Student Transport Vital to Unlocking the Promise of Education in South Africa

Via the International Human Rights Clinic
By Katie King, J.D. ’16

I’ve always loved school. Starting from a young age, I even loved the journey to get there. It was time spent with my siblings—an opportunity to tease each other and a chance to get a taste of what felt like the grown-up responsibility of walking alone.

Some students in Nqutu walk 20 miles to and from school.

Some students in Nqutu walk 20 miles to and from school.

The students in Nqutu, a small, rural area in eastern South Africa, are often just as excited as I was about school. However, as I heard during a trip there this past January with the International Human Rights Clinic, the morning starts for many of them at 4 or 5 a.m., when they wake to fetch water, let out their family’s cows, and help their younger siblings get ready. They then set off on a walk that often exceeds 10 miles.

They tease each other and gossip as I once did, doing their best to protect their uniforms and textbooks from the dirt and weather. But, as the students told us, by the time they arrive at school two hours later, their energy has worn off—and they are fully aware, as they do their best to pay attention in class, that they will have to repeat the journey all over again at the end of the day.

Factor in the additional risks of robbery, rape, snakebites, and treacherous river crossings, and it’s difficult for me to imagine that my five-year-old self would ever have been able to make it to school, let alone focus in class or have the time and energy to complete my homework, in similar conditions. I arrived well-rested and ready to learn. Can the same be said of Nqutu’s students?

Continue reading the full story here.

You can view more images from the Clinic’s recent trip in this slideshow.

Plaintiffs’ Victory Against Former Somali Prime Minister Allowed to Stand

CaptureVia the International Human Rights Clinic 

After 11 long years of litigation, plaintiffs from Somalia learned yesterday that their $21 million judgment for damages for torture and war crimes would stand. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the appeal of the defendant, General Mohamed Ali Samantar, a former Somali Prime Minister and Minister of Defense who was implicated in the abuses. Samantar, who now lives in Virginia, can make no additional appeals.

Beyond the victory for the plaintiffs, counsel from the Center for Justice & Accountability noted this ruling is critically important because it preserves a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found egregious rights violations cannot be considered “official acts” shielded by sovereign immunity.

The ruling comes amidst ongoing debate about how the United States should treat high-ranking former foreign government officials who are accused of human rights abuses and are now living in the United States. The International Human Rights Clinic and its partners have been involved since 2007 in one such case, Mamani et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, which brings Alien Tort Statute claims against the former President and the former Defense Minister of Bolivia for their role in extrajudicial killings in 2003. Last Friday, the Mamani plaintiffs filed a brief with the Eleventh Circuit opposing the defendants’ appeal, which is considering the issues of exhaustion of remedies and command responsibility.

Like Samantar, the defendants in Mamani came to the United States after leaving power, and have remained in the country ever since.

Lecturer on Law and Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty an Expert Recommended for the Aspen Security Forum

Bonnie Docherty, Lecturer on Law and Senior Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Clinic

Bonnie Docherty, Lecturer on Law and Senior Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Clinic

Via Just Security 

The Aspen Security Forum (ASF), the annual alpine conclave of the West’s national security elite, has become known as one of the foremost venues for shaping the dialogue on national security and foreign policy. The four-day event held every July at the Aspen Institute bills itself as the go-to place for luminaries from a wide-range of professional backgrounds “to answer critical questions about national and homeland security.”

Indeed, one of the most appealing things about the event is the fact that it’s one of the few security-related conferences where attendees have been able to find the director of the ACLU in the same room as the director of the NSA.

It’s for this reason that we are joining the voices calling for this year’s forum to feature more female leaders than it has in years past. ASF’s 2015 speakers list is so far dominated by (as in, consists entirely of) men who have long been in positions of power in the national security arena. To be fair, the forum’s organizers are still putting together the agenda for July’s event. With this in mind, we thought we’d recommend a number of women (in random order) who would add to the quality of the discourse at this year’s forum. It’s worth noting that despite their stature, none of the leaders listed below have yet appeared on stage at an ASF.

Bonnie Docherty — An expert on disarmament and international humanitarian law, Docherty is a senior researcher in the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch and a lecturer at law and senior clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. She, like Jody Williams, would bring an important perspective to any discussion about the human rights implications of automated weapons in conflict.

Continue reading here.

Clinic Files Opening Brief in Apartheid Litigation Appeal

CaptureVia the International Human Rights Clinic

The Clinic and our partners filed an opening brief yesterday in the Second Circuit in an appeal in In re South African Apartheid Litigation. The case, which is being litigated under the Alien Tort Statute, seeks relief against IBM and Ford for assisting and supporting human rights violations committed in apartheid South Africa.

Back in August, the district court dismissed the case when the court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file an amended complaint against these two U.S. Defendants. The lower court reasoned that the claims did not sufficiently “touch and concern” the territory of the United States, as required by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which established a presumption against extraterritoriality in ATS cases.

On appeal, Plaintiffs contend that the lower court failed to undertake the necessary inquiry into the U.S. Defendants’ own conduct in the United States, and instead focused only on actions that took place in South Africa. The proposed amended complaint contains detailed new allegations about how, from the United States, both Defendant corporations aided and abetted the South African security forces and government to commit human rights violations over several decades. Defendants will file their opposition brief in the coming months.

Clinical students Ariel Nelson, J.D. ’15, Brian Klosterboer, J.D. ’16, and Peter Stavros, J.D. ’16, contributed research and drafting for the brief.

Clinic and Partners Call on Myanmar Officials to Drop Charges against Father Complaining of Rights Violations

Via the International Human Rights Clinic

In a letter to Myanmar’s President Thein Sein on December 8, the International Human Rights Clinic and five leading international human rights organizations called for criminal charges to be immediately and unconditionally dropped against Shayam Brang Shawng, a resident of Kachin State in northern Myanmar. Brang Shawng is accused of making “false charges” in a complaint to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission about the alleged killing of his 14-year-old daughter, Ja Seng Ing, by Myanmar Army soldiers. A Myanmar Army officer initiated the case against Brang Shawng, and the action appears to be retaliatory in nature. The Myanmar government has not responded to a letter, reposted below, which the Clinic and its partners published today.

Continue reading the letter here.

Prosecutors Move to Reduce Incarceration at Aníbal Bruno Prison

Diário de Pernambuco reports on prosecutors’ Aníbal Bruno filing

Diário de Pernambuco reports on prosecutors’ Aníbal Bruno filing

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

Earlier this week, prosecutors took the extraordinary step of filing for judicial measures to decarcerate, reduce overcrowding, and ensure adequate healthcare at the notorious Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil. The request for interdição parcial(partial interdiction) of the pre-trial center cites Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights precautionary and provisional measures, respectively, as key motivators. The civil society coalition responsible for seeking and litigating these inter-American protective measures since 2011 is comprised of the Pastoral Carcerária (Catholic Prison Ministry), the Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões (Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons), Justiça Global (Global Justice), and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

Aníbal Bruno is one of the largest prisons in Latin America, and among the most abusive; it detains nearly 7,000 men in space officially designated for roughly 2,000. According to the prosecutors, “[t]he situation of overpopulation and overcrowding [at Aníbal Bruno Prison] runs counter to the model contemplated in the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José, Costa Rica) adopted 11/22/1969 and which Brazil ratified by means of Decree n. 678, with force of law in our State since 11/25/1992.”

Prosecutors requested 11 measures. Among them are limits on new entries to Aníbal Bruno Prison and transfers of qualifying prisoners out to halfway detention facilities (regime semiaberto), house arrest, or electronic monitoring. Prosecutors further asked for a daily computerized accounting of healthcare needs and treatment dates, as well as judicial review of any inability to schedule or receive medical attention. The filing also requests monthly monitoring meetings involving a host of institutions.

“We welcome the partial interdiction request as an important step in the right direction, though it falls well short of what is required, given that Aníbal Bruno Prison is fully, not partially, unfit for human habitation,” said Clinical Instructor Fernando Ribeiro Delgado.

The Pernambuco Prosecutor’s Office (Ministério Público) previously relied on the work of the civil society coalition in a 2012 inquiry into abuse at the prison. The Office noted then that, “if it were not for the courage and determination of [coalition] members, nothing that was here collected, such as hard-hitting evidence of practices of torture and ill-treatment, whether physical or psychological, would exist.”

Judge Luiz Gomes da Rocha Neto, responsible for evaluating the partial interdiction request, said he would make a statement in response today.

Update from Geneva: UN Committee Against Torture’s Review of the United States

Morgan Davis, JD ’15, addressed the U.S. delegation on behalf of Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions, a civil society group that includes the Clinic.

Morgan Davis, JD ’15, addressed the U.S. delegation on behalf of Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions, a civil society group that includes the Clinic.

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

Earlier today in Geneva, in advance of the UN Committee Against Torture’s formal review of the United States, Morgan Davis, JD ’15, spoke to the U.S. delegation, pointing to its lack of engagement with the issue of senior-level accountability for post-9/11 torture. She spoke on behalf of Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions, a civil society group that includes the International Human Rights Clinic, drawing from the group’s prepared comments, reprinted below.

“To truly move forward, we have to start by being honest,” she said. “The decision to shield senior-level government officials is not about law or justice; it’s about politics.”

The Committee will have the chance to raise this question with the U.S. government at tomorrow’s formal review.

Continue reading the full story here.