal case in El Salvador
  • Dina Cabrera, survivor of the Santa Cruz massacre
  • Philippe Bourgois, survivor of the Santa Cruz massacre, Professor of Psychiatry and Anthropology at UCLA
  • Thomas Burke, special assistant attorney general to the University of Washington

Interviews with participants in San Salvador press conference available via Skype connection.

Interviews with participants in “Access to Information as a Human Right” conference available by request.