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.