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Tag: International Human Rights Clinic (page 1 of 3)

New Joint Report on Civilian Harm from Explosive Weapons

Via International Human Rights Clinic

(Geneva, June 19, 2015) – Extensive civilian casualties caused by the use of explosive weapons in towns and cities around the globe show the urgent need for countries to agree to curb the use of these weapons in populated areas, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Remains of the Luhansk airport terminal in eastern Ukraine, which was destroyed by repeated use of explosive weapons. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

Remains of the Luhansk airport terminal
in eastern Ukraine, which was destroyed by
repeated use of explosive weapons. © 2014
Human Rights Watch

Air-dropped bombs, artillery projectiles, mortars, rockets, and other explosive weapons kill or injure tens of thousands of civilians every year. In the first half of 2015, Human Rights Watch documented incidents involving the use of explosive weapons that claimed civilian lives and destroyed vital infrastructure in populated areas of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere.

The 35-page report, “Making a Commitment: Paths to Curbing the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas,” published jointly with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, says that countries should develop and implement a new non-binding agreement to reduce the harm from explosive weapons and offers options for developing such an agreement.

“The high levels of civilian death and destruction from explosive weapons are avoidable,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “Nations should agree to curtail the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and stop using those with wide-area effects entirely.”

Continue reading the full story here.

Joint Publication Released on Encryption, Online Anonymity and Human Rights

CaptureVia International Human Rights Clinic

The International Human Rights Clinic and Privacy International released a publication today that examines the vital role that encryption and anonymity tools and services play in safeguarding human rights. The 30-page publication, “Securing Safe Spaces Online: encryption, online anonymity, and human rights,” complements a landmark report by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.

Kaye’s report, which he will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva today, calls on states to ensure security and privacy online by providing “comprehensive protection” through encryption and anonymity tools.

The clinic’s joint publication explores measures that restrict online encryption and anonymity in four particular countries – Morocco, Pakistan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. In all four countries, these restrictions impede private and secure online communication and inhibit free expression. The publication also points to opportunities for governments, the corporate sector, and civil society to eliminate or minimize obstacles to use of encryption and online anonymity.

The Clinic’s collaboration with Privacy International dates back to last fall, when we supported a coalition of NGOs calling for the creation of a new Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy. In March 2015, the Human Rights Council established this new Special Rapporteur.

The Clinic began work on the encryption and anonymity publication this past spring. Clinical students Sarah Lee, JD ’16, and Mark Verstraete, JD ’16, worked on the publication throughout the semester and participated in a meeting of Privacy International’s global partners in April.

Clinic Files Reply Brief in Apartheid Litigation Appeal

CaptureVia International Human Rights Clinic

Yesterday, the Clinic and our partners filed a reply brief in In re South African Apartheid Litigation, currently on appeal before the Second Circuit. The case, which is being litigated under the Alien Tort Statute, brings claims against Ford and IBM for the assistance and support they provided to the apartheid government and security forces to commit human rights violations against black South Africans.

At issue in the appeal is whether the Plaintiffs will be allowed to file their proposed amended complaints so that the case can proceed. In order to do so, the claims must “touch and concern” the territory of the United States with sufficient force, as mandated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

Plaintiffs argue that they meet this standard because the proposed amended complaints contain detailed and specific allegations of the ways in which both Defendants, in the United States, took actions to aid and abet the South African government and security forces. For example, the complaints allege that, in the United States, IBM developed hardware and software systems used to produce identity documents that stripped black South Africans of their citizenship and that Ford, in the United States, made decisions not only to sell but also to specialize vehicles used by the South African security forces to oppress and control the black population.

Oral argument before the Second Circuit will be heard on June 24, and a decision is expected later this year.

Susan Farbstein appointed Clinical Professor

Farbstein_Susan

Assistant Clinical Professor
Susan H. Farbstein ’04

Via HLS News

Susan Farbstein ’04 has been appointed Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic, Farbstein has been an assistant clinical professor at HLS since 2012.

Farbstein’s current work focuses on Southern Africa, transitional justice, Alien Tort Statute litigation, community lawyering, and economic, social, and cultural rights. She is an expert on South Africa, having worked on a variety of human rights and transitional justice issues in that country for nearly 15 years. Her writing has been published in scholarly journals, including the Harvard Law Review and the Harvard International Law Journal, as well as The New York Times and SCOTUSBlog.

“Susan is a true leader in human rights and transitional justice, and she is also an amazing teacher,” said Martha Minow, Harvard Law School Dean. “Her innovative work spans social and economic rights in South Africa, transitional justice issues in Africa and Asia, and Alien Tort litigation in the United States. Susan’s devotion to students and tireless, imaginative work makes her an outstanding member of this community and the entire human rights community.”

Continue reading the full story here.

From Bosnia to Somalia: Classifying “Involvement” in Armed Conflict

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

The laws governing armed conflict may seem simple on the surface. Soldiers can be targeted; civilians cannot. But the line between these groups is blurry and can have life-and-death implications.

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, civilians can be intentionally killed if they “directly participate in hostilities.” But what does direct participation mean? What if a civilian feeds combatants, drives members of an armed group, provides equipment or intelligence, or takes up arms to protect family members? Does it matter if involvement was voluntary or forced? Do such actions mean the civilian can be lawfully targeted?

CIVICCoverA new 84-page report, to which the International Human Rights Clinic contributed a case study, takes a fresh look at this contentious issue. The People’s Perspectives: Civilian Involvement in Armed Conflict, released Tuesday by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), documents the experiences of people in four former or current conflict zones: Bosnia, Libya, Gaza, and Somalia. It does not seek to come up with a conclusive definition of direct participation in hostilities. Instead, it aims to inform the debate among military commanders, lawyers, academics, and other experts by adding the voices of those who have lived through war.

The report finds that civilians become involved in conflict in a number of ways, ranging from fighting to providing logistical support to membership in civil defense forces or political parties. While sometimes voluntary, their involvement is often motivated by threats from armed groups or the need to survive. The people CIVIC interviewed had varied understandings of who is a civilian and who is a combatant and found it difficult to delineate the difference. They agreed, however, that the legal status that derives from involvement can not only determine whether civilians are targeted but also affect their lives long after a conflict ends.

Continue reading the full story here.

New Publication Examines Different Approaches to Assisting Victims of Armed Conflict and Armed Violence”

Via the International Human Rights Clinic

(Cambridge, MA, April 30, 2015) – Mitigating the human costs of armed conflict and armed violence has become a moral and legal imperative over the past two decades. Within the international community, several strategies for helping civilian victims have emerged. A publication, released this week by Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program and Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), seeks to advance understanding and promote collaboration among leaders in the field.

AcknowledgeAmendAssist-compressedcover-212x300The 28-page report, Acknowledge, Amend, Assist: Addressing Civilian Harm Caused by Armed Conflict and Armed Violence, examines a range of current approaches: casualty recording, civilian harm tracking, making amends, transitional justice, and victim assistance. In so doing, the report illuminates their commonalities and differences and analyzes the difficulties they face individually and collectively.

“These programs all provide valuable assistance to civilian victims, but they have yet to be viewed holistically,” said Bonnie Docherty, editor of the volume and lecturer on law in the Human Rights Program. “A comparative look at the approaches could help reduce overlapping efforts and identify gaps that should be closed.”

Continue reading the full story here.

Harvard Law champions entrepreneurship and innovation

A native of California who came to HLS with an interest in startups and business, Shant Hagopian ’15 gave legal advice to entrepreneurs as a student in the Transactional Law Clinic during his 2L year. Shortly thereafter, he co-founded Virtudent, a tele-dentistry startup designed to increase oral health care access for underserved populations. Credit: Heratch Photography

A native of California who came to HLS with an interest in startups and business, Shant Hagopian ’15 gave legal advice to entrepreneurs as a student in the Transactional Law Clinic during his 2L year. Shortly thereafter, he co-founded Virtudent, a tele-dentistry startup designed to increase oral health care access for underserved populations.
Credit: Heratch Photography

Via HLS News

The moment Shant Hagopian ’15 stepped through the doors of the Harvard Innovation Lab, the air was abuzz with the energy of wildly creative ideas, and he knew Harvard Law School had been the right choice for him.

“The first time I walked into the i-lab I thought, ‘Wow, this is a really cool place,’” says Hagopian, a native of California who came to HLS with an interest in startups and business. “The i-lab brings together students from many different academic backgrounds to launch their ideas for how the world should look in the future.”

The i-lab, a collaborative workspace and idea incubator at Harvard University which champions entrepreneurship and innovation, connects students, faculty, and other creative idea-makers from across the university to resources, thought leaders, and funding sources. Since launching in 2011, it has drawn scores of law students who’ve worked on a wide variety of cutting-edge projects—some law-related, and many not.

Credit: Martha Stewart Chris Bavitz, Clinical Professor of Law and managing director of the HLS Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Credit: Martha Stewart
Chris Bavitz, Clinical Professor of Law and managing director of the HLS Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society

“Anyone with a Harvard ID can tap in, sit down, and do their thing,” says Chris Bavitz, Clinical Professor of Law and managing director of the HLS Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Dean’s Designate to the i-lab. “That means anything from having shared space to work to looking at a physical bulletin board where people are looking for a software developer or lawyer. Nearly every night of the week, there’s programming about venture capital or how to deal with employment issues or any number of other legal and business concerns that startups face.”

As a 2L in the HLS Transactional Law Clinics , which holds office hours at the i-lab where law students give legal advice to entrepreneurs, Hagopian found himself wanting to make the leap to the other side and become an entrepreneur himself.

Just a few months later, he did—as a co-founder of Virtudent, a tele-dentistry startup created by a friend, Dr. Hitesh Tolani, a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Hagopian introduced Virtudent to the i-lab, where doors quickly opened and connections were made. Last year, Virtudent, designed to increase oral health care access for underserved populations, was a finalist in the 2014 President’s Challenge, which offers a $100,000 prize for the most innovative idea for solving a complex societal problem. Though it didn’t win the grand prize, Virtudent received initial funding from Harvard and will soon be rolling out.

Continue reading the full story here.

Australian Radio Interviews Tyler Giannini on Mining Company Settlement with Rape Survivors

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

Earlier this week, Australian radio interviewed Tyler Giannini about a significant development in the world of business and human rights: one of the world’s largest mining companies, Barrick Gold, recently settled claims with a group of women in Papua New Guinea who were raped by the company’s security guards. The settlement, negotiated by EarthRights International, came as the women were preparing to file suit.

The International Human Rights Clinic has been investigating abuses around the Porgera mine for several years, along with NYU’s Global Justice Clinic and Columbia’s Human Rights Clinic. Reports of rape around the mine in the highlands of Papua New Guinea date back to at least 2006, but the company did not acknowledge them for years.

In 2012, the company set up a complaint mechanism, which Tyler describes in the interview as inadequate. Initially, the company was preparing to offer the women who stepped forward a compensation package of used clothing and chickens. At the urging of advocates, including the Clinic, the company later revised its offer, and more than 100 women accepted the settlement.

EarthRights represented a group that did not agree to settle through the company’s complaint mechanism. At least one woman described the original settlement offers as “offensive.”

“If you have settlements that aren’t really getting to justice, the discourse with the community is not really healed, and you don’t get real reconciliation,” Tyler said in the interview. “That’s not good for the company, that’s not good for the survivors, and I think that’s one of the lessons that needs to be taken away.”

Listen to the full 7 minute interview here

Clinic and HRW Release Report: “Mind the Gap: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots”

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

(Geneva, April 9, 2015) – Programmers, manufacturers, and military personnel could all escape liability for unlawful deaths and injuries caused by fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report was issued in advance of a multilateral meeting on the weapons at the United Nations in Geneva.

RobotCoverThe 38-page report, “Mind the Gap: The Lack of Accountability for Killer Robots,” details significant hurdles to assigning personal accountability for the actions of fully autonomous weapons under both criminal and civil law. It also elaborates on the consequences of failing to assign legal responsibility. The report is jointly published by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.

“No accountability means no deterrence of future crimes, no retribution for victims, no social condemnation of the responsible party,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior Arms Division researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s lead author. “The many obstacles to justice for potential victims show why we urgently need to ban fully autonomous weapons.”

Fully autonomous weapons would go a step beyond existing remote-controlled drones as they would be able to select and engage targets without meaningful human control. Although they do not exist yet, the rapid movement of technology in that direction has attracted international attention and concern.

Continue reading the full story here.

Clinic Op-Ed Published in Myanmar Media: “How One Father’s Letters Got Him Convicted”

CaptureVia the International Human Rights Clinic 

We’re pleased to report that The Irrawaddy, an online news magazine in Myanmar, has just published “How One Father’s Letters Got Him Convicted,” an Op-Ed by Matt Thiman, JD ’16, Courtney Svoboda, JD ’16, and Tyler Giannini. The piece tells the story of Brang Shawng, a grieving father whose request for an investigation into his daughter’s death led to charges from the Myanmar military. The Clinic was among several organizations in December to sign an open letter to the President of Mynamar, requesting that all charges be dropped.

The piece begins:

Shortly after his daughter’s death, Brang Shawng sat down to write the first of two letters that would eventually get him convicted. He wrote to the president of Myanmar first, and then to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, wanting to know what had happened to his daughter, whom he believed had been shot by the Myanmar military.

“A submission is made with great respect,” he wrote to the president, “to find out the truth in connection with the killing, without a reason, of an innocent student, my daughter Ma Ja Seng Ing, who wore a white and green school uniform.”

In the letter, he recalled the day in his village clearly. It was Sept. 13, 2012, in an area of conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar military in the north of the country. A column of Myanmar Army soldiers had been in the village since before dawn. Late that afternoon, as the column was preparing to leave, there was a loud bomb blast. Then suddenly, soldiers shooting, and the sound of shouting and crying as villagers tried to take cover.

“It was just like the end of the world,” Brang Shawng wrote.

He hid with his wife and two children in their home. But one of their children was not with them: his 14-year-old daughter, Ja Seng Ing.

Read the full article in The Irrawaddy, an online outlet covering Myanmar and Southeast Asia

What’s So Bad About a 10-Mile Walk to School?

Via the International Human Rights Clinic
By David Victorson, J.D. ’16

A few weeks ago the Harvard Human Rights Program tweeted about the fact that many students in rural South Africa have to walk more than 20km each day to get to and from school. They cross rugged mountains and flooded rivers. They navigate dangerous highways and treacherous weather. They face physical injury and emotional harm.

Surprisingly, shortly after we posted our tweet, a small number of Twitter users pushed back. One accused us of ignoring how lucky these students are to even be at school, implying that the difficulties of getting there are inconsequential. Another responded that if “it doesn’t kill you it makes you strong.” But as those paying attention to news reports over the past month know, a poor learner transport system has, in fact, already led to the death and injury of multiple children this year. And on our recent trip to Nqutu, KwaZulu-Natal, it didn’t take long to find students who have personal experience with the risks of robbery, rape, kidnapping, and even the death of friends – all created by the long journey to school.

How can this be inconsequential? How does this make anybody stronger?

Continue reading the full story here.

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.

 

In Photos: Ben Ferencz, ’43, Receives HLS Medal of Freedom

BensmilesVia the International Human Rights Clinic 

The great Ben Ferencz, ’43, received Harvard Law School’s highest honor on Friday: the Medal of Freedom.

Humble, hilarious, and altogether inspiring, Ben became Chief Prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen case at the Nuremberg Tribunal at the age of 27- and has been a tireless advocate for peace ever since.

After his talk, titled “Law not War,” students surrounded Ben with requests to pose for pictures. He greeted one student this way: “Where you from? Want to help me save the world?”

Read more about Ben, and download his free books, at his website.

Read more on this story here.

Report Cites Evidence of War Crimes in Myanmar

CaptureVia the New York TImes

BANGKOK — A report by Harvard researchers due to be released on Friday says there is sufficient evidence to prosecute high-ranking officers in Myanmar’s military for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against an ethnic minority.

The report, published by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, is based on a three-year study of villages near the Thai border, where the military conducted a large-scale offensive against ethnic Karen fighters from 2005 until 2008. The authors say that “widespread and systematic” attacks directed against civilians during the offensive justify war-crime prosecutions.

“Despite recent reforms, there have been few public discussions about Myanmar’s legacy of violence and oppression,” the report says, adding that “such issues cannot be swept aside during conversations about the country’s future.”

The report specifically names three commanders of the offensive against the Karen, all of whom are still active in the military. They are Maj. Gen. Ko Ko, who is currently Myanmar’s home affairs minister; Lt.. Gen. Khin Zaw Oo, now commander of the Army Bureau of Special Operations; and Brig. Gen. Maung Maung Aye, whose current position is unknown.

“We believe we have satisfied the standard of proof for the issuance of an arrest warrant,” said Matthew Bugher, one of the authors of the report.

Mr. Bugher presented the findings on Wednesday to Myanmar’s deputy defense minister, Maj. Gen. Kyaw Nyunt.

“He essentially said, ‘You got it wrong and your sources are all one-sided,’ ” Mr. Bugher said by telephone from Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital. “He talked about the difficulty of war and the difficulty of distinguishing between civilian and military targets.”

Among the 150 people interviewed for the report, seven were former soldiers, including one who described witnessing a gang rape by military personnel, Mr. Bugher said.

Continue reading the full story here.

Failure to Prosecute Senior U.S. Government Officials for Torture Violates International Law

tortureimage2Via the International Human Rights Clinic
By Peter Barnett, LL.M. ’15, Morgan Davis, J.D. ’15, and Deborah Popowski

In preparation for the UN Committee Against Torture’s review of the United States, the International Human Rights Clinic has joined fellow members of the group Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions in submitting a shadow report to the UN Committee. The report documents how the Obama administration is in clear violation of the law by shielding from criminal liability the senior government officials responsible for the post-9/11 US torture program.

It calls on the UN Committee to ask the United States specifically why it has not prosecuted President George Bush (who admitted in his memoir to authorizing the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed); former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo (author of an opinion that purported to legally authorize the waterboarding of a prisoner known as Abu Zubaydah); and former CIA contract psychologist Dr. James Mitchell (reported to have personally waterboarded the prisoner known as Abu Zubaydah).

The report also urges the UN Committee to renew its calls for criminal investigations and prosecution of officials at the highest levels of the chain of command.

More than 100 organizations and individuals across civil society have already signed on to the report. Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions will continue to gather signatures from individuals and organizations to submit to the UN Committee in Geneva; you can sign on here until November 6.

Continue reading the full story here.

School Underperformance Reflects Government Underperformance in South Africa

Photo courtesy of Equal Education

Photo courtesy of Equal Education

Via the International Human Rights Clinic
By Elizabeth Loftus, J.D. ’16

In the coming month, all across South Africa, over half a million students will be sitting down to take the National Senior Certificate exam. Some will be sitting at individual desks in state-of-the-art classrooms. But others will be sitting on cinder blocks and at shared desks in buildings that lack water, electricity, and toilets. Wherever they are, students will be taking the same high-stakes test, one that will determine their future. Students who pass will graduate from high school and gain access to higher education opportunities. Students who fail will not.

The exam has a broader purpose, as well: the South African government uses pass rates to identify public schools that lag behind national performance standards. Institutions at which less than 60% of students pass the exam are designated “underperforming.” Underperformance trends in the South African school system reveal startling inequalities and show that the Department of Basic Education’s own underperformance in addressing this critical issue is inexcusable.

Following last year’s exam, 1,407 schools across South Africa qualified as underperforming. The poorest performing provinces were the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, which had pass rates 15%-20% lower than those in the majority of other provinces. Nearly half of the schools in the Eastern Cape failed to meet national performance standards. Shortcomings such as poor infrastructure, inadequate materials, overcrowding, and negligent management all suppress success in vulnerable schools. Not coincidentally, underperformance in the education system disproportionately affects learners in the poor, rural, historically black areas of the country.

Continue reading the full story here.

Human Rights Program Celebrates 30 Years of Advocacy

Via the Harvard Crimson

Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program celebrated on Friday afternoon the increased awareness surrounding issues of human rights since its founding three decades ago and detailed the next steps for activists in the field.

The afternoon program included two panels—“Human Rights Advocacy Across Generations” and “The Next Stage in United Nations Treaty Bodies”—and a keynote address by former Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh ’75.

“It is wonderful to look back at the graduates we’ve had go on to have distinguished careers, the scholarship we have produced, and the engagement we’ve had in projects,” said Gerald L. Neuman ’73, director of the Human Rights Program. “We are looking back but also forward to the problems of the day.”

After the luncheon and keynote address by Koh, which focused on the future direction of human rights advocacy, attendees listened to the two panels before a reception closed out the celebration.

For Law School Dean Martha L. Minow, who served as an adviser to the program at its inception, the celebration displayed the success of activists in bringing human rights issues to the forefront of public discourse.

“Human rights once upon a time was just a phrase, then it became a movement, then it became law, then it became something we talk about at dinner tables,” Minow said at the ceremony.

Continue reading the full story here.

Student Perspective: Supporting the Transnational Fight to Protect Workers’ Rights

Atzin Gordillo, at left, an organizer with ProDESC, gives a presentation to the workers of the Sinaloa Coalition about their rights under the H-2 visa program.

Atzin Gordillo, at left, an organizer with ProDESC, gives a presentation to the workers of the Sinaloa Coalition about their rights under the H-2 visa program.

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

Posted by Lily Axelrod, JD ’15

One January afternoon in 2012, two hundred men and women gathered at the Captain Morgan Bar in the sunny, Mexican coastal town of Topolobampo, Sinaloa. Their spirits were strong; recruiters had arrived to sign up workers for temporary H-2 visas to the United States. In a region where unemployment is high and the minimum wage is less than $5 a day, the recruiters brought hope. Applicants handed over deposits of several hundred dollars, representing years of savings or serious debt.

Weeks went by, and then months, as recruiters promised the Sinaloans that the visas were “almost ready.” But there were no jobs, and no H-2 visas. By April, it became clear: hundreds of applicants had been defrauded.

This summer, I had the opportunity to support the Sinaloan workers as a fellow with Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC), a human rights organization based in Mexico City. Having lived in Mexico and studied social movements there, I was drawn to ProDESC’s model, which balances a broad international vision with a focus on meaningful participation and leadership from local, marginalized communities. I contributed this summer to the organization’s Transnational Justice for Migrant Workers project, which seeks to promote humane, legal migration by protecting migrant workers’ human rights.

My work focused specifically on the H-2 temporary worker visa program, one of the few avenues for Mexicans to work legally in the United States without advanced degrees or immediate family members with status. ProDESC has been tackling abuses related to the program since 2007. Due to fear of reporting and lack of oversight, it is impossible to know how many applicants were promised visas and never received them, but ProDESC believes the problem is widespread. Even when job offers are legitimate, workers often go into debt to pay illegal “recruitment fees,” and fear blacklisting or violent retaliation if they speak up about their rights.

For years, both the Mexican and American governments turned a blind eye to these abuses, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation, human trafficking, and forced labor. But ProDESC and the Sinaloan workers have been collaborating to change the status quo. In 2013, with support from ProDESC’s community organizers and attorneys, the workers formed a coalition and brought a groundbreaking collective criminal complaint against the fraudulent recruiter operating in Sinaloa. That coalition, in turn, strengthened ProDESC’s domestic and international policy advocacy to prevent abuse in the H-2 visa program overall.

Together, their activism captured the attention of both the Mexican government, which recently issued new regulations targeting recruiters, and the U.S. Departments of Labor and State, which have committed to cooperate with their Mexican counterparts and with NGOs to educate migrant workers about their rights.

With attention turning now to implementation of Mexico’s new recruitment regulations, I worked under the guidance of ProDESC Director Alejandra Ancheita (Harvard Wasserstein Fellow 2012-13) this summer to draft a policy memorandum requested by Mexico’s Secretary for Labor and Social Welfare. The memo, now published in English and Spanish, was co-authored with undergraduate intern Mica Pacheco Ceballos (Harvard ’16) and with support from Fordham Law Professor Jennifer Gordon, JD ’92.

I also conducted research on creative legal strategies to hold American companies accountable for their recruiters’ human rights violations. ProDESC’s attorneys consistently challenged me to think outside the box and draw from diverse fields, from international human rights law to contracts and negotiation.

In my last week at ProDESC, the mood at the office was jubilant: the Mexican government had considered the Sinaloan case, and imposed a substantial fine on the fraudulent recruiting agency for violations of the Federal Labor Law and related regulations. Still, it will take significant additional work to ensure that the rights of other workers seeking H-2 visas are truly protected. Now that the Mexican and American governments have committed to taking this issue seriously, ProDESC and its allies are pushing for both governments to work together to hold U.S. companies accountable for abuses in recruitment.

Learn more about how to support that movement at ProDESC’s website or follow through work on Facebook.

Lily S. Axelrod, JD ‘15, is Co-President of the Harvard Immigration Project and Review Editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review. After graduation, she plans to practice immigration law.

Student Perspective: Protecting Freedom of Expression, in Ethiopia and Beyond

reeyot-AlemuVia the International Human Rights Clinic 

Posted by Lindsay Church, J.D. ’16

In July 2012, Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison. In June 2011, Reeyot Alemu was arrested and convicted to 14 years of imprisonment, reduced to five on appeal.

Their crimes? Practicing journalism in Ethiopia.

Nega and Alemu are award-winning journalists who shared the prestigious Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Award in 2012. For Nega, whose first child was born while he and his wife were in custody for treason , the arrest came days after publishing a column that criticized the Ethiopian government’s detainment of journalists as suspected terrorists. For Alemu, a former high school English teacher, the arrest came days after she critiqued the ruling political party in an independent newspaper later shut down by the government.

The basis for the charges against these journalists is Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which contains overly vague provisions that have been used by the government to silence its critics. Since the Proclamation was adopted, more than 30 journalists have been convicted on terrorism-related charges.

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of working on behalf of Nega and Alemu as a fellow with the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). The small London-based non-profit works directly with journalists and bloggers who have been prosecuted for exercising their protected right to freedom of expression. With the help of partner organizations, MLDI’s staff are currently working on 107 cases in 41 countries; the organization’s success rate in receiving favorable decisions hovers around 70 percent.

eskinder2Because I studied journalism before coming to law school, I know the range of challenges American journalists face, from accessing information to protecting sources to the threat of civil liability. Still, it was always clear to me that the First Amendment by and large provides a greater amount of protection to journalists than any other national legal system. As my work at MLDI made clear this summer, freedom of expression is severely restricted in other countries—by censorship, regulations, state-operated monopolies, criminal liability, and physical threat, among others.

For example, on my very first day, I worked on a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concerning the case of Le Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger who was wrongfully prosecuted on trumped up charges of tax evasion. Throughout my internship, I also researched case law from regional courts on freedom of expression, helped with an amicus curiae submission before the High Court of South Africa in a case about criminal defamation, and worked on a case in defense of a blogger in Singapore who is being sued by Lee Hsien Loong, the country’s prime minister.

When Nani Jansen, MLDI’s legal director, filed a submission to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Nega and Alemu, I had the opportunity to do preparatory work for the submission. I also helped in the filing of submissions to international and regional courts on behalf of Nega and Alemu.

At this point, their chances for release are still unknown, but the situation remains dire. In a New York Times Op-Ed, “Letter from Ethiopia’s Gulag,” Nega wrote about gruesome prison conditions, including three toilets for about 1,000 prisoners. Alemu’s health continues to deteriorate: After receiving an operation to remove a lump in her breast—without the use of anesthesia—she was immediately sent back to the prison without proper recovery time, and she has since been denied further treatment.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights remains one of the last options for these two journalists. When the Commission convenes its next session on October 22nd, I am hopeful it will recognize their case is admissible and that the Ethiopian government has used the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to systematically violate the right to freedom of expression. Even if the Commission decides the case is admissible, a decision on the merits is far away. While the ruling on admissability will not immediately free Nega and Alemu, together with more international pressure, the Commission may eventually persuade Ethiopia that the cost of jailing journalists is too high.

Learn more about how to advocate on behalf of Nega and Alemu.

Lindsay Church, JD ‘16, will join the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford this January as a visiting research fellow. While there, she will work on a paper she began this summer, “International Influence on Freedom of Expression in Ethiopia: An Analysis of the Impact of Ethiopia’s Relations with the United States and China.”

Cluster Munitions Ban: National Laws Needed

bonniereportVia the International Human Rights Clinic

This afternoon, the International Human Rights Clinic released a joint report with Human Rights Watch urging countries to enact strong laws to implement the treaty banning cluster munitions. The report, “Staying Strong: Key Components and Positive Precedent for Convention on Cluster Munitions Legislation,” was researched and written primarily by Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty, as well as clinical students Amy Tan, Fletcher ’14, and Nick Sansone, JD ’15.

Bonnie presented the report in Costa Rica today at the annual meeting of countries that have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. For more information, see below for the press release from Human Rights Watch.

Continue reading the full story here.

A Warm Welcome to Anna Crowe

Anna Crowe, Clinical Fellow, Human Rights Program

Anna Crowe, Clinical Fellow, Human Rights Program

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

Anna Crowe is a Clinical Advocacy Fellow at the Human Rights Program. Her focus is on civilian protection in armed conflict and the right to privacy. Anna supervises students on research, fact-finding, and advocacy projects in these areas. She is particularly interested in the impact of new technologies on the development of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Before she joined HRP, Anna was a Legal Officer at Privacy International, a leading human rights organization that campaigns against unlawful communications surveillance across the globe. She also spent a year in Colombia as a Henigson Human Rights Fellow, working with the International Crisis Group in the field of transitional justice.

Anna is a graduate of Harvard Law School and an alumna of the International Human Rights Clinic. Prior to Harvard, Anna was a constitutional lawyer for the New Zealand government in the Crown Law Office and served at the New Zealand Supreme Court as a clerk to the Chief Justice for two years. She has also previously worked as a Teaching Fellow at Victoria, University of Wellington Law School and clerked at a top New Zealand law firm. She holds conjoint law and arts degrees from the University of Auckland. 

A Warm Welcome to Katherine Talbot

 

Katherine Talbot, Program Associate, International Human Rights Clinic

Katherine Talbot, Program Associate, International Human Rights Clinic

Via the International Human Rights Clinic  

Katherine Talbot is the Program Associate for the International Human Rights Clinic. Prior to coming to Harvard Law School, she supported three faculty members at Harvard Business School as a Faculty Assistant.

Katherine has an M.A. in International Relations from St. John’s University in Rome, Italy, and a B.A. in Government and Politics from St. John’s University in Queens, New York.

Fernando Ribeiro Delgado Discusses Criminal Code Reform in Brazil

Fernando Delgado, Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, International Human Rights Clinic

Fernando Delgado, Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, International Human Rights Clinic

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

One of Brazil’s biggest daily newspapers quoted Clinical Instructor Fernando Ribeiro Delgado this past Sunday in an in-depth cover story on criminal code reform. The article in the Folha de São Paulo presents perspectives on a proposal gaining steam before congress that would harden criminal sentencing and close off several avenues for early release.

Delgado warns that Brazil is “following the path of failed crime policies,” drawing reference to U.S. “war on crime” laws that produced skyrocketing incarceration rates, a comparison he discusses further in a companion piece that ran in the Folha the same day. Delgado points to one prison in particular, Aníbal Bruno, as “a symbol of the catastrophe of mass incarceration underway in Brazil.” Though officially designed to detain some 1500 men, Aníbal Bruno Prison now commonly holds over 6000.

The Folha piece has an entire subsection based on a 2013 brief co-authored by the Clinic in the Aníbal Bruno Prison case, which is currently before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Clinic has been working for the past four years with a civil society coalition in Brazil to push for widespread reform in Aníbal Bruno Prison and beyond. This past May, the Inter-American Court issued its first legally binding resolution in the Aníbal Bruno case, ordering Brazil to take provisional measures to protect the life, personal integrity, and health of all persons at the prison. The order also mandates steps to reduce over-crowding and end the routine practice of strip searching family visitors at the notorious pre-trial detention center. The coalition is currently focusing efforts on monitoring the implementation of the order. A first set of periodic reports are due to the Court in the coming months, and a meeting between the parties and state agencies is scheduled for August 28 in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil.

Human Rights Program Alumni in the News

harvard_law_school_shield3Via the International Human Rights Clinic
By Cara Solomon 

We use all kinds of strategies here at the International Human Rights Clinic to push for change. Litigation. Treaty negotiation. Documentation and reporting.

As Communications Coordinator, I’ve always been partial to advocacy. Media advocacy, to be more precise. This summer, our alumni are putting it to great use in outlets all over the world.

On Monday, The Huffington Post ran a column by Nicolette Boehland, JD ’13, a Satter fellow with the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), documenting the devastating toll the conflict in Gaza is taking on civilians. For the column, Nicolette spoke by phone with Gazans she met last year while researching civilian perspectives on involvement, status, and risk in armed conflict, including in Libya, Bosnia, and Somalia.

In “No Safe Place in Gaza,” she writes:

A young woman described the crippling fear she had experienced over the last four weeks: “The worst of all is the night time,” she said. “There is no power, no electricity, and there are tens of drones in the sky. Whenever you hear a rocket, you think it’s targeting your house. You are running from one room to another. I know this is silly — if your house is hit, it won’t matter which room you were in.”

Each night, her family of six gathered on mattresses that they had pulled together in the middle of the living room, “far away from the windows, so that they don’t break,” she said. This way, if their house was hit, the whole family would be killed together. “We don’t want one of the family to survive and then have to grieve for the rest of us,” she said.

At the end of the column, Nicolette lists several strategies the Israeli government and Hamas could use to limit civilian suffering.

Read the full story.

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