Seeking justice after murder of environmental activist

Awaiting a decision by the IACHR on admissibility of the case.

Brutal killing at hands of Georgia State Patrol represents escalation of state governments repressing first amendment rights.

In January 2023, Manuel Paez “Tortuguita” Terán was killed while peacefully protesting the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Known as Cop City, the 85-acre project is expected to cost nearly $110 million and will be one of the largest and most expensive law enforcement militarization facilities in the world. Manuel, who identified as non-binary, was the first environmental activist in U.S. history killed by law enforcement while protesting.

Manuel was protesting officials’ plans to raze large portions of Atlanta’s South River/Weelaunee Forest to make room for Cop City, standing up for neighboring Black and brown communities that would bear the brunt of environmental destruction. The Stop Cop City activists, who oppose the construction of a police military facility that will be used to practice urban warfare, have faced extreme abuses of law enforcement powers, including wrongful arrests, domestic terrorism charges, intimidation, and the tragic loss of a 26-year-old’s life.

Officials have refused to seek accountability from the police officers responsible for Manuel’s murder. Instead, they have engaged in a public smear campaign to portray Manuel as a violent criminal, releasing pages of their confiscated diary for use in a criminal conspiracy indictment against their fellow protestors. Belkis Terán, Manuel’s mother, suffered exceptional emotional harm as a result of the state’s propaganda campaign and failure to conduct a thorough investigation into what occurred on the day her son was murdered.

Why is This a Key Case?

The brutal murder of Tortuguita is emblematic of an alarming pattern in the United States of suppression of civic space and unchecked police terror carried out against civilians, where, since 2020, cities across the country have reckoned with mass organized demonstrations related to the state-sanctioned killings of Black people. The coordinated assault on the Stop Cop City activists in Georgia, and Manuel’s murder, escalates police efforts to repress First Amendment rights to assemble and express views through protest.

How is RFK Human Rights supporting Tortuguita’s case?

In April 2024, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Southern Center for Human Rights, and the University of Dayton Human Rights Center filed a petition on behalf of Tortuguita and their mother, Belkis Terán, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The petition declares, in part, that the United States violated Manuel’s rights to life and personal security and Belkis’s rights to mental and moral integrity and the truth of what happened to her son.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Manuel Esteban Paez Terán and Belkis Terán v. United States of America

Date of filing

April 5, 2024

Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (OR found to have been violated)

Articles I, IV, V, X, XVIII, XXI, XXII, XXV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man

Procedural stage

Pending admissibility


RFKHR, Southern Center for Human Rights, University of Dayton

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