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

Joint Clinic Report: Company’s Remedies for Rape in Papua New Guinea Deeply Flawed

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Geneva & New York, November 19, 2015—A controversial process created by one of the world’s largest gold mining companies to compensate women for rapes and gang rapes in Papua New Guinea was deeply flawed, said human rights investigators and legal experts at Columbia and Harvard Law Schools in a study released today.

The three-year study of Barrick Gold’s remedy mechanism at its Porgera gold mine found that the effort to provide packages to 120 rape survivors was flawed from the start and fell far short of international standards.

“These are some of the most vicious assaults I have ever investigated,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, one of the lead authors of the report, and the Director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Institute. “The women and local communities had to struggle for years just to get the company to admit what happened.”

Most women were offered less than $6,000 USD each in compensation, and were also given some counseling and healthcare. Knuckey continued, “They had been suffering for far too long, and deserved much more.”

For several years, security guards at the Porgera mine physically assaulted and sexually abused members of the community. It was only after repeated pressure by local and international groups that the Canadian mining company finally acknowledged the sexual violence and launched an internal investigation in 2010. The company created a remedy mechanism to handle claims by survivors two years later.

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Pivotal Elections in Myanmar

Via International Human Rights Clinic

By Roni Druks, J.D. ’17, and Sharon Yuen, LL.M. ’16

Today, Myanmar held its first contested general election in 25 years — one that will have major implications for human rights. As vote counting starts, everyone is waiting to see whether the current ruling party, the military-backed United Solidarity and Development Party, or the National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, will win control of the parliament. There is a long history between military-backed parties and the NLD, dating to 1990, when the NLD won a landslide victory that was never recognized. In 2010, after decades of military rule, the country held elections again, leading to a USDP victory in parliament and the appointment of former general Thein Sein as president. But the NLD boycotted the 2010 vote, which was largely considered illegitimate.

Today, as the USDP, NLD, and other parties face off, seats in both the upper and lower houses of the national legislature, as well as at the state and division levels, are at stake. Despite concerns about whether the election will be free and fair, the key question is whether the NLD or USDP will win a victory and be able to control parliament—either alone or in a coalition. The winning party should control the selection of the next president, who will have a major influence over the course of human rights in the country over the next few years.

The outcome of the election will prove especially crucial since the president and newly elected parliament will bear responsibility of advancing a challenging peace process. Although the Myanmar government signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with eight ethnic armed organizations on October 15, 2015, the agreement remains neither nationwide nor a ceasefire. (For more on that, see the recent piece by our fellow clinic student, Roi Bachmutsky, JD ’17). Fighting has continued in several ethnic areas, raising concerns about the displacement of ethnic communities and other human rights violations.

Beyond the elections, Myanmar’s human rights record was under scrutiny this past Friday through the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is evaluating Myanmar’s progress on human rights since 2011. Regrettably, Myanmar appointed Lt. Gen. Ko Ko to head the committee responsible for Myanmar’s UPR process. Ko Ko has a long track record of alleged involvement in human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity as the International Human Rights Clinic previously documented in a four-year investigation.

The Clinic made a UPR submission in March highlighting that the Myanmar government has not taken any steps to investigate the allegations against Lt. Gen. Ko Ko. In a major development, more than 500 groups from Myanmar (who must remain anonymous for fear of retaliation) have signed a petition calling for international action to hold Lt. Gen. Ko Ko accountable due to inaction at the national level. In response, the Clinic, along with eight other organizations, released a statement echoing the need for an end to impunity.

Whether on the election front, in its peace process, or on issues of accountability, it is a pivotal time in Myanmar. Along with the world, the people of Myanmar wait to see whether a new chapter for human rights is on the horizon or whether it will be more of the same.

Clinic and HRW Urge Strengthening of International Law Governing Incendiary Weapons

Via International Human Rights Clinic

(Washington, DC, November 5, 2015) – Countries should take concrete steps to strengthen international law governing incendiary weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today, ahead of a diplomatic meeting devoted to incendiary and other weapons that will be held in Geneva November 9-13, 2015.

A video posted to YouTube by activists from Quseir, Syria shows ZAB 2.5 incendiary submunitions burning in the playground of the Ghaleb Radi school following an airstrike on December 3, 2012. © 2012 Private

A video posted to YouTube by activists from Quseir, Syria shows ZAB 2.5 incendiary submunitions burning in the playground of the Ghaleb Radi school following an airstrike on December 3, 2012. © 2012 Private

The need is urgent in light of new reported uses of incendiary weapons, which cause excruciatingly painful burns that are difficult to treat and can lead to long-term psychological harm and severe disfigurement.

The report, “From Condemnation to Concrete Action,” provides a five-year review of developments related to incendiary weapons. It lays out evidence of recent use, including in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine, as well as allegations of use in Yemen in 2015. It also examines the evolution of countries’ policies and positions regarding the use of incendiary weapons.

“Countries have been voicing concerns and condemning use of incendiary weapons for five years, but it is time for more tangible progress,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor with the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School and senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Countries should seize the opportunities at upcoming diplomatic meetings to strengthen the law curbing the use of these exceptionally cruel weapons.”

A protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, an international treaty, regulates the use of incendiary weapons. But it has significant loopholes that have undermined its effectiveness and failed to deter ongoing use, the report said.

At their annual meeting in Geneva next week, countries that are party to that treaty should agree to initiate discussions to review current law. Such discussions would lay the groundwork for efforts to amend the law at the 2016 review conference, a major diplomatic gathering held every five years.

The joint report is co-published by Human Rights Watch, where Docherty is also senior arms researcher. Sarah Abraham, JD ’17, Lauren Blodgett, JD ’16, Danae Paterson, JD ’16, contributed research to the report.

The World’s Role in Burma’s Peace Process

By Roi Bachmutsky, J.D. ’17, student in the International Human Rights Clinic

There is a joke in Burma* that George Orwell unintentionally wrote a trilogy about the country: Burmese Days about its colonial era, Animal Farm about its road to socialism, and 1984 about its military dictatorship. With Burma’s national elections coming up in just one week, President Thein Sein has been using smoke and mirrors to persuade the world that dystopian Burma is history. The final act is the recent signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Ethnic Armed Organizations that have long been plagued by armed conflict with the regime. Burma has changed, the story goes: it is a democracy, it has made peace. Enticing though it may be, this narrative is just not true.

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Clinic Submits Report In Support Of Hearing On Rights Of People Affected By The CIA Rendition And Torture Program

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Last week, the International Human Rights Clinic submitted a report in support of an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights thematic hearing on the rights of people affected by the CIA rendition and torture program. The hearing was requested by the ACLU and the NYU Global Justice Clinic, who asked us to adapt our 2014 shadow report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture for this purpose.

Titled Denial of Justice: The United States’ Failure to Prosecute Senior Officials for Torture, the report documents how the Obama administration and other government entities are in violation of the law by shielding from criminal liability the senior officials, including lawyers, who were responsible for the post-9/11 U.S. torture program. It notes that the U.S. government has failed to heed calls by the Inter-American Commission and other human rights authorities to conduct an in-depth and independent investigation into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and to prosecute and punish those responsible.

We submitted both the Inter-American Commission and the U.N. Committee reports as members of the advocacy group U.S. Advocates for Torture Prosecutions.

Thanks to Michelle Ha, JD ’16, Kelsey Jost-Creegan, JD ’17, and Marin Tollefson, JD ’17 for their work on the report, and to Fernando Delgado, Tyler Giannini, and original co-authors Ben Davis, Trudy Bond, and Curtis Doebbler, for their review.

Read the rest of the documents the ACLU and the GJC submitted for the hearing.

Myanmar: New report finds police used excessive force during crackdown on protesters in Letpadan

Via HLS News

Myanmar police officers used excessive force during a crackdown on protesters and arrested more than 100 individuals in Letpadan, Bago Region in March, according to a new report released by Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic and Fortify Rights. Authorities should release individuals wrongfully detained for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, the organizations said.

IHRC_FR_Crackdown_REV2_COVER-791x1024Compiling evidence from dozens of eyewitness accounts, more than 500 photographs, and 40 videos, the Clinic and Fortify Rights found that police brutally punched, kicked, and beat unarmed protesters with batons on their heads, backs, and legs in the town of Letpadan on March 10. Police also beat protesters in police custody, including at least one protester being treated in an ambulance and others whose hands were bound behind their backs.

The new report, Crackdown at Letpadan: Excessive Use of Force and Violations of the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Expression in Letpadan, Bago Region, Myanmar (PDF) also details how not all police officers at the scene participated in violence during the crackdown. Some police officers used riot shields or their own bodies to protect protesters from attacks by other police officers, providing further evidence of the unjustified use of force by some officers.

Students from the International Human Rights Clinic—Roi Bachmutsky ’17, Roni Druks ’17, Courtney Svoboda ’16, Matthew Thiman ’16, Yao Yang Harvard/Berkeley ’16, and Sharon Yuen LLM ’16—provided essential support in reviewing evidence as well as with writing and editing for the report. The team worked under the direction of the report’s lead researcher, Matthew Bugher ’11, who was a Global Justice Fellow at Harvard Law School as well as Clinical Professor Tyler Giannini, co-director of the Clinic.  

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Undermining Injustice, One Prison Visit at a Time

Via HLS News

Fernando Delgado ’08 and his students in the International Human Rights Clinic put prisoners’ voices in Brazil at the heart of a human rights case

Fernando DelgadoCredit: Dana Smith

Fernando Delgado
Credit: Dana Smith

There is no marker in Aníbal Bruno prison that speaks to home. In some cells, there are only dozens of men, sleeping on floors stained with feces, eating out of plastic bottles cut in half. But when he stands at the bars, Fernando Ribeiro Delgado pauses, as he would at the doorstep of any stranger’s house.

He offers a handshake to every man inside. He looks them in the eye. He calls each prisoner “Sir.” And though Delgado already has official permission to enter, he asks, because asking matters: Would it be all right if I came in?

“It’s the kind of respect that is obviously required, but that they are denied regularly by nearly everybody,” said Delgado, a clinical instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

Over the course of the years, as an expert on prison conditions in Brazil, Delgado has argued before the inter-American human rights system; negotiated with government officials; and nurtured relationships with prisoners’ families, prison officials, and members of the national press. But it all begins, for Delgado, in the cell blocks and hallways of Brazil’s most overcrowded prisons, listening to the people who live there.

Born in Brazil, fluent in Portuguese, Delgado has worked in these prisons for years, challenging his clinical students to think through the complications that come with mass incarceration and neglect. Inside Aníbal Bruno, they watch him closely: the calm, firm way he negotiates with officers for access; the undivided attention he gives to prisoners; the deference he shows to his local partners, whom he considers the undisputed experts in the rhythm of the place.

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Harvard Law School Alumna Appointed to Clerk for South African Constitutional Court

Harvard Law School alumna, Philippa Greer HLS LL.M. ’14 has been appointed to clerk for South Africa’s top judicial body, the Constitutional Court, for the latter half of 2015, in a position offered to no more than a handful of lawyers around the world each year. She has been selected to clerk for the Chief Justice, having been chosen from a high number of applicants from across the globe. Her interests lie in strategic litigation and international law. She writes:

HLS Blog- Picture 2

Philippa Greer HLS LL.M. ’14

“I am both thrilled and humbled to contribute to the Court, whose holdings adopt a progressive and transformative approach to law and equality. South Africa is a development State and certainly faces vast resource challenges in making the rights of the Constitution a reality for all. Yet its Constitutional democracy and the Court’s recent reforms to institutionalize the role of the judicial branch as independent from South Africa’s executive arm, have ushered in a new era, characterized by the rule of law and fundamental dignity for all human beings.

In my position as a Law Clerk to the Chief Justice, I will deepen my understanding of the practical barriers to the implementation of international human rights standards. Since assuming my position at the Court, I have been exposed to a number of high-profile cases, including Legal Aid SA v. Magidiwana, which concerns the right to legal aid and access to justice, specifically with respect to the legal representation of miners at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.

The Constitutional Court represents transformation in South Africa and the hope of and for a people, in the wake of recovery from a system of racial segregation enforced through law. The recent history of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a restorative justice body assembled to address the gross human rights violations that occurred between 1948 to 1994, South Africa’s Constitutional democracy, its Bill of Rights and its standing on the African continent, combine to offer a particularly complex background to the law and positioning of the apex court.

The Court stands as a memorial to courage and the Court building itself as a moving architectural tribute to the fight against apartheid. Everything from the Court’s judgments to its artwork is distinctive and multifaceted, in recognition of a particular history and hope for further transformation. In the foyer of the Court stands a sculpture by Thomas Mulcaire bearing the words “a luta continua” lit up in projection of the meaning “the struggle continues, victory is certain”. Former Justice Albie Sachs, appointed to the Court by Nelson Mandela in 1994, played a leading role in selecting the Court’s diverse artwork, the first public collection of its kind post apartheid. As a result, the building presents a particularly inspiring physical space to work in.

There are major distinctions to be drawn with the United States Supreme Court, and a comparative analysis can be made with regard to the each Court’s jurisprudence on the death penalty, gender equality, affirmative action, freedom of expression and religion, and socioeconomic rights. For example, despite the racial and geographic arbitrariness of the death penalty in the United States, punishment for the sake of retribution remains permissible under the Eighth Amendment. In 1995, in S v Makwanyane, despite evidence that many South Africans favored the death penalty, the Constitutional Court ruled that it was unconstitutional, with former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson citing capital punishment as an example that should be rejected in light of its disparate impact along racial and poverty lines.

If we contrast this “dignity jurisprudence” to the continued use of capital punishment in the United States, for example in Louisiana where the death penalty is confined predominantly to African-American men prosecuted in Caddo Parish in particular, we can see how the Constitutional Court in South Africa has attracted international acclaim and how it serves as a model for the world’s other Constitutions.”

While Philippa was still a student at Harvard Law School, she participated in Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic and held editorial positions on the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review and the Harvard Human Rights Journal, as well as serving as a Board Member of Harvard Law School’s Moot Court Board.

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


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.

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