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Advancing Human Rights at Home and Abroad

Professor William Aceves

Summer 2020 was a busy time for Professor William Aceves.

In addition to his teaching, research, and service responsibilities as the Dean Steven R. Smith Professor of Law at California Western, Aceves was involved in several pro bono activities that reflect his commitment to public service and interest in the law's practical application.

As a scholar of international law and human rights, Aceves submitted an expert declaration on behalf of the plaintiffs in Black Lives Matter Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles, which addressed international restrictions on the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

In his declaration, Aceves examined the allegations regarding law enforcement actions against individuals engaged in peaceful demonstrations, including the use of excessive force by police. Aceves argued that international law places strict limits on the ability of law enforcement officials to use force against demonstrators. These rules even apply when police use so-called less lethal force, such as rubber bullets.

“While this lawsuit involves the actions of police in Los Angeles, the same tactics have been used against demonstrators throughout the United States,” says Aceves. “To use force against peaceful demonstrators is antithetical to democratic principles, including freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly.”

In other pro bono activities, Professor Aceves served as counsel to several international law scholars in an amicus brief filed with the Taiwan Supreme Court that addressed the permissibility of extraterritorial litigation. He wrote and submitted another amicus brief to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on corporate liability under international law. He is now working on a similar brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving corporate complicity in the use of child slave labor.

“Corporations have extraordinary power,” says Aceves. “These lawsuits seek to hold corporations accountable when they abuse their power.”

In addition to litigation, Professor Aceves was appointed the Board Chair of the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA). He has served on the CJA Board for the past 15 years.

CJA’s mission is to deter torture, genocide, crimes against humanity, and other severe human rights abuses around the world through innovative litigation, public advocacy, and transitional justice strategies.

“CJA’s work is deeply meaningful because it is a client-centered organization,” says Aceves. “It empowers survivors of human rights abuses by lifting their voices in the fight for justice.”

A tireless advocate for human rights and social justice, Professor Aceves continues to serve as the Ombudsperson for Amnesty International USA and on the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he also serves on the Executive Committee.