Alberto Kattan: Public Interest Law Martyr

Alberto The following are words in remembrance for Alberto Kattan, certainly the most famous environmental lawyer in Latin America.

24 August 1993 From: John Bonine

     Alberto Kattan died early this morning, in a hospital in
     Buenos Aires.  He had heart attacks, and efforts to revive
     him were not successful.

     Dr. Kattan (or Alberto, as he would insist on being
     called) was probably the more important and creative
     environmental lawyer in Latin America, and an inspiration
     to his many friends and colleagues in other parts of the

     His passing leaves a hole in the hearts of many, but they
     will surely resolve to carry on his work with renewed
     determination, so that a healthy environment will become
     his greatest monument.

     Before turning to the protection of the environments about
     one decade ago, Alberto was one of the most courageous
     human rights lawyers in Latin America.  Human rights
     workers throughout the Americas know about Kattan.  They
     also know that he was kinapped and tortured by the
     military regime in Argentina in the late 1970s, and that
     President Jimmy Carter personally intervened to rescue

     But Alberto never wanted others to talk of these things.
     "They are not important.  I am not important," he would
     say.  Many disagreed with him on that, but all agreed that
     his legacy to citizen access to the judicial systems in
     Latin America for enforcement of environmental rights was
     something that is extraordinarily important -- and will
     remain so for years to come.

     Alberto personally conceived of the idea of "acciones
     difusas" (diffuse, or popular, or people's legal actions).
     He went to court against the Argentine military government
     in the early 1980s and said that as an ordinary citizen he
     had the right to act as a legal owner, in effect, of the
     public dominion ("dominio publico"), under ancient Roman
     law.  Therefore, he had the right to sue in court in its
     behalf.  He fought first for penguins, then for dolphinfs,
     then for historical preservation.

     He persuaded the courts of Argentina to ban the use of the
     pesticides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D ("Agent Orange").  He was the
     first lawyer in the world to get a court order banning
     tobacco advertising on the ground that it involved the
     advertising of toxicsubstances (for which the World Health
     Organization gave him recognition).

     But Alberto was much, much more than a lawyer.  He was a
     student of literature.  He loved poetry.  He had a
     night-time radio program to discuss these and other
     things, not law.

     Mostly, though, Alberto was a human with the biggest heart
     you could imagine.  He would accept no money for his
     public-interest cases.  He would sit up late at night
     discussing philosophy.  And he conveyed love to those
     around him.  Sure, he could be a hard teacher, a demanding
     mentor.  But he wanted people -- particularly younger
     people -- to reach farther and farther -- intellectually
     and emotionally.

     No one who knew Alberto will ever forget him.  What is
     important also is that we rededicate our work to the
     ideals for which he stood:  human dignity, human rights,
     creative work, and the rights to environmental quality
     found in more and more consttutions around the world.

     Our own work as lawyers will be his epitaph.

From: (Ecuadorian lawyer Byron Real)

(Correo General) Subject: ALBERTO: Requiescat in pace

Dear Friends:
     Because of technical problems in our e-mail system, we
only knew about Alberto's death in the last few days.  It was
a very hard shock for Marcela and me because since five years
ago Alberto was a special friend of us.  We always think that
he have to be a part of E-LAW, so we introduced Alberto in the
net because, in our opinion, his style as a lawyer and as
environmental fighter are the correct way to practice public
interest law.  I remember that Alberto always said: "we, the
lawyers, have only one weapon: the law, so we have to use that
in the courts".   That is the chalenge of our environmental
     Our first time that meeting with Alberto, in Quito in
1988, was in the first public interest law conference in
Ecuador.  I knew him from a magazine in which he was
interviewed in 1982.  In 1988 he was a Secretary of
Argentinian Comission of Hydric Affairs and come to Quito to
participate in the conference.  In that year Alberto looked
healthy, but three years after when I visited him in Buenos
Aires, he was very changed in his appearance, I almost 
did not recognize him because he was very skinny.  I asked him
whats happen, and he told me that his days are numbered because
of health problems.
     As a lawyer, he was very creative and could use every
part of the law to obtain the goal of protect the nature. He
offered us valuables ideas to present the Yasuni's case in the
Tribunal and our dream was to present together (Alberto,
Marcela and I) an international case for the traffic in the
Third World of banned medicines and toxics. In the last
meeting in Eugene we talk  about this idea and we thought that
it could be possible to present in the same day (maybe in
Earth Day) a lawsuit in every country in which E-LAW has an
office or friends. 
     Some days before Alberto's death, I sent him my last book
in wich I wrote: to the first Environmental Lawyer in Latin

     Marcela and I, are agree with John's thought: our work
will be the best epitaph to our dear friend Alberto.

CORDAVI - Corporacion de Defensa de la Vida
E-LAW Ecuador - Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide
(Alianza Mundial de Derecho Ambiental)  Quito - ECUADOR

Commemoration; First National Congress of Environmental Law, 

Amigos, I wrote this in Argentina, and am only uploading it now.

August 27, 1993

To:  Amigos
Fr:  John Bonine
Re:  First National Congress of Environmental Law, Argentina

     DAY 1 & Commemoration of Alberto Kattan (27 Aug. 93)

Friends, amigos, Alberto Kattan's death has left a gaping hole in
the hearts of many people.  I considered him a personal and
important friend, as I am sure others did too.  Alberto is, I
believe, the first person in our international personal (and
electronic) family of amigos devoted to protecting the
environment -- our network -- to leave us through death.

The impact of his life -- and of his passing -- is best
understood, however, by being here at this time in the country
that he loved so much.  One of Alberto's students, Ms. Andreas
Frascarelli, stopped me on the street yestrday to pass along some
personal words to me from Alberto near the end, in the hospital. 
She was with him almost at the very end.  Neither of us could
hold back our tears.  

In a sense, this first Argentine gathering on environmental law
has turned into a commemoration of his work.  Listening to the
words, and looking at the faces of the environmental law and
public-interest community of Argentina, at this conference brings
home how crucially important his work has been in this major
Latin American country.  (In turn, that makes me think of how
important the work of each of us is in each of our own
countries.)  Practically every speaker has included references to
Kattan's pioneering work, as part of his or her presentation. 
There have also been many personal comments about Alberto as a
human being.

Most moving, however, was the first Plenary Session of the
congress.  In the program, that first session reads this way:

     Sesio'n Plearia:  Disertacio'n del Dr. ALBERTO KATTAN:
     "Integracio'n de Conceptos en la Politica Ambiental."

The session began with Dra. Susana Castiglione giving her
personal remembrances of Alberto, including comments about what
he had taught her, and the history of his important and famous
cases to protect people's health and environment.  The origin of
his famous legal action that led to the banning of radio and
television advertising of cigarettes (because they were found to
be "toxic substances," for which advertising is not permitted by
law) was a trip that he made to Costa Rica.  

During that trip just a few years ago, he saw an advertising sign
directed at promoting cigarette smoking among young women.  The
sign said, "Your first cigarette is like your first bra."  He was
outraged, and returned to Argentina to look for a way to prohibit
such advertising.

Susana said that Alberto Kattan had taught her that "there are
only two ways to live -- by looking inside of yourself, or by
looking outside of yourself" in order to serve others.  He chose
the latter.  Susana said "Alberto never sold himself."  He was
offered many public posts and a lot of money to work for a law
firm, but chose to remain free and independent from such
institutions.  (Of course, he was also offered money to stop his
cases, and personal threats when the money didn't work, but he
continued on.)

After Susana concluded her remarks, three of Alberto's current or
former students came to the stage and each read a part of the
presentation that Alberto had prepared for this conference.  It
was remarkable and impressive to see the poise and self-assurance
of each of them, but you could also see that they were struggling
to control their personal thoughts.  Then an additional chair was
brought to the stage, and Alberto's son, Patricio, came up.

Patricio Kattan found it difficult to speak, but he did so.  He
talked of "Papa" as a human and a father, not as a lawyer. 
Nobody could have had a better father, he said.  He remembered
Alberto as a man who set an example of complete honesty and
complete integrity.  He remembered him as a person who loved
other people.

I don't remember if it was Patricio or Susana who said this, but
this serves as a fitting guide for all of us:

     "Alberto said that when you open your eyes it is a
     commitment.  You can never close them again."

Finally, one of Alberto's recent students talked with great
fervor about the need to pick up a "weapon" to defend the
environment.  Explaining himself, he said:  "Everyday work is
going to be our only weapon."

This First National Congress of Environmental Law was Alberto's
idea, and he was on the organizing committee.  He and his
protege', Susana Castiglione, were two of the four persons on the
commitee that selected speakers.  (The Congreso lasts for three
days.)  Their influence, and the example of other conferences
that each of us has been involved in, is also shown by the fact
that attached to this congreso, and as part of its program, is
the Primer Encuentro de ONGs Ambientales (First Meeting of
Environmental NGOs of Argentina), also here in San Luis at this
time.  The attendance at this conference is quite large, and all
participants are wearing a red ribbon to show solidarity in the
fight against AIDS (SIDA).

The other main speaker yesterday evening was Dr. Oscar Garzon
Funes, the judge who decided many of Alberto's cases.  His
presentation was entitled, "Derechos Colectivos e Intereses
Difusos;  Acciones;  Antecedentes."  The judge talked about
Alberto as a friend, and then (the judge being an expert in Roman
law), talked about the roots of the "diffuse action" concept in
Roman law.  For your recollection, Alberto's cases included
     *    Accion difusas to protect penguins (1981).
     *    Accion difusas to protect dolphins (this was the first
          case that Dr. Garzon  decided in this line, and
          established "diffuse actions" as a part of Argentine
     *    Suit stopping destruction of Argentina's most famous
          historical mansion.
     *    Banning of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D in Argentina.
     *    Banning of tobacco advertising on radio and television.
     *    Suit to prohibit pharmaceuticals in Argentina that are
          prohibited in country of origin.
     *    The current highway case (which Susana will continue).
Alberto Kattan: In Memoria, by Jorge Gutierrez, Peru

Para:  John Bonine (E-LAW US)
De:  Jorge Gutierrez S. (E-LAW Peru)
Asunto:  Alberto Kattan
Fecha:  September 05, 1993


Here is the English version of the message I wrote on the memory
of Alberto.  I am including the Spanish version also since it
wasn't posted before.

Esta es la traduccion al ingles del mensaje que escribi en
memoria de Alberto.  Tambien incluyo la version en castellano ya
que no ha aparecido en elaw.amigos anteriormente.





Alberto Kattan has died.  Perhaps, for some of us, Alberto leaved
before we were able to know him beyond his professional facet. 
However, his struggle in defense of life and nature testify of a
great sensibility.  The nature of his cases reveal he made of the
defense of those who can't speak for themselves a personal duty,
and participation of Lawyers in the fight for a better world, a
moral commandment.

Present and future generations had in Alberto an anonymous
champion.  Alberto took representation of his fellow citizens
and fought against pollution and destruction of the wilderness
using the only arms he got: truth and Law.  He advocated for
dolphins, penguins and man itself, challenging powerful economic
groups promoting ills such as tobacco addiction or the use of
lethal poisons like 2,4-D around the world.

We met Alberto in 1992 and he became part of our network.  In
E-LAW he found people from different parts of the world, who keep
the defense of life as their personal cause just like him.  I
believe he felt himself identified with this group and think that
somehow we have been posthumously entrusted by him to watch for
the values and principles he courageously advocated.

Jorge Gutierrez S.
    E-LAW Peru



Alberto Kattan ha muerto.  Talvez, para algunos de nosotros, se
fue sin que hayamos podido conocerlo mas alla de su faceta
profesional. Sin embargo, sus acciones en defensa de la vida y la
naturaleza dan testimonio de su gran sensibilidad.  Los casos que
llevo ante los tribunales reflejan que el habia hecho de la
defensa de quienes no tienen voz propia, una obligacion; y de la
participacion del abogado en el logro de un mundo mejor, un
imperativo etico.

La presente y las futuras generaciones han tenido en el un
defensor anonimo.  Alberto asumio la representacion de sus
conciudadanos y lucho contra la polucion y la depredacion de la
naturaleza con las unicas armas que tenia: la razon y el derecho. 
Defendio a los delfines y a los pinguinos, y al propio hombre al
enfrentarse a los poderosos intereses que promocionan el
tabaquismo o la utilizacion de venemos mortales como el 2,4-D,
alrededor del mundo.

En 1992 lo conocimos y paso a formar parte de la red
internacional de E-LAW donde encontro personas de diversas partes
del mundo que, como el, habian hecho de la defensa de la vida su
causa.  Creo que Alberto se sintio idenficado con este grupo y de
alguna manera, pienso, que los que formamos parte de el hemos
recibido el postumo encargo de velar por los valores que con
valentia y profesionalismo el supo defender.

Jorge Gutierrez S.
    E-LAW Peru

John E. Bonine