UCI Law’s International Justice Clinic files amicus brief on behalf of UN rights experts in landmark surveillance case

Nov. 7, 2016

UCI Law’s International Justice Clinic (IJC), directed by Professor David Kaye, filed an amicus brief on behalf of a group of United Nations human rights experts in Kidane v. Ethiopia, a landmark surveillance case before the U.S. Court of Appeals (D.C. Circuit). The brief urges the Court to grant an Ethiopian American activist the right to sue the Government of Ethiopia for secretly monitoring his online activity for almost five months.   

The activist, who uses the pseudonym “Kidane,” was born in Ethiopia and granted asylum in the United States in the early 1990s. He currently lives in Maryland and is now an American citizen, but he continues to support members of Ethiopia’s democratic opposition movement. From October 2012 to March 2013, Ethiopia reportedly infected Kidane’s computer with malware and intercepted and recorded his online activities, including his Skype calls, e-mails and web-browsing history. Earlier this year, the District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Kidane has appealed the decision before the D.C. Circuit.

The amicus brief was filed on behalf of Professor Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“The United States has an obligation to ensure respect for human rights under international law, and providing Kidane with access to legal process will give effect to that obligation,” said Professor Kaye. “The Court’s decision will have major repercussions for the ability of individuals to seek redress for human rights violations in domestic courts.”

IJC’s Ford Foundation Fellow Amos Toh, and IJC students Stephen Suk ’18 and Reeti Patel ’18 provided drafting and research support on a wide range of international law and human rights issues, and coordinated the amicus effort with Kidane’s counsel.

“Kidane’s allegations are part of a broader trend of digital attacks targeting human rights defenders, activists, journalists and other vulnerable groups, both in Ethiopia and abroad,” said Toh. “Providing Kidane with a forum for redress will send a strong global signal against such attacks.”

Said Suk: “Working on this brief was an invaluable experience in understanding how to advocate for human rights in American courts. I hope the U.S. can capitalize on this unique opportunity to protect freedom of expression and to lead the effort against new and evolving threats to human rights.”

“The Internet is a wonderful tool through which to access and impart information, but when governments use it for unchecked monitoring, fundamental human rights are threatened, said Patel. “This experience has been incredibly challenging yet rewarding considering my passion for human rights law.”

Kidane is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Robins Kaplan LLP, and Guernica 37: International Justice Chambers. For more information, please see EFF’s case page.

For media and other inquiries, please contact:

Amos Toh
IJC Fellow and Legal Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression