Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

Providing clinical and pro bono opportunities to Harvard Law School students

Author: oklein

Human Rights Program’s 2018-2019 Annual Report

Via HRP 

Source: HRP Blog 

We are delighted to present HRP’s 2018-2019 Annual Report. The report showcases the global reach and impact of the Human Rights Program in its 35th year. Previews have already run on the Harvard Law School website: profiles of Paras Shah JD ’19Jenny B. Domino LLM ’18, and Anna Khalfaoui LLM ’17. In addition to celebrating these former students and fellows, the annual report explores how members of HRP contributed to a convention on crimes against humanity, innovated in clinical pedagogy, and advocated for LGBT rights. We thank all of the students, partners, and alumni who made last year so strong and look forward to engaging with our community and working on the most pressing issues in 2019-2020.

You can view our annual report in several different modes: a flipbook version, a color PDF, and a black-and-white PDF.

Read the introduction below, which highlights the words of the Human Rights Program and International Human Rights Clinic Co-Directors:


The Human Rights Program: Reflecting on 35 Years

Founded by Professor Emeritus Henry Steiner in 1984 as a center for human rights scholarship, Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program (HRP) enters its 35th year in 2019. Concurrently, the International Human Rights Clinic celebrates its 15th anniversary. HRP was founded as a place of reflection and engagement and a forum that brings academics and advocates together. Since 1984, HRP has only deepened its commitment to this endeavor. With this past year marking the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly, it is a particularly opportune time to take stock of human rights at Harvard Law School (HLS) and how the Program’s impact has reverberated beyond the university.

“The Universal Declaration set forth a vision of liberty and equality and social solidarity that has never been fully achieved; it continues to inspire people around the world as we strive to fulfill its mission,” said Gerald L. Neuman JD ’80, Co-Director of HRP and the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at HLS. “The Program has always been about critical involvement with human rights. In a time when human rights face extreme challenges globally, that means thinking more deeply about what changes are needed and  how we can contribute to the system, scholarship, and the world.”

Today, HRP comprises the Academic Program and the Clinic, which together bridge theory with practice and engage with pressing human rights issues around the world. As a center for critical thinking, the Academic Program organizes conferences and other events; publishes working papers and books; offers summer and post-graduate fellowships to launch students in human rights careers; and draws human rights advocates and academics from across the globe as part of the Visiting Fellows Program.

Over the past decade and a half, the Clinic has engaged more than 1,000 students in an analytical and reflective approach to human rights lawyering. While devoting itself to the training of future practitioners, the Clinic has promoted and protected human rights through scores of projects around the world. This work includes pushing for global equity in the realm of gender and sexuality, litigating landmark accountability cases, and helping to negotiate treaties that ban nuclear weapons and cluster munitions.

“The formal founding of the International Human Rights Clinic 15 years ago is really consequential; it recognizes the diversity of ways that people can contribute to the human rights movement,” said Susan H. Farbstein JD ’04, Co-Director of the Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law. While not all clinical students pursue careers in human rights, they often cite their clinical education as influential and formative. For many, clinics are the one place at HLS where they have the opportunity to engage in real-world preparation and see their efforts make an impact. “We’re training students in critical approaches to human rights practice, emphasizing cross-cultural sensitivity and how to be guided by the clients and communities we serve. We hope this leads to better, more effective human rights advocacy,” Farbstein said.

This year, HRP recognizes the anniversary of the Program, the Clinic, and the UDHR with both celebration and humility. After decades of training students and building a network of HRP fellows and partners, it is inspiring to step back and glimpse the network that we’ve built. “It’s not about one particular year but about the cumulative impact,” said Tyler R. Giannini, Co- Director of HRP and the Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law. “When we see the success of our students, alumni, partners, and fellows, it’s a testament to the power of this community.”

Facebook, Google Face Multi-State Antitrust Regulations

Via WBUR 

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images

A coalition of state attorneys general launch antitrust probes into Facebook and Google. They tell us why.

Guests

Phil Weiser, attorney general from Colorado. Served in the Obama Administration as a deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice. Served in President Clinton’s Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. (@pweiser)

James Tierney, founding director of StateAG.org, an educational resource on the office of state attorney general. Lecturer in law at Harvard Law School. Attorney General of Maine from 1980 to 1990.

Tim Wu, professor of law, science and technology at Columbia Law School. Author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.” Former senior adviser to the Federal Trade Commission for consumer protection and competitions issues that affect the internet and mobile markets. (@superwuster)

Stephen Houck, special counsel at Offit Kurman Attorneys at Law. Chief of the Antitrust Bureau at the New York State Attorney General’s Office from 1995 to 1999. Lead trial counsel for the 20 state plaintiffs in the government lawsuit against Microsoft. He’s on retainer with Google for general advisement about antitrust issues.

From The Reading List

Statement From Google

Google’s services create choice for consumers, and spur innovation in the U.S.

Kent Walker, SVP, Global Affairs

Google’s services help people, create more choice, and support thousands of jobs and small businesses across the United States. Google is one of America’s top spenders on research and development, making investments that spur innovation: Things that were science fiction a few years ago are now free for everyone—translating any language instantaneously, learning about objects by pointing your phone, getting an answer to pretty much any question you might have.

At the same time, it’s of course right that governments should have oversight to ensure that all successful companies, including ours, are complying with the law. The Department of Justice, for example, has announced that it’s starting a review of online platforms.

We have answered many questions on these issues over many years, in the United States as well as overseas, across many aspects of our business, so this is not new for us. The DOJ has asked us to provide information about these past investigations, and we expect state attorneys general will ask similar questions. We have always worked constructively with regulators and we will continue to do so.

We look forward to showing how we are investing in innovation, providing services that people want, and engaging in robust and fair competition.

Facebook did not respond to requests for an interview or statement.

New York Times: “New Google and Facebook Inquiries Show Big Tech Scrutiny Is Rare Bipartisan Act” — “There is a major force uniting America’s fiercely partisan politicians: big technology companies. Democrats and Republicans at the federal and state levels are coming together to scrutinize the power of the Silicon Valley giants and, potentially, to rein them in.

Get highlights, extras and notes from the hosts sent to your inbox each week with On Point’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

“Letitia James, the Democratic attorney general of New York, announced on Friday that attorneys general in eight states — four Democrats and four Republicans — and the District of Columbia had begun an antitrust investigation of Facebook.

“Next up for state regulators is Google. A similarly bipartisan group led by eight attorneys general is set to announce on Monday a separate but comparable investigation. The search giant is expected to be the focus of the inquiry, according to two people familiar with the plan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity before the official announcement. Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, a Republican, is taking a leading role in the Google investigation, the people said.

“The state inquiries coincide with bipartisan scrutiny of the tech giants in Washington, by House and Senate committees, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Federal officials are examining the practices of Amazon and Apple as well as those of Facebook and Google.”

Washington Post: “Facebook, Google face off against a formidable new foe: State attorneys general” — “The nation’s state attorneys general have tangled with mortgage lenders, tobacco giants and the makers of addictive drugs. Now, they’re setting their sights on another target: Big Tech.

“Following years of federal inaction, the state watchdogs are initiating sweeping antitrust investigations against Silicon Valley’s largest companies, probing whether they undermine rivals and harm consumers. Their latest salvo arrives Monday, when more than 40 attorneys general are expected to announce their plan to investigate Google, delivering a rare rebuke of the search-and-advertising giant — and its efforts to maintain that dominance — from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The states seek to probe allegations that the tech industry stifles start-ups, delivers pricier or worse service for Web users, and siphons too much personal information, enriching their record-breaking revenue at the cost of consumer privacy.”

Bloomberg: “FTC Chief Says He’s Willing to Break Up Big Tech Companies” — “The head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said he’s prepared to break up major technology platforms if necessary by undoing their past mergers as his agency investigates whether companies including Facebook Inc. are harming competition.

“FTC Chairman Joe Simons, who is leading a broad review of the technology sector, said in an interview Tuesday that breaking up a company is challenging, but could be the right remedy to rein in dominant companies and restore competition.

“‘If you have to, you do it,; Simons said about breaking up tech companies. ‘It’s not ideal because it’s very messy. But if you have to you have to.’ “

New York Times: “How Each Big Tech Company May Be Targeted by Regulators” — “Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have been the envy of corporate America, admired for their size, influence and remarkable growth.

“Now that success is attracting a different kind of spotlight. In Washington, Brussels and beyond, regulators and lawmakers are investigating whether the four technology companies have used their size and wealth to quash competition and expand their dominance.

“The four firms are lumped together so often that they have become known as Big Tech. Their business models differ, as do the antitrust arguments against them. But those grievances have one thing in common: fear that too much power is in the hands of too few companies.

“The attorney general of New York, Letitia James, said Friday that the attorneys general in eight states — she and three other Democrats, plus four Republicans — and the District of Columbia had begun an antitrust investigation of Facebook.”

Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast.

This program aired on September 10, 2019.

Brighter Bites to participate in industry-first Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator

Via The Produce News

By: Rich Dachman

ReFED announced the cohort of 10 organizations that will participate in its Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator, which aims to catalyze ideas and inspire actions that lead to a doubling of healthy food available to the 40 million Americans facing food insecurity.

“Brighter Bites is grateful to ReFED for this incredible, game-changing opportunity to magnify our work converting food waste into a public health opportunity,” said Rich Dachman, chief executive officer at Brighter Bites. “We are excited to work alongside the nine other exceptional organizations comprising this cohort, as well as the accelerator’s world-class Expert Network. Our participation in this program will bolster Brighter Bites’ efforts to source more produce for families in a sustainable manner, all while combatting food insecurity and teaching healthier choices to the families we serve.”

More than 125 candidates applied for the accelerator. The selected cohort range from long-standing food recovery organizations with hundreds of employees servicing thousands of donors, to newly formed innovative organizations that leverage concepts from the sharing economy and apply them to food rescue. What unites them is the desire to work together on a shared mission — to become operationally sustainable and deliver more impact at scale in a dignified and convenient way.

“The accelerator’s nationwide open call for applications confirmed ReFED’s hypothesis that this type of program will provide value in the form of helping food recovery organizations overcome some of the biggest barriers to increasing the amount of nutritious food they can deliver in a dignified manner,” said Alexandria Coari, director of capital and innovation at ReFED. “Some of these barriers include funding models dependent on grants versus earned revenue, a reliance on volunteers instead of paid staff, underutilization of technology solutions, and a lack of collaboration and best practice sharing across the sector. These are just a few of the topics we’ll tackle throughout the accelerator.” The accelerator’s one-of-a-kind, highly customized curriculum will combine a virtual classroom with in-person ReFED Learning Labs that focus on co-creating earned revenue models and technology-enabled solutions using human-centered design.

“Growing awareness about the scale of senseless food waste in this country has catalyzed existing organizations to innovate their paradigms and inspired energetic entrepreneurs to launch creative new models that use this surplus food as a resource,” said Emily Broad Leib, assistant clinical professor of law and director of the Harvard Law School Food Law & Policy Clinic. “As an Expert Network member, it has been incredible to see the response to ReFED’s Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator, which will build the needed network and resources for these innovators. I am excited about the announcement of the 2019 cohort, and cannot wait to see them take the next steps to address this major societal issue of our era.”

In addition to Brighter Bites, the other members of the cohort for the first-ever Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator are 412 Food Rescue (Pittsburgh), Boston Area Gleaners (Waltham, MA), Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (Nogales, AZ), Eat Greater Des Moines (Des Moines, IA), Philabundance (Philadelphia), Plentiful (New York City), Replate (Berkeley, CA), Rescuing Leftover Cuisine (New York City), and Seeds That Feed (Fayetteville, AR).

Each participating organization will receive $30,000, plus an additional $100,000 will be awarded to a selected winner at the end of the accelerator. In addition, organizations will have access to a world-class group of food business and technology executives, capital providers and subject matter experts who make up the accelerator’s Expert Network, which includes Afresh, Albertsons, Aramark, Baldor Specialty Foods, Blue Apron, Bon Appetit Management Co., CalRecycle, Center for EcoTechnology, Chick-fil-a, Cisco, Claneil Foundation, ClimateWorks Foundation, Closed Loop Partners, Compass, DoorDash, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, EPA, Fast Forward, FDA, Feeding America, Fink Family Foundation, Food Donation Connection, Food for Soul, FoodMaven, General Mills, GoodR, Harvard Law School Food Law & Policy Clinic, HelloFresh, Imperfect Produce, Nestle, Next Course LLC, Ovio, Pisces Foundation, Posner Foundation, Rabobank, Sodexo, Spoiler Alert, Starbucks, Taylor Farms, The Ajana Foundation, The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Wonderful Company, Tyson Foods, USDA, Village Capital, Wells Fargo, Whole Foods Market and World Wildlife Fund.

Guatemalan Woman’s Asylum Bid Revived Over New Dangers

Via Law360 

By: Kaitlyn Burton

A Guatemalan woman has another shot at asylum after the First Circuit said Friday that the Board of Immigration Appeals must asses her evidence that the Latin American country has become more dangerous for members of a Mayan activist organization she is a part of.

A three-judge panel ruled that the BIA erred in denying Marta Perez-Tino’s bid to reopen her immigration case, saying that her evidence of new dangers for the members of Organizacion Maya K’iche’, or OMK, in Guatemala could excuse her tardy filing, which came more than seven years after the board denied her previous asylum bid.

“It appears that, as Perez-Tino contends, the BIA mistakenly ‘assumed that, because Ms. Perez-Tino voluntarily associated herself with OMK, that condition was a personal circumstance and could not support her motion to reopen,’” the panel said.

An immigration judge denied Perez-Tino’s asylum application in April 2009, and in October 2010, the BIA rejected her appeal of that decision. She then filed a bid in February 2018 to reopen her immigration case, but the BIA denied her request last August, saying that it was too late since she had not proved that circumstances in her country had changed.

However, the First Circuit also said that the BIA was wrong to have rejected another argument from Perez-Tino that the expected deportation of former paramilitary commander Juan Samayoa, whom she alleges tortured and murdered her relatives, from the U.S. to Guatemala would put her in added danger.

The BIA had found that Perez-Tino failed to adequately explain why she did not mention Samayoa’s attacks during her earlier immigration hearing in 2009. But the circuit court said that Perez-Tino had clearly explained that she did not mention him because he had not been arrested until 2017, eight years after her hearing.

“We fail to see why this explanation does not ‘adequately explain’ Perez-Tino’s decision to refer to Samayoa for the first time in her 2018 motion to reopen,” the panel said, noting that Perez-Tino had also provided the BIA with multiple affidavits from friends and family attesting to her claims.

However, the panel did not disagree with the BIA rejecting Perez-Tino’s argument that the shifting political landscape in Guatemala amounted to changed country conditions.

“Perez-Tino develops no argument that the BIA’s determination that there had not been a ‘material change in circumstances’ with respect to this aspect of her attempted showing to the contrary was unsupported by substantial evidence,” the panel said.

A representative for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment. A representative for Perez-Tino did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Perez-Tino is represented by Nancy J. Kelly, John Willshire Carrera and Maggie Morgan of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services.

The government is represented by Jacob A. Bashyrov of the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation.

The case is Perez-Tino v. Barr, case number 18-1860, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Human Rights Program Summer 2019 Highlights

Via HRP

Human rights work doesn’t stop for the summer. HRP staff, however, do take a moment to pause and regroup, taking the necessary time to recharge and plan before their project and teaching work picks up full steam in the Fall. Staff spent the summer on mountains, at the opera, and at the beach. We also developed new classes focused on women’s leadership and taught human rights and populism in Berlin.

Read on to see what we’ve all been up to this summer!


Following the release of Clinical Instructor Thomas Becker’s IHRC report “Femicide and Impunity in Bolivia” last year, the Bolivian government implemented a ten point emergency plan this summer to tackle the high rate of femicides in the country. In other news, after two months of climbing, Becker summited Mount Everest. With temperatures reaching as low as -40 degrees on the mountain, he thinks he is finally prepared for winter in Cambridge. Following Everest, Thomas’s work led him to a slightly warmer destination, the Sahara, where he spent several weeks meeting with human rights activists, women’s groups, and social movement leaders in refugee camps in Algeria.

Anna Crowe accomplished an intra-Cambridge move in July and submitted a book chapter on a disarmament topic to be published later this year.

Bonnie Docherty spoke at the International Symposium for Peace in Hiroshima on the advantages of the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament and why Japan can and should join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (check out a transcript of her remarks here!) She also had meetings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with civil society advocates, student activists, and doctors who have treated the hibakusha who survived the atomic bombings. On her recent work trip to Geneva for killer robots meetings at the UN, she carved out a weekend for mountains and marmots. She visited the alpine peaks of Chamonix and met some furry friends in the hills above Montreux. Hiking buddy Elizabeth Minor of Article 36, longtime Clinic partner, even brought her tote bag from ACCPI’s humanitarian disarmament conference.

Susan Farbstein developed new teaching modules on women’s leadership to pilot in the advanced Human Rights Careers Workshop this fall. She was lucky to work with one of the Clinic’s alumni, Salomé Gómez Upegui LLM ’18, as well as current SJD student Regina Larrea Maccise, to review and curate materials and build the sessions. She’s excited to see how the 3Ls will respond to what they’ve put together. She also spent a lot of time with her family, swimming, hiking, riding bikes, flying kites, building sand castles, and eating fried fish and ice cream across New England (and in Canada!).

After being on sabbatical Spring semester, Tyler Giannini went to Berlin to conduct a human rights simulation with Yee Htun. He also had the opportunity to visit members of the extended HRP family in the Netherlands and got to learn about their work at the ICC (Juan Calderson-Meza, former clinical fellow) and innovative work on business and human rights (Fola Adeleke, former clinical fellow; Deval Desai LLM ’08, SJD ’18, former research fellow; and Amelia Evans LLM ’11, former clinical instructor). With his family, Giannini also visited his roots in Ireland and in Lucca, northern Italy, for the first time, where they met long-lost cousins they never knew existed. 

Clinical Instructor Yee Htun completed a book chapter on populism in Thailand and Myanmar for an edited collection to be out next year from Cambridge University Press. She also taught a module entitled “Human Rights Under a Military Dictatorship: A Case Study on Myanmar/Burma” at the Lucerne Academy on Human Rights Implementation as well as presented at “Gender Matters: A Summer Workshop for Educators” organized by the Asia Center, the Center for African Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator, and the Religious Literacy Project of Harvard University.  In personal news, Htun is feeling a little lighter after donating 14 inches of her locks to Wigs for Kids.

Beatrice Lindstrom joined HRP as a Clinical Instructor at the end of August. Her summer was busy moving from New York and closing out nine years with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). She worked on responding to a deteriorating human rights situation in Haiti, including preparing a request for precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights for victims displaced by a brutal massacre in La Saline. She also published a chapter in the book Emerging Threats to Human Rights that came out in July. Before the move, Lindstrom got to spend some time with family on a lake in Maine.

Gerald Neuman presented his work on populism and human rights at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin in June, during a two-week stay at that social science research institute. While in Berlin he found something he has wanted for years at the Pergamon Museum – a working facsimile of a Babylonian cylinder seal. He will not be using it, however, for HRP correspondence.

New Clinical Instructor Aminta Ossom moved here from Geneva, finishing up her work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and joined the Clinic. Before she left, she had the opportunity to cross off some items from her Geneva bucket list, including spending a day on a “funky jazz and blues boat” at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July and enjoyed a sunrise concert from the aubes musicales (“musical dawns”) concert series on the shores of Lake Geneva before work, which is a Geneva summer tradition. 


We hope you all had relaxing and productive summers! We look forward to picking up threads of old projects and meeting some new faces this year.

DeVos tightens rules for forgiving student loans

Via Politico

By: Michael Stratford

Source: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday finalized rules that make it more difficult for federal student loan borrowers to cancel their debt on the grounds that their college defrauded them, scaling back an Obama-era policy aimed at abuses by for-profit colleges.

The rules, which the Trump administration weighed for more than a year, set a more stringent standard for when the Education Department will wipe out the debt of borrowers who claim they were misled or deceived by their respective colleges.

The overhaul of the rules — called “borrower defense to repayment” — is a response to conservative criticism that the current federal standards, set by the Obama administration, are too lenient and expensive for taxpayers. The Obama-era rules were written following the collapse of for-profit college company Corinthian Colleges in 2015, when tens of thousands of former students flooded the Education Department with requests for loan forgiveness.

DeVos previously said those standards allowed students to raise their hands and receive “free money” from the government. For-profit colleges have also long criticized the rules as unfair.

In an announcement about the new rules, DeVos said on Friday that fraud in higher education “will not be tolerated” by the Trump administration. The rules, she said, include “carefully crafted reforms that hold colleges and universities accountable and treat students and taxpayers fairly.”

The tighter standards will reduce the amount of loan forgiveness provided to students by more than $500 million each year compared to the amount under the current Obama-era policies, the department estimated. The entire package of regulations — which also curtails loan discharges for students whose schools suddenly close — is projected to save taxpayers more than $11 billion over the next decade.

The final policy, which takes effect July 1, 2020, sets a more stringent standard for loan forgiveness than exists under the Obama-era policy. But it’s not as restrictive as the one DeVos initially proposed last year.

The initial Trump administration plan would have required borrowers to prove that their college intentionally misled them in order for them to have their loans forgiven. It considered forcing student loan borrowers to wait until they had defaulted on their debt before allowing them to file a fraud claim, an obstacle that would have threatened borrowers’ credit history and could have jeopardized security clearances for military servicemembers.

“We made substantive changes to our proposed rule based” on public input, DeVos said.

But those changes did not go far enough for consumer advocates and Democrats, who said Friday that the Trump administration was gutting important protections for students defrauded by their college.

“This rule is another Trump-DeVos giveaway to their for-profit college cronies at the expense of defrauded student borrowers,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House education committee, said that “the Trump administration is sending an alarming message: Schools can cheat [their] student borrowers and still reap the rewards of federal student aid.”

Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending — whose successful lawsuit last year forced DeVos to implement the Obama-era rules — vowed on Friday to bring a new legal challenge “in the coming days” to stop the latest regulations from taking effect.

“If Betsy DeVos won’t do her job and stand up for students, then we will fill that void,” the organization’s legal director, Eileen Connor, said in a statement. “That is why we will be filing a suit challenge these harmful new regulations that give a green light to for-profit colleges to continue scamming students.”

The new rules narrow the type of misconduct by colleges that could trigger loan forgiveness and also require that borrowers provide more extensive documentation about the financial harm they faced. Borrowers will also have to file their claims within three years of leaving school.

In addition, the final rule allows colleges to resume using mandatory arbitration agreements in their enrollment agreements with students, reversing an Obama-era ban on the practice, which was common at for-profit schools.

DeVos first proposed a rewrite of the “borrower defense” rules more than a year ago. Since then, she’s been forced to implement the Obama administration’s version of the rules after a federal court last fall struck down the Trump administration’s efforts to delay them.

The Trump administration separately is facing criticism and a proposed class-action lawsuit over the backlog of existing “borrower defense” claims, which now exceeds 170,000 applications. The Education Department hasn’t approved or denied any claims in more than a year.

Paras Shah ’19, fostering inclusion and creativity in human rights

Via Harvard Law Today

By: Elaine McArdle

Source: Harvard Law Today

Paras Shah’s approach to human rights centers on inclusion. In his four terms with the International Human Rights Clinic, Shah has encouraged an international coalition to ban killer robots to integrate diverse perspectives into its campaign, and collaborated with grassroots activists to counter hate speech and de-escalate ethnic and religious ultra-national rhetoric in Myanmar. As a student in the Advanced Skills Training in Strategic Human Rights Advocacy seminar, Shah and two other classmates also designed and led a workshop to increase student leadership, promote self-care, and build bridges between the Clinic and other programs at the Law School.

“I was born legally blind and grew up in the U.S., where the law has always played an important role in making sure I have equal opportunities like everyone else,” said Shah, who was previously the John Gardner Fellow at Human Rights Watch, where he focused on the rights of refugees with disabilities. “I want to use the law to create that kind of opportunity for other people.”

“Heed the Call: A Moral and Legal Imperative to Ban Killer Robots,” co-published by Human Rights Watch, is one of the most complex reports the Clinic has written, said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection and lecturer on law in the IHRC. Shah was “an integral part of the team helping to build the case for why we need the ban.” His work was so outstanding during his first trip to Geneva, Switzerland that the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots invited Shah to return.

“Paras showed an intuitive understanding of and ability to articulate complicated issues,” said Docherty. “It was not just this, but his engagement with campaigners from all over the world, his enthusiasm for the work, his sense of humor, and his commitment to making the world a better place that made such an impression.”

Over J-term 2019, Shah and a team of three other students traveled with Yee Htun, lecturer on law and clinical instructor in the IHRC, to Myanmar and Thailand and met with religious leaders, women’s groups, and LGBTQ+ activists to test a workshop they had developed related to countering hate speech. “Paras rose to every challenge we faced. He was a sounding board and reliable interlocutor for new ideas,” said Htun. “He has the rare ability to think outside the box.”

In addition to his clinical work, Shah recently published an article in the Harvard Human Rights Journal about the use of deadly force against people with disabilities; he also writes for the prestigious national security blog Lawfare.

“The Clinic has been the most important thing I’ve done in law school,” said Shah. He said it sharpened his research skills, and taught him to consider the audience he wanted to reach and message he wanted to convey. “Although I frame an issue differently when briefing a diplomat in Geneva who is likely bound by instructions from her capital than when I discuss an idea with a grassroots activist who might have to later explain it to hundreds of other people in a specific local context, I always strive to understand their perspective and find common ground.”

For Shah, the Clinic was also a home and community. “The classmates I met became my close friends and the instructors became my mentors. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to issues I care about and make a small impact on people’s lives.”

Shah is going to be an associate at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C.

This profile is a preview of the 2018-2019 Human Rights Program Annual Report.

Elena Kagan offers new law students advice – and a shot of confidence

Via The Harvard Gazette

By Liz Mineo

Source: The Harvard Gazette

Elena Kagan was “petrified” when a Law School professor called on her on her first day of class. She blew her first exams, which situated her in “the bottom third of the class.”

And then, in her second semester at Harvard Law School, things started to change.

“When I first came here in 1983, I was very excited and very nervous,” Kagan, J.D. ’86, told a room packed with more than 500 students in Wasserstein Hall, with another 300 seated in an overflow room. “I hadn’t a clue of why I was here really, and I hadn’t the faintest idea of where it would lead to. I went to Law School to keep my options open and because I couldn’t think of anything else. Notwithstanding that I went to Law School for all the wrong reasons, when I got to Law School, I loved it. I really loved it.”

With refreshing candor and good humor, the Supreme Court associate justice shared anecdotes about her early days as a 1L in a conversation with former HLS Dean Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard, during an orientation program Thursday morning at HLS. Despite her rocky start, Kagan would eventually graduate magna cum laude, taking a first major step toward a seat on the bench of the nation’s highest court.

Dean John F. Manning was pleased to have Kagan talk to the new class, as he knew from experience that it would help them feel more relaxed and confident about themselves as their first semester was about to begin. Kagan, who was named HLS’s first female dean in 2003, has taken part in the orientation program for the past few years.

“I’m delighted that Justice Kagan returned again to Harvard Law School to teach our students and reconnect with our community,” said Manning, who attended HLS at the same time as Kagan. “She is not only a brilliant lawyer and jurist, but also a generous and funny teacher, colleague, and friend.”

Kagan spoke at length about her life as a law student and her journey to the high court. She offered advice on how to have a fulfilling legal career, but she also reminded students of the responsibility and privilege that comes with being a lawyer.

Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow and Justice Elena Kagan share a laugh.
Source: The Harvard Gazette

Studying and practicing law in a country where no one is above the law gives attorneys a sense of mission and purpose, said Kagan. “You really get to do stuff that matters to people,” she said. “To live in a rule-of-law country is an incredible thing, and that has to be guarded very carefully, and you’re now part of that enterprise.”

Drawing lessons from her own experience, Kagan advised students to be open to serendipity and be willing to take risks. During her six years at the helm of HLS, Kagan saw many students planning their careers, including summer internships, in advance. It is a good idea to have plans, Kagan said, but students should be willing to abandon them to pursue something fun and exciting, which could lead to new passions and commitments.

Becoming a judge, said Kagan, was “mostly accidental.” After graduating from Harvard, Kagan clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and then went to work at a law firm in Washington, D.C. In 1991, she became a professor at the University of Chicago Law School; she moved from there to a position as associate counsel to the president in the White House. She arrived at Harvard in 1999 as a law professor.

Kagan had expected to someday become president of a university, but her life path changed when she got a call in 2009 from President Barack Obama asking her to serve as U.S. Solicitor General. A year later Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court.

When Minow asked Kagan which title she prefers, Kagan quipped, “I like ‘Justice,’ myself.”

As for her work as a Supreme Court Justice, Kagan said she enjoys reading cases, writing decisions, and thinking about the law, but she also relishes working with the other justices and following the rituals that are part of the institution. She said she misses both the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who taught her how to hunt, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in 2018.

After listening to Kagan’s talk, first-year law students Nicole Franklin and Alison Roberts felt a mix of relief and gratitude.

“I love how she kind of helped me feel OK as I’m thinking about what it’s going to mean for me to be a lawyer,” said Franklin.

Roberts shared the sentiment.

“You come into a talk like this expecting to see someone who is such an intellectual titan and so far above your level,” said Roberts. “And yet I found it incredibly reassuring to hear how she struggled to get her footing here and she kind of followed what felt right at the time, not necessarily having a plan. For someone who is so accomplished, to be able to reassure students who are about to start is a testament to her as a teacher and as a person.”

Beyond education and litigation: the social work program at HIRC

Via HIRC

By: Mariana Ferreira

Before interning at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) my understanding of social work was limited to the definitions I had picked up from psychology textbooks. I knew that social work entailed providing people with emotional support. Beyond that, I vaguely understood what kind of work ‘social services’ encompassed. In my mind, social work was like the icing on the cake: important, but not necessarily a defining feature of the dessert. That changed when I interpreted a client meeting together with HIRC’s social worker, Liala Buoniconti. I realized that social work is not the icing at all, but a much more critical ingredient in this metaphorical legal clinic cake.

HIRC clinical social worker Liala Buoniconti

I remember the meeting was particularly difficult because the legal team needed the client, Julia*, to recount deeply traumatic abuse she suffered in her past. It became clear that Julia was struggling to answer some questions posed by her legal team. This was, in part, because she did not understand their context and, in part, because the questions were about painful things that she wished never to remember. Liala drew on her social work expertise in the meeting to make Julia feel more comfortable answering questions and to make the legal team more comfortable asking them. When Julia did not understand a question, Liala’s culturally sensitive lens allowed her to rephrase questions in a way that was relevant to where and when Julia grew up. Liala also took the time to slow down the pace of the interview to acknowledge why it is so common to have trouble accessing memories when the subject is traumatic. Julia then appeared more at ease, knowing that difficulties with memory are not only typical for trauma survivors, but actually a coping mechanism that many use to deal with the associated emotions. Without Liala in the meeting, Julia would not have been able to share as much as she did about her story with us, and she might have run the risk of becoming re-traumatized.

When certain questions sent Julia into a painful memory, Liala noticed that Julia was dissociating. In an effort to help Julia regain a sense of control, Liala would employ sensory and breathing techniques to help ground Julia in the present. Grounding is a technique used in the social work field, aimed at trying to help someone focus on their present safety, rather than re-living the emotional intensity of their trauma. After the interview, Liala sat with Julia to provide critical emotional support, and to keep her in the present: safe and far away from the people and the place that brought her so much suffering. It was after this meeting that I began to understand how integral social workers are to HIRC’s mission. From addressing the mental health of attorneys, students, and clients to facilitating the logistics of legal objectives, social workers complete the HIRC team.

Together, the legal and social work teams strive to promote justice and better lives for immigrants. Liala shared the following quote with me from Judith Herman, a specialist in the psychiatry of trauma who wrote the groundbreaking work Trauma and Recovery, “Trauma robs the victim of a sense of power and control; the guiding principle of recovery is to restore power and control.” I believe this quote represents the goal of the social work program at HIRC. In addition to Liala, there is a team of social work interns who are completing their fieldwork at HIRC while pursuing their Masters of Social Work degrees. As attorneys work to build clients’ legal case, the social work team attends to their emotional and resource needs in order to facilitate their full participation in their own lives and in the legal process.

When working one-on-one with clients, social workers foster healing relationships that give clients someone to trust. Sometimes, social workers create this relationship by providing emotional support for those struggling with the toll of their immigration case. Other times, social workers connect people to community resources such as food banks or therapists. They also explain mail that people may not understand, find affordable furniture for their homes, accompany them on public transportation so they know how to reach our office, and help them with other everyday life tasks that many people may take for granted.

The social work team also teaches clinic attorneys and students how to be trauma-sensitive. Liala co-teaches the class Trauma, Refugees and Asylum Law, guest speaks at the clinic training and Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Seminar, and conducts trauma-sensitivity orientations for the Harvard Immigration Project. She provides advice to students and attorneys on dealing with cultural differences and with survivors of trauma.

I have learned a lot from Liala during my three months at HIRC. I have come to realize that she is one of the most essential members of the clinic. She creates a safe and supportive environment for everyone at HIRC, including clients, law students, and attorneys, to cope with the intense emotional experience of working on asylum cases. Without the social work team, HIRC could not accomplish all it does today for immigrants. The inclusion of the social work program embodies what the clinic is all about: serving the immigrant community in hopes of improving their lives and their access to justice.

*Julia’s name was changed to respect client confidentiality.

 

FLPC Welcomes New Team Member Emma Scott

Via CHLPI Blog 

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) welcomes Emma Scott to the team as a Clinical Instructor!

Emma joined the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic in August 2019 as a Clinical Instructor. Her work currently focuses on FPLC’s Sustainable and Equitable Food Production Initiative and the Clinic’s ongoing projects in the Mississippi Delta.

Prior to joining FLPC, Emma served as a Justice Catalyst Fellow at California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in the Labor and Civil Rights Litigation Unit. At CRLAF, Emma’s practice focused on group representation of immigrant workers in employment and labor litigation, with an emphasis on farmworkers and the H-2A visa program.  Emma got to know FLPC as an HLS student through the Food Law and Policy Seminar, attending FLPC sponsored conferences, and serving as a Research Assistant to Prof. Emily Broad Leib.  Emma received her B.S. in Social Sciences, with a concentration in Cross-Cultural Studies and International Development, from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 2010. She graduated from Harvard Law School, cum laude, in 2016. She then served as a law clerk to the Hon. John A. Mendez of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California from September 2016 to August 2018, assuming the position and responsibilities of Senior Law Clerk in her second year.  She is a licensed member of the California Bar.

Setting the Stage for Humanitarian Disarmament Season

Via Human Rights@Harvard Law

By: Jillian Rafferty JD ‘20

The disarmament season in Geneva begins in earnest this month with diplomatic meetings on killer robots, the arms trade, and cluster munitions. To provide a frame for these discussions, Harvard Law School’s Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) and the Geneva Disarmament Platform (GDP) recently organized a humanitarian disarmament workshop for diplomats.

The event, which was held last week, aimed to raise awareness and increase understanding of humanitarian disarmament. This approach to governing weapons seeks to reduce arms-inflicted human and environmental harm through the establishment and implementation of norms. Representatives from about two dozen national missions in Geneva participated.

At the workshop, the ACCPI and PAX released a jointly published brochure that examines this cross-cutting approach to disarmament and introduces key arms-related issues to which it has been applied. A new tool for diplomats and campaigners, the brochure also provides a definition of humanitarian disarmament, a timeline, list of key players, and selected resources.

The workshop opened with an examination of the history, definition, and characteristics of humanitarian disarmament, distinguishing this people-centered approach from more traditional, security-focused framings of disarmament. The first session also addressed the effectiveness of humanitarian disarmament and ways in which diplomats can use it to advance their disarmament agendas. Maricela Muñoz, from the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica, guided the discussion with:

  • John Borrie, UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR);
  • Bonnie Docherty, ACCPI; and,
  • Wen Zhou, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Setting aside their national positions, participants then engaged in a simulation. In small groups, diplomats reviewed the security-focused disarmament language of mock statements and discussed how to reframe rhetoric and positions in humanitarian terms.

Other presenters discussed the inclusive nature of humanitarian disarmament, emphasizing the importance of partnerships among governments, international organizations, and civil society. The speakers highlighted the need for open communication and close collaboration across these sectors. Moderated by GDP’s Richard Lennane, the panel included:

  • Austrian Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi;
  • Beatrice Fihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN); and,
  • Hector Guerra, International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC).

The workshop set the stage for the Geneva meetings on three disarmament issues that are frequently framed as humanitarian. This week, states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons discussed options for dealing with lethal autonomous weapons systems. Also known as killer robots, these systems raise serious humanitarian, moral, and accountability concerns because they would select and engage targets without meaningful human control.

Next week, countries party to the Arms Trade Treaty will hold their fifth annual conference. The theme this year is gender and gender-based violence (GBV), and the conference president will seek agreement on recommendations for states parties to improve gender diversity, understand and address the gendered impact of the arms trade, and improve implementation of the GBV risk assessment mandate by the treaty.

Finally, during the first week of September, states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions will convene for their annual meeting. This treaty exemplifies humanitarian disarmament’s combination of prohibitions on the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of problematic weapons and obligations to remediate the harm caused by past use.

 

Here’s how we solve the planet’s food waste problem

Via Grist

By: Maddie Stone

Celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott at the launch of the campaign “Love Food, Hate Waste,” which found that the UK is throwing away a third of all food bought in the country. Source: David Parry, PA Images via Getty Images

Earlier this month, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dire report highlighting the enormous environmental impact of agriculture. But the report also pointed to a clear way for us to feed more mouths without causing more planetary destruction: We can stop wasting food.

Globally, we humans squander up to a third of the food we produce, according to the U.N. We leave it to rot in fields and refrigerators. We cull it because it’s too ugly to sell. We stack it in overflowing supermarket displays where some is inevitably squashed. All of this uneaten food required energy to produce; if food waste were its own country, it would have the third highest carbon footprint on Earth—right behind China and the U.S. and just ahead of India. That’s a harsh reality in a world where 821 million people don’t have enough to eat.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can streamline the supply chain to reduce spoiled and lost food, and we can change the way we eat at home. Already, simple technologies like better storage bags, are making a big difference, and wonkier solutions like national policies that standardize food labels are in the works.

To eat or not to eat

In wealthier countries, the biggest food-waste culprit is easier to pinpoint: It’s us.

In the U.S., individuals throw away some 27 million tons of food a year, amounting to 43 percent of all food waste nationwide. In the UK, household waste accounts for 70 percent of losses beyond the farm.

Trashing food happens for many reasons: We buy too much. We don’t use it in time. We forget to eat the leftovers. To Liz Goodwin, director of Food Loss and Waste at the World Resources Institute, it all boils down to the fact that food is now a throwaway item. “We know we can get more, so it doesn’t really matter,” she said.

Raising awareness that food waste does matter can work. The UK’s “Love Food Hate Waste” initiative, which Goodwin described as “the single best-evaluated campaign there is,” led to a 20 percent reduction in household food waste between 2007 and 2012, she said.

Somewhat surprisingly, meal kits can also help reduce waste. A recent study by Miller’s team in Michigan showed that meals prepared from Blue Apron recipes resulted in one-third less carbon emissions on average than the same meals prepared from grocery store ingredients. The difference was largely due to the fact that the kit portioned ingredients very carefully, resulting in less wasted food — which more than compensated for the climate impact of all the extra packaging.

“We have this great understanding of plastic and packaging waste as major environmental impacts, but for whatever reason we don’t have that same idea associated with food,” Miller said.

Standardizing date labels could also make a difference. They became common in the 1970s as a marker of food quality, but many of us today wrongly assume that once the “sell by” date has passed, the food’s spoiled. In fact, these dates are often a manufacturer’s arbitrary estimate of when the food will taste most fresh — and different states have different standards. The result is we throw out loads of food that’s still fine to eat, according to Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Law School Food and Policy Clinic.

Read more.

As Satter Fellow, Anna Khalfaoui L.L.M. ’17 assisted in trial of Congolese militia leaders

Via Human Rights@Harvard Law

By: Elaine McArdle

Between 2010 and 2014 in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), rebels from the Nduma Defence of Congo (NDC) militia murdered, raped, and looted hundreds of civilians and forced children to become soldiers. In November 2018, the trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity against NDC’s militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi, who goes by the war name “Sheka,” commenced before the Operational Military Court of North Kivu.

As a 2018-2019 Satter Fellow in Human Rights, Anna Khalfaoui LL.M. ’17 spent the year in the DRC working with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) to assist survivors and their lawyers through the trial, acting as a liaison in support of the justice system.

“After nine years, to finally have a trial that looks at these incidents is so important,” said Khalfaoui, a British-trained French attorney who chose Harvard Law School for its human rights training. “Being part of the team supporting survivors who’ve waited so long to tell their stories is an incredible learning opportunity.”

Khalfaoui also assisted survivors and their lawyers in the historic trial of militia leader Marcel Habarugira Rangira. With the support of a coalition of local and international actors, including ABA ROLI, Habarugira was convicted in February 2019 of the war crimes of rape and of conscription, enlistment and use of children as soldiers. The conviction for conscripting and using child soldiers was notably the first such conviction in the DRC.

These cases are very challenging, Khalfaoui noted, explaining that there is tremendous pressure on survivors to recant their stories. Diverse actors, from the military justice and local organizations, to NGOs like ABA ROLI and the UN peacekeeping forces in the DRC have worked together to make these trials possible. They are nevertheless expensive, often lengthy, and incredibly complex. Given the instability and insecurity in Eastern DRC, these trials face critical challenges from the lack of an effective investigative and prosecutorial strategy to difficulties providing protection for the survivors and witnesses.

Still, Khalfaoui is determined to continue working on these important issues. “I think it’s become clearer as I work on this trial that I’m more and more interested in doing direct legal work with people who are affected by human rights violations,” she said. During her fellowship, Khalfaoui is also supporting ABA ROLI’s early warning system for preventing atrocities, which allows people to alert security forces when there are signs of impending violence against civilian populations. The system, which is also being used in response to an Ebola breakout, is being expanded to new zones in Eastern DRC and to include conflict prevention activities to reduce community conflict.

After the fellowship, Khalfaoui plans to continue working on international human rights and international humanitarian law litigation.

The Satter Human Rights Fellowship is designed to support and promote human rights defense in response to mass atrocities. The fellowship is made possible by a generous gift from Muneer A. Satter J.D./M.B.A.’87. This profile is a preview of the 2018-2019 Human Rights Program Annual Report, which will be available soon on the HRP blog. You can also read this post on the HLS Today website.

HRP Welcomes New Clinicians for 2019-2020

Via Human Rights@Harvard Law

The International Human Rights Clinic is thrilled to welcome two new faces, and one familiar one, to our team this year. Two impressive human rights practitioners, Beatrice Lindstrom and Aminta Ossom JD ’09, have joined the International Human Rights Clinic as Clinical Instructors. Coming to us with an extensive background in accountability litigation and advocacy, Beatrice will split her time between supervising projects as a Clinical Instructor and overseeing the student practice organization HLS Advocates for Human Rights. Aminta arrives from the United Nations, where she previously supported the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council as a Human Rights Officer. We are also pleased to welcome back Thomas Becker JD’08 as a Clinical Instructor. Becker was previously a Clinical Instructor during the 2018-2019 school year, where he worked on projects focused on accountability litigation and femicide in Bolivia, and he has played an integral role in the Clinic’s Mamani case for more than a decade.

Read more about Beatrice, Aminta, and Thomas below, and be sure to welcome them to HLS!


Beatrice Lindstrom is a Clinical Instructor in the Human Rights Program and the Supervising Attorney of Advocates for Human Rights. Her work focuses on accountability of transnational actors, obligations of international organizations, and access to remedies.

Prior to joining Harvard Law School, Lindstrom was the Legal Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, an organization that works in partnership with Haitian lawyers to bring grassroots struggles for human rights to the international stage. For nearly a decade, her work has focused on path-breaking advocacy to secure accountability from the UN for causing a devastating cholera epidemic in Haiti. She was lead counsel in Georges v. United Nations, a class action lawsuit on behalf of those injured by cholera. For her work on the cholera case, she received the Recent Graduate Award from the NYU Law Alumni Association and the Zanmi Ayiti Award from the Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast.

Lindstrom has extensive experience advocating in the UN human rights system, lobbying governments, and speaking in the media. She has appeared regularly in the New York Times, BBC, and Al Jazeera English.

Lindstrom was previously an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights and a Haiti country expert for Freedom House. She holds a JD from NYU School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern public interest scholar, and a BA from Emory University.


Aminta Ossom is a Clinical Instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic. She focuses on equality, inclusion, and economic and social rights. She also has research interests in human rights diplomacy, the role of identity in advocacy, and symbioses between civil and human rights movements.

Ossom was previously a human rights officer at the United Nations, where she supported the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council in fact-finding, advocacy and training in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Europe.

Before joining the UN, Ossom taught international human rights at Fordham Law School as a Crowley Fellow in International Human Rights and Adjunct Professor of Law.  There she designed and led a field study examining barriers to education faced by persons with disabilities in Rwanda. She has also served as a supervising attorney for independent clinical and externship students.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2009, Ossom focused on transitional justice, including as a Satter Human Rights Fellow with Amnesty International in West Africa. While at HLS, she was a dedicated member of the International Human Rights Clinic. She holds a Masters in African Politics from SOAS, University of London, and a BA from the University of Oklahoma.


Thomas Becker is a Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic. He is an attorney and activist who has spent most of the past decade working on human rights issues in Bolivia. As a student at Harvard Law School, he was the driving force behind launching Mamani v. Sanchez de Lozada, a lawsuit against Bolivia’s former president and defense minister for their role in the massacre of indigenous peasants. After graduating, he moved to Bolivia, where he has worked with the survivors for over a decade. Last spring, Becker and his co-counsel obtained a $10 million jury verdict for family members of those killed in “Black October,” marking the first time a living ex-president has been held accountable in a U.S. court for human rights violations. The verdict was overturned by a federal judge and is currently being appealed in the Eleventh Circuit of Appeals.

Becker’s human rights work has included investigating torture and disappearance of Adavasis in India, documenting war crimes in Lebanon, and serving as a nonviolent bodyguard for the Zapatista guerrillas in Chiapas, Mexico. When he is not practicing law, Becker is an award-winning musician and songwriter who has recorded with Grammy-winning producers and toured throughout the world as a drummer and guitarist.

Tenants Pushed Out as Developers Buy Single-Room-Occupancy Properties

Via WGBH Radio

Source: John Tlumacki

DAVID GREENE, HOST: In many American cities, the cheapest rental housing is single room occupancy, or SRO units or rooming houses. These are tiny rooms with no kitchens and shared bathrooms out in the hallway. As investors buy up SRO properties in urban neighborhoods, several cities have seen low-income tenants pushed out. Chris Burrell from WGBH’s New England Center for Investigative Reporting found such renters are struggling to hold on.

RICHARD: Don’t be shy (ph). Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go. Good girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT MEOWING)

CHRIS BURRELL, BYLINE: That’s Richard, a 62-year-old tenant in an SRO north of Boston. As he opens the door to his room, he makes sure his cat doesn’t dash into the hallway. NPR’s not using his full name because he is fearful of reprisals from his landlord for talking to the media.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT MEOWING)

RICHARD: Her prior owner was a heroin addict who had OD’d. And if I have to move out, who’s going to take care of her?

BURRELL: He’s worried because the 72-unit SRO, where he lives in a windowless room, was sold last year for $2.2 million. Since then, the owner has sent eviction notices to 20 tenants; in April came notice of rent hikes. For tenants like Richard, it’s a 27% increase, from $550 to $700 a month.

Nationally, housing advocates say SROs are vital unsubsidized shelter for the poor, low-wage workers, the elderly and people with mental illness or drug addiction. SROs don’t have a great reputation. Considered substandard housing, cities in the last 50 years eliminated hundreds of thousands of rooms in the name of urban renewal.

NAN ROMAN: There’s no question that the loss of a lot of these units is a major contributor to homelessness in places where they existed.

BURRELL: That’s Nan Roman, the head of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. She says SROs, once seen as blight, are now viewed as one solution to homelessness. Several cities – Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. – are trying to preserve SROs before owners convert them to higher-end housing.

Back in Massachusetts, Richard has lived in this tiny SRO room for three years, surviving on a $700-a-month disability check. His hands tremble as he shows me the ceiling fan dangling from thin wires. He and three other tenants share a bathroom with cracked floor tiles and decayed caulking around the tub. As bad as it is here, Richard wants to stay put.

RICHARD: One of the big problems for most people in the building is, where are we going to go? We can’t afford the rent anymore, and you’re talking about elderly, disabled people.

BURRELL: He’s not alone. In San Diego, city officials last spring were helping nearly 200 people relocate after a large SRO closed. In Boston, housing advocates see a similar pattern. Eloise Lawrence is an attorney at Harvard Law School’s legal clinic, defending SRO tenants against eviction.

ELOISE LAWRENCE: People are being thrown out. That’s happening across the city because these properties now are so valued. What was considered sort of housing at the last resort is now seen as desirable and profitable.

BURRELL: But developers say running rooming houses is hard, and when the economy is booming like it is now, there may be easier options, like converting to condos. Alan Hope ran two rooming houses north of Boston.

ALAN HOPE: It’s very difficult, I think, if you’re not a professional, in maintaining a rooming house to the standard that’s required. Real estate, in general, is becoming more higher-priced, valuable. So investors are trying to get the most they can out of it. Maybe having other form of more stable type of tenants, tenants that are probably living – earning a living, and they’re not depending on subsidies.

BURRELL: Housing experts say demand for such SRO-type housing is increasing as the number of single households in America who are renters has grown to 16 million in the last decade, and many of them are facing rent levels that eat up at least a third or half their income. Building new SRO housing is one response. Places like New York and Portland, Maine, are looking at proposals to do just that.

For NPR News, I’m Chris Burrell.

Climate Change Case is Heard in Court of Appeals

By: Olivia Klein

Source: Robin Loznak

A group of young people are fighting to sue the U.S. government in an ongoing case about climate change, which has recently returned to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Juliana v. United States was filed in 2015 by 21 children and young adults who argue that their basic constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are being violated by the government’s inaction in the face of climate change and subsidizing of fossil fuels. Their direct constitutional argument is that they have a right to a stable climate system. In addition, they claim that the public trust doctrine, which gives the government the responsibility to hold resources such as land, water, and fisheries in trust for its citizens, has been violated. The plaintiffs of Juliana argue that as a trustee of the atmosphere, the government has failed to take measures protecting it, such as limiting fossil fuel use and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, despite having explicit knowledge that combustion of fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, harmfully accelerating climate change.

Numerous people have signed on to plaintiff-side amicus briefs filed by international lawyers, members of Congress, and leading public health experts alike. Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic is one such supporter of the case; the clinic filed its own amicus brief in March, authored by Clinic Director Wendy Jacobs, Deputy Director Shaun Goho, and a clinical student, Grant Glovin, ’20.  At the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, Jacobs and Goho supervise students working on litigation and other projects that address a variety of environmental issues, including climate change, renewable energy, and water pollution. In the amicus brief, the authors from the clinic write, “This generation is suffering – and will continue to suffer as they age – harms different from those of prior generations.”

In their argument, Juliana plaintiffs cite public health consequences caused by climate change, such as asthma and allergies from exposure to wildfire and smoke, worsening infectious disease exposures, and food and water insecurity. “There’s a really robust body of scientific literature that supports each of these different kinds of health impacts that are already being observed and are projected to get worse and worse,” Goho told Inside Climate News.

In addition to these immediate bodily harms, experts also point to the future threats facing the next generation, such as the health risks and stress that go along with hurricanes, wildfires, and rising sea levels threatening their homes. “The Juliana generation is going to feel and suffer from those impacts in a way that’s really different and more extreme than what any previous generation has felt,” the amicus brief states.

The federal government has continuously fought for the case to be dismissed, arguing that no single judge can require the government to stop global climate change. Government lawyers point towards the young people’s argument as a “generalized” grievance and suggest that their injuries do not directly correspond to government actions.

On June 4, 2019, the case returned to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where three judges held an hour-long hearing to listen to arguments from both sides. Judges raised questions for both parties, suggesting that the plaintiffs’ approach was too broad while the government’s arguments to shut down the case were too narrow.

The decision the Ninth Circuit Court makes will determine whether the Juliana case will be allowed to proceed to trial in district court.

Putting Clinical Education into Action at HIRC

Via Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: HIRC Blog

Students who work at HIRC come to the Clinic with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. For some students, it may be their first time working directly with clients, while for others it might be their first time engaging with immigration law or appearing in court. For Krista Oehlke ’20, that day came in June of 2019, when she arrived at the Boston Immigration Courthouse with Albert M. Sacks Teaching and Advocacy Fellow Zachary Albun and their client Carla*, a woman from Central America who was seeking asylum.

“I slept about an hour before the morning of the hearing,” Oehlke admitted.

Leading up to this day, there had been months of preparation and practice. Over the spring semester, Oehlke and Ava Liu ‘20 worked tirelessly to compile country conditions and expert testimony to strengthen Carla’s case, ultimately submitting close to eight hundred pages of evidence. The students also worked closely with Carla and her family in the U.S. and overseas, drafting affidavits and preparing them for their day in court, as well as working with the HIRC social work team to connect them to valuable social services.

Albun said he was impressed by the students’ hard work, noting: “The students developed effective case strategy in response to government decisions like Matter of A-B- which created new challenges for asylum-seekers and refugees.”

He was also happy to report that Oehlke did an excellent job at her first time in immigration court, leading the direct examination of Carla and effectively engaging with and responding to the government attorney. In the end, the judge granted Carla asylum and the government waived appeal.

“It was such an honor to be able to represent a woman as strong as Carla,” said Oehlke. “She inspired me tremendously.”

Liu echoed her admiration for Carla and added “To use the law as a tool to help someone so meaningfully is an experience I will never forget.”

Liu also gave a call to action to her fellow classmates, saying “I hope that other HLS graduates will see the massive need for skillful advocacy in the American immigration system and work in immigration, whether that be full-time or through pro-bono opportunities.”

We are incredibly grateful to all our clinical students, past and present, for their contributions to our Clinic and we hope their experiences at HIRC inspire them to continue to advocate for the rights of immigrants wherever their lives and careers may take them.

 

*Client’s name has been changed to respect her privacy

Defending and promoting freedom of expression in Myanmar

Via Harvard Law Today

By: Elaine McArdle

Photo Courtesy of Jenny Domino / Domino returned to Harvard Law School in February 2019 for a talk about her Satter Fellowship research on Facebook community standards and hate speech.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Jenny Domino LL.M. ’18 was awarded a Satter Human Rights Fellowship from the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School for the 2018-2019 year. A lawyer from the Philippines, Domino spent her fellowship year with ARTICLE 19, a human rights organization focused on the defense and promotion of freedom of expression and information. Over the last year, she has worked to strengthen ARTICLE 19’s response to hate speech in Myanmar, specifically as it incites and provokes violence against the Rohingya community.

Among other things, Domino wrote a human rights-based report analyzing the sufficiency of Facebook’s responses to criticism that it had failed to moderate hate speech in a timely manner in Myanmar. Her report has significantly informed ARTICLE 19 Asia’s engagement with Facebook regarding its content moderation policies. She also organized a regional workshop in spring 2019 on hate speech on social media, bringing together human rights defenders from the ASEAN region to discuss common themes of disinformation, attacks on the press, and weak social media policy.

Facebook’s community standards are the same throughout the world, but a problem occurs when rules are enforced without sufficiently taking into account the geopolitical contexts in which such content is shared, said Domino, who has dedicated herself to deepening the commitment to international human rights law in the ASEAN region. Before heading to HLS, she applied international accountability standards to help facilitate human rights documentation of the civilian killings arising from the Philippine war on drugs.

“When you enter a market and you don’t understand the political context of where you’re operating, that can be a problem,” she said. “The way certain speech is received or acted upon in one context—let’s say, the U.S. or the Netherlands—is different in a place like Myanmar or the Philippines. This distinction is more pronounced when the political context of a specific country involves atrocity crimes or systematic violence against civilians.”

The year has been “very meaningful for me,” said Domino, who will continue to specialize at the intersection of freedom of expression, corporate responsibility, and international human rights law, at the International Commission of Jurists, following her fellowship.

“I’ve learned a lot, not just in terms of substantive knowledge but the practical—and sometimes grim—aspects of working in the NGO scene. I am still trying to figure out through which capacity I can serve best, one where I can make the most impact as a lawyer. For now, I am content to have discovered a cause I deeply care about.”

The Satter Human Rights Fellowship is designed to support and promote human rights defense in response to mass atrocities. The fellowship is made possible by a generous gift from Muneer A. Satter J.D./M.B.A.’87. This profile is a preview of the 2018-2019 Human Rights Program Annual Report.

Elizabeth Warren Took On Obama Over Student Debt Forgiveness. How She Won Is Central To Her 2020 Campaign

Via Buzzfeed News

By: Molly Hensley-Clancy

Source: Doug Mills, NYT

In 2015, when she found herself on Air Force One with then-president Barack Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren seized the chance to pressure the most powerful man in the world about an obscure part of federal tax law.

Warren — along with activists, consumer lawyers, and a group of other Democratic senators — was in the midst of what would become a years-long fight to get loan forgiveness for tens of thousands of students who had been defrauded by Corinthian Colleges, a collapsed for-profit college chain.

Earlier, Warren and others had helped convince the Education Department to agree to cancel the loans for some of those for-profit college students, opening the door to forgiveness for hundreds of thousands of people. Now, Warren was waging a new battle against Obama’s Treasury Department, which was planning to hit students with steep tax bills on their forgiven loans.

The Treasury was refusing to budge. The agency said it had no choice: The law was the law, and if Warren wanted to stop the students from having to pay taxes, she’d have to convince Congress. Warren had other ideas.

Warren’s policy team had come up with a detailed letter that explained why students should not have to pay taxes on their debts, and how, exactly, the Treasury Department could carry that out. On Air Force One, she went through those points with Obama.

Warren’s goal, according to people familiar with the conversation, was not just to convince Obama that it was possible to do something that his own administration was telling him was impossible. It was to persuade him to spend some of his political capital — which was in short supply as he battled against a Republican Congress — on a group of struggling low-income students who had been defrauded by a now-defunct for-profit college chain.

Implicit in that conversation was a threat: If he didn’t act, Obama could have a public image problem on his hands in the form of a loud, popular senator who had already been raising hell about his Education Department.

Not long after the Air Force One flight, the Treasury Department told Warren it had found a way to stop the students from being hit with tax bills after all.

It was a key victory in Warren’s work on behalf of for-profit college students — a battle that has come to help define who Warren believes the federal government’s power should be used to help, and, more importantly, how best to instigate that change.

BuzzFeed News spoke to activists, consumer lawyers, congressional staffers, and former Obama administration officials about Warren’s work to secure loan forgiveness for Corinthian students, which began in 2014. Warren, they agree, played a pivotal role in the battle.

She did it by turning to what had become the core tool of her political life: a potent combination of grassroots activism, intense political pressure, and detailed analysis of consumer law. And she used that tool in part against her own party’s administration, strengthening a political identity that cut against what was then the mainstream of American liberalism.

Warren took a lasting lesson from the fight, she told BuzzFeed News in a recent interview, one that is now central to her presidential campaign: “Progress in America doesn’t happen without a grassroots army.”

But for someone who often presents herself as a political outsider, Warren also worked extensively within the boundaries of power to help get Corinthian students loan forgiveness — an approach that draws a contrast with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has put far greater focus on large-scale outside pressure than on internal movements and incremental details.

One former Education Department official called it an “inside/outside strategy”: Warren would hammer the administration publicly at the same time she worked behind the scenes with those government officials, acting, many felt, as an ally.

In the end, the drawn-out political battle resulted in something that was entirely unprecedented: the loans of at least 30,000 students who were defrauded by Corinthian and other for-profit schools were wiped out entirely, at a cost to taxpayers that is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s really easy and popular today to take punches at Betsy DeVos,” said Eileen Connor, an attorney at Harvard University’s Project on Predatory Lending who works on behalf of for-profit college students, of President Donald Trump’s education secretary. “But Sen. Warren was in the fight even when the administration was run by Democrats.”

An often overlooked detail of the Corinthian fight, attorney Eileen Connor said, was how Warren personally involved herself with individual students. Warren hosted a clinic in Massachusetts alongside the state attorney general, Maura Healey, to help students file borrower discharge paperwork. After Warren’s office worked with Connor to collect and document the stories of defrauded borrowers, Warren’s staffers sent signed copies of the report they produced to each of the students they had spoken with.

“That speaks volumes,” Connor said.

Read more.

Home Cooking for Profit? Sure, Just Not in New Jersey

Via NYT

By: Amelia Nierenberg

Source: Jeenah Moon, NYT

FRANKLIN, N.J. — With just a little white chocolate and some sprinkles, Heather Russinko can make a wedding gown in under seven minutes. Give her five minutes more, and she can dress a groom, too. Three buttons, a bow tie, and a tuxedo swell over a round white chest.

Ms. Russinko uses dips and drips instead of pins and pleats to outfit the couple, who are cake pops, lollipop-size pastries made of batter and frosting. She has made beach-themed pops for a Sweet Sixteen party and lopsided, whimsical monsters with googly eyes for Halloween.

“If I could sell these at a Starbucks price, at $2.75 a piece? That’s his college,” said Ms. Russinko, 40, speaking of her 16-year-old son. “I want to be able to say, ‘O.K., Jared, you can go to college. Go ahead. You need money for books? Yeah, I have that right here for you.’”

But she lives in New Jersey, the only state where it remains illegal to sell homemade foods for profit, so she can only give away her creations or donate them to bake sales. If she tried to sell them, she could be fined up to $1,000. Every other state has dropped such restrictions.

“There’s this rogue law standing in my way and preventing me from earning an income,” said Ms. Russinko, one of three named plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Health. “It’s not like I am out there trying to sell drugs or do anything illegal. It’s a cookie. Or in my case, a cake pop.”

New Jersey’s sanitary code, like most states’, is derived from federal food laws based on a 1906 act; these codes have long excluded home kitchens from the definition of retail food establishments.

But one by one, states have eased those limits or enacted so-called cottage food laws, which allow the sale of homemade foods like breads, granola, dried herbs and jams. Many of these laws set a cap on annual gross sales and require that home kitchens pass safety inspections.

In just the last decade, 19 states and the District of Columbia have moved to allow sales of homemade foods, said Emily Broad Leib, the director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and a lead author of an August 2018 report that documented a “dramatic increase in small-scale food production” nationwide.

Read more.

DeVos sued by students seeking college loan relief

Via Detroit Free Press

By: Andrea Perez Balderrama

Source: Zach Gibson, Getty Images

 

Former students of predatory, for-profit colleges are suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, claiming the U.S. Department of Education intentionally refused to process their applications for federal loan relief.

According to the Huffington Post, DeVos halted the implementation of the Borrower Defense to Repayment regulation in June 2017, leaving the plaintiffs of the lawsuit, and many other students who were not listed, in crippling debt and without a clear path to financial recovery.

“It’s time to take a step back and make sure these rules achieve their purpose: helping harmed students,” Education Secretary DeVos said in a statement to CNN.

Alicia Davis a former student at Florida Metropolitan University, now Everest University, attempted to pursue a criminal justice degree from the university in 2006, oblivious to the fact that it was taking out loans in her behalf.

The school never made the cost of her education transparent, instead telling her not to worry, that everything would be covered by federal aid, grants and scholarships, said the Huffington Post.

Davis had to transfer schools after two years when FMU stopped communicating with her. She decided to go to the University of Central Florida, and when she finished her degree, she had accrued about $100,000 in debt, said the Post.

When Davis learned she couldn’t claim her debt from Florida Metropolitan University back, she decided to sue DeVos. But she is not the only student that has been affected by predatory universities taking out loans in their behalf.

“Literally 160,000-plus people cannot move on with their life because of this non-decision by Besty DeVos,” Davis told the Huffington Post.

The lawsuit, filed in June, claims DeVos is violating the students’ rights by not responding to their requests promptly while being aware of the harm the debt is causing.

“We’re suing Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education to hold them accountable and protect students across the country,” said Project on Predatory Student Lending  Director Toby Merrill in a news release.