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Tag: Bonnie Docherty

Clinic, Human Rights Watch Call for Urgent Action on Incendiary Weapons

Via the International Human Rights Law Clinic  

Source: Pixabay

Countries at an upcoming United Nations disarmament conference, faced with evidence of 30 new incendiary weapons attacks in Syria, should agree to strengthen the international law that governs their use, the International Human Rights Clinic said in a report released this week.

The 13-page report, “Myths and Realities About Incendiary Weapons,” counters common misconceptions that have slowed international progress in this area. Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. While often designed for marking and signaling or producing smokescreens, incendiary weapons can burn human flesh to the bone, leave extensive scarring, and cause respiratory damage and psychological trauma. They also start fires that destroy civilian objects and infrastructure.

“The excruciating burns and lifelong disabilities inflicted by incendiary weapons demand a global response,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of conflict and civilian protection at the Clinic. “Simple changes in international law could help save civilian lives during wartime.”

The report details the exceptionally cruel harm caused by incendiary weapons, explains the shortcomings of existing law, and lays out steps countries should take in response. The report, designed as an accessible overview of the incendiary weapons issue, was jointly published with Human Rights Watch.

Countries that are party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) are scheduled to address incendiary weapons at the UN in Geneva from November 19 to 23. Protocol III to this treaty imposes some restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, but it does not provide sufficient protections for civilians.

In 2018, the Syrian-Russian military alliance used incendiary weapons in at least 30 attacks across six governorates of Syria, based on Human Rights Watch research. The majority of these attacks involved ground-launched rockets, but air-dropped weapons have also caused harm. For example, an incendiary airstrike on March 16 in Eastern Ghouta killed at least 61 people and injured more than 200.

Human Rights Watch documented an additional 90 incendiary weapons attacks in Syria from November 2012 through 2017. The total number is most likely higher. Syria has not joined Protocol III, but Russia has.

The countries at the UN meeting should address the weaknesses of Protocol III as well as articulate their policies and practices. They should also establish a forum dedicated to reviewing the protocol more formally in 2019 with the intention of strengthening its protections for civilians.

Government support for action against incendiary weapons has grown significantly in recent years, although a small number of countries that view existing law as adequate have opposed proposals to amend the protocol.

Protocol III has two major loopholes that have weakened its impact. First, its definition excludes multipurpose weapons, such as those with white phosphorus, which may be primarily designed to provide smokescreens or illumination, but which can inflict the same horrific injuries as other incendiary weapons. White phosphorus, for example, can continue to smolder in bandaged wounds and reignite days after treatment if exposed to oxygen. In 2017, the US-led coalition used white phosphorus while fighting to retake Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq from the Islamic State. The United States is party to Protocol III.

Second, while the protocol prohibits the use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in populated areas, it allows the use of ground-delivered models in certain circumstances. Because all incendiary weapons cause the same effects, this arbitrary distinction should be eliminated. A complete ban on incendiary weapons would have the greatest humanitarian benefits.

“Nations should make strengthening international law on these weapons a priority for the disarmament agenda,” said Docherty, who is also a senior researcher in the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. “Stronger obligations would limit the conduct of treaty countries and, by increasing stigmatization of incendiary weapons, influence the behavior of other countries and non-state armed groups.”

Docherty will present the report’s findings at a side event at the United Nations in Geneva at 1:15 p.m. on November 20 in Conference Room XXII.

Clinical students Molly Brown, JD ’19, Samantha Fry, JD ’20, and Thejasa Jayachandran, JD ’20, worked under Docherty’s supervision to help write this report.

For more on the Clinic’s work on incendiary weapons, please visit:
http://hrp.law.harvard.edu/areas-of-focus/arms-armed-conflict/incendiary-weapons/

New Clinic Reports Call on NATO Members, Sweden to Join Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty

Via the International Human Rights Clinic

As preparations for a US-North Korea summit highlight the ongoing threat posed by nuclear weapons, proponents of nuclear disarmament should increase their support for the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Momentum has been building. In May alone, three more countries ratified the treaty, bringing the total to 10; another 48 have signed. In addition, several countries have initiated national processes that represent an important step toward coming on board.

In this context, the Clinic is releasing two papers demonstrating why it is legally possible for even allies of nuclear armed states to join the TPN.

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Understanding Victim Assistance and Environmental Remediation under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Via the International Human Rights Clinic

By Bonnie Docherty

The humanitarian impact of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) depends on both its comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons and its obligations to assist victims and remediate the environment affected by use and testing. The former aims to prevent future harm, while the latter addresses harm that has already occurred.

The Clinic is releasing new papers on victim assistance and environmental remediation in order to increase awareness of these elements of the treaty. The short publications provide an overview of the provisions in the TPNW and guidance from other humanitarian disarmament treaties as to how they might be implemented.

The TPNW’s so-called “positive obligations” establish a framework of shared state responsibility for helping victims and cleaning the contaminated environment

During last year’s treaty negotiations at the United Nations, the Clinic worked closely with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. A team from the Clinic, along with advocates from Article 36, Mines Action Canada, and Pace University, played a leading role in ensuring that the treaty included the positive obligations.

Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead

Via Harvard Law Today

Experts gather to reflect on a growing movement to end the international proliferation of inhumane and indiscriminate weapons

Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead 1

Credit: Heratch Ekmekjian
In early March, international experts gathered for “Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead,” the inaugural conference of the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) at Harvard Law School.

Earlier this month, about two dozen international experts gathered for “Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead,” the inaugural conference of the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) at Harvard Law School.

Drawing on their own involvement in creating international law, conference participants reflected on the development of the humanitarian disarmament movement, which strives to end civilian suffering caused by inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, and discussed where the movement should go from here. Humanitarian disarmament is a key focus of the ACCPI, which formally launched under the leadership of Associate Director Bonnie Docherty ’01 on March 5.

“I was thrilled to have the key players in humanitarian disarmament on campus, and the energy they brought was inspiring,” said Docherty. “It was the perfect way to kick off the ACCPI.”

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One win against weapons could fuel another

Via Harvard Gazette

Successful campaign banning landmines could provide blueprint against nuclear arms, panel says

During "From Landmines to Nuclear Weapons," a panel featuring Steve Goose (from left) and Beatrice Fihn and moderated by Bonnie Docherty of the Law School addressed the origins and evolution of humanitarian disarmament while reflecting on their roles negotiating treaties that ban landmines, cluster munitions, and nuclear weapons.

During “From Landmines to Nuclear Weapons,” a panel featuring Steve Goose (from left) and Beatrice Fihn and moderated by Bonnie Docherty of the Law School addressed the origins and evolution of humanitarian disarmament while reflecting on their roles negotiating treaties that ban landmines, cluster munitions, and nuclear weapons.
Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

When the movement began in 1992, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines was considered quixotic, its proponents unrealistically idealistic, its efforts doomed to fail. Twenty-five years and one Nobel Peace Prize later, more than 180 countries have signed its 1997 treaty, agreeing not only to avoid using the weapons but to help remove them from areas where they have been abandoned and remain a danger to life, limbs, and livelihoods.

Nuclear weapons, now a reality of our modern world, could go the same way, say the activists behind the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Indeed, humanitarian rights activists say, they must. On Monday at Harvard Law School’s Austin Hall, the anti-nuclear campaign’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn, joined Steve Goose, co-founder of the landmines-ban group and executive director of Human Rights Watch’s arms division, to discuss the origin and evolution of the mine campaign, and how the tactics of the first can be applied to the next.

“Everybody said it was impossible to do,” said Goose, looking back at the long road to the 1997 landmine treaty. “After we finally did it, people said, ‘Oh, that wasn’t that hard. It was a one-off. Circumstances allowed that to happen.’” They also, he reported, said its success could not be replicated.

Monday’s discussion was designed to prove that false. Indeed, this first public event of Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead (moderated by Bonnie Docherty, associate director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic) started off by outlining the similarities — and the successes — of other recent campaigns.

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The Nobel Peace Prize Celebrations: Recognition and Reinvigoration for Humanitarian Disarmament Advocates

Via International Human Rights Clinic

By Bonnie Docherty, Associate Director, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection and Lecturer on Law

ICAN Director Beatrice Fihn speaks at 2017 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo City Hall. Photo credit: Ralf Schlesener.

On December 10, 2017, at 1 p.m., uniformed musicians on the grand staircase of Oslo City Hall brought their gleaming trumpets to their lips and the audience to its feet. The clarion salute they sounded heralded the arrival of the king and queen of Norway and a new era of nuclear disarmament.

In front of dignitaries, diplomats, and dozens of civil society campaigners, myself included, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The award honors ICAN for having “given the efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons a new direction and new vigour.” In particular, the prize recognizes the civil society coalition’s “ground-breaking” work to realize a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

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Clinic and HRW Document Use of Incendiary Weapons by Coalition of Syrian Government and Russian Forces

Via International Human Rights Clinic

(Geneva, November 20, 2017) – Countries should respond to reports of new use of incendiary weapons in Syria by working to strengthen the international law governing these exceptionally cruel weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 28-page report, “An Overdue Review: Addressing Incendiary Weapons in the Contemporary Context,” documents use of incendiary weapons by the coalition of Syrian government and Russian forces in 2017. It urges countries at a UN disarmament meeting, held in Geneva from November 22 to 24, 2017, to initiate a review of Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). This protocol, which regulates incendiary weapons, has failed to prevent their ongoing use, endangering civilians.

“Countries should react to the threat posed by incendiary weapons by closing the loopholes in outdated international law,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, which co-published the report. “Stronger law would mean stronger protections for civilians.”

Docherty, who is also senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, presented the report’s findings at a side event at the United Nations in Geneva today.

Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. They can be designed for marking and signaling or to burn materiel, penetrate plate metal, or produce smokescreens. Incendiary weapons cause excruciating burns, disfigurement, and psychological trauma, and they start fires that destroy civilian objects and infrastructure.

For the first time in nearly four decades, countries that are parties to the 1980 treaty have devoted a specific session at their annual meeting to Protocol III. The meeting will also address fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots.”

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Beyond the Nobel Peace Prize

Via Harvard Gazette

Law School affiliates boost international treaty to ban nuclear weapons

Photo of Bonnie Docherty and students at the UN

Photo by Ralf Schlesenger
Two Harvard Law clinicians and four students took part in negotiating the treaty banning nuclear weapons as partners of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which recently received the Nobel Peace Prize.

When a Norwegian committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for its work behind a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, 3,500 miles away six people at Harvard cheered loudly.

They had reason to celebrate.

Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection, and clinical instructor Anna Crowe, who teach at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School (HLS), and four law students had taken part in the treaty negotiations spearheaded by ICAN, a Geneva-based international coalition of organizations from more than 100 countries.

Supported by 122 countries at the United Nations in July, the treaty is the first to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

For Docherty, who is also a senior researcher in the arms division of Human Rights Watch, last month’s Peace Prize brought attention to the treaty, reached amid increasing threats of a nuclear confrontation between the United States and North Korea.

“The negotiations were timely and urgent,” said Docherty. “It reminded the world of the need to take tangible steps for nuclear disarmament. The treaty banning nuclear weapons will make a real difference in the world.”

The agreement prohibits countries from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, or stockpiling nuclear weapons, but it needs to be ratified by 50 states before it can become international law. Complicating matters is the fact that the treaty has been boycotted by the world’s nine nuclear powers: the U.S., Russia, Israel, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

Students Carina Bentata Gryting, J.D. ’18, Molly Doggett, J.D. ’17, Alice Osman LL.M. ’17, and Lan Mei, J.D. ’17 took part in the negotiations and advocated for the inclusion of Articles 6 and 7, which included provisions to assist victims of nuclear use or testing and remediate the environment harmed, in the text of the treaty.

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Staff Reflection: Remembering Someone I Never Knew

Via International Human Rights Clinic

By Bonnie Docherty

Carl Thorne-Thomsen with high school friend Linda Jones Docherty, mother of the author. Photo from the 1964 Lake Forest High School yearbook, courtesy of Linda Docherty.

Carl Thorne-Thomsen with high school friend Linda Jones Docherty, mother of the author. Photo from the 1964 Lake Forest High School yearbook, courtesy of Linda Docherty.

Although I never met Carl Thorne-Thomsen, I’ve known about him for as long as I can remember.

I distinctly recall driving down the road to my grandparents’ home in Lake Forest, IL, as my mother told me about her close high school friend who had died in Vietnam. Carl had opposed the war, she explained, but he felt it was unjust for him to be sheltered from the draft while others with less privilege were sent to fight in Southeast Asia. In a quiet act of protest, he withdrew from Harvard College during his junior year and was drafted in April 1967. Two months after arriving in Vietnam, and 50 years ago this week, he was killed in combat.

Although I was in elementary school at the time of this conversation, Carl’s decision to live—and die—by his principles made a vivid impression on me. Decades later, having spent most of my career on issues of armed conflict, I still find myself compelled. The 50th anniversary of his death motivated me to track down more information through archives and interviews and to write a Vita for Harvard Magazine’s September/October issue.

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Clinic’s Partner in Negotiations of Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Via International Human Rights Clinic

The “positive obligations” advocacy team, including IHRC students and supervisors, moments after adoption of the nuclear weapon ban treaty on July 7, 2017.

We are thrilled to announce that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), with which we collaborated during the negotiations of a nuclear weapon ban treaty, received the Nobel Peace Prize today. The honor reflects international recognition of the humanitarian approach to disarmament, a movement that strives to minimize civilian suffering from inhumane weapons.

Over the past decade, ICAN has changed the course of nuclear disarmament by shifting the focus from national security to the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences these weapons cause.  Their work and the invaluable advocacy of survivors of nuclear weapons use in conflict and testing helped lead to an international ban on the weapons this summer.

The International Human Rights Clinic joined ICAN and UK-based disarmament organization Article 36 in the efforts for the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Supervisors Bonnie Docherty and Anna Crowe, along with a team of four students, provided legal support to the campaign during the treaty negotiations at the United Nations in New York.  They also advocated successfully for the inclusion of obligations to assist victims and remediate the environment harmed.

More than 120 countries adopted the treaty in July. Fifty-three have signed the treaty since it opened for signature last month. In so doing, those countries have committed to abiding by the object and purpose of the instrument.

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Banning the Bomb: Reflections on the UN Negotiations for the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty

Via International Human Rights Clinic

photo of two students at UN

Carina Bentata Gryting and Alice Osman in the UN General Assembly Hall where the negotiations opened in March 2017.

By Carina Bentata Gryting JD ’18, Molly Doggett JD ’17, Lan Mei JD ’17, and Alice Osman LLM ’17

Signing up for the International Human Rights Clinic in spring 2017, we could not have imagined that it would lead us to the United Nations and global negotiations to ban nuclear weapons. With Bonnie Docherty and Anna Crowe as our clinical supervisors, we worked alongside London-based organization Article 36 as well as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the civil society coalition at the conference. We had the unique opportunity to not only witness, but also actually participate in, norm-building at the international level.

It was at times difficult to explain to those not involved in the negotiations why the ban treaty was an important or even a sensible cause. Many people questioned the impact of a treaty being boycotted by the nuclear-armed states and their allies. For those of us participating in the negotiations, however, the purpose behind the treaty was complex but clear.

Nuclear weapons should no longer be the only weapon of mass destruction not prohibited by international law. A categorical ban on nuclear weapons would increase the stigma surrounding the weapons and ramp up pressure on nuclear states to work towards eliminating their arsenals. Moreover, a strong humanitarian motivation drove the treaty. Prior conferences on the impact of nuclear weapons had led many countries to declare the catastrophic effect of nuclear weapons incompatible with any legal or practical purpose. Countries like the Marshall Islands, Algeria, and Kazakhstan suffered from years of testing and their populations have experienced decades-long harm. Victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, known as Hibakusha, along with their children and grandchildren, still deal with the health and environmental consequences of atomic bombs today. Survivors of this use and testing offered compelling testimony for why nuclear weapons should be banned.

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Addressing Human and Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Weapons in New Ban Treaty

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Bonnie Docherty, associate director at the Clinic, delivering statement to countries negotiating nuclear weapon ban treaty at the UN in New York. Photo courtesy of ICAN.

Bonnie Docherty, associate director at the Clinic, delivering statement to countries negotiating nuclear weapon ban treaty at the UN in New York. Photo courtesy of ICAN.

Member states of the UN General Assembly are currently engaged in historic negotiations of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. At this point, nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to a categorical prohibition in international law. A team from the International Human Rights Clinic, which is participating in the negotiations in New York, has joined the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in urging countries to adopt a strong treaty that is focused on preventing and remediating the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapon use and testing.

Prohibitions on the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of nuclear weapons are necessary but insufficient components of the new treaty. In order to address the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons effectively, states parties must also adopt positive obligations to provide assistance to victims in their territory and to remediate environmental contamination caused by nuclear weapon use and testing. In partnership with London-based NGO Article 36, our clinical team has released papers arguing for the inclusion of victim assistance and environmental remediation treaty provisions.

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A disarming leader: Bonnie Docherty recognized for contributions to human rights, clinical community

Via International Human Rights Clinic

When Nicolette Boehland, JD ’13, began the daunting work of documenting torture and mass hangings in a Syrian prison, she was prepared. She knew how to interview survivors of trauma. She knew how to protect the security and confidentiality of witnesses. She knew, when her 50th interview was done, just how to connect the dots.

“There I was, with my pieces of paper all around me, with different highlighters for each different fact I was trying to establish,” said Nicolette, a researcher for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “That’s basically me modeling what Bonnie taught me to do.”

Bonnie on a fact-finding mission in Iraq.

Bonnie on a fact-finding mission in Iraq.

Over the course of her career, as Bonnie Docherty has emerged as an international expert on civilian protection in armed conflict, she has also mentored scores of clinical students, from field researchers in conflict zones to advocates inside the halls of the UN in Geneva.

Her biggest alumni fans call themselves “the Bonnie mafia.” When they heard of her recent promotion to Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection at the International Human Rights Clinic, the reaction could best be summed up in one word: jubilation.

“This is the best news I’ve heard in a while,” said Lauren Herman, JD ’13, a fellow atMake the Road, NJ, an immigrants’ rights organization. “I am just thrilled for Bonnie and the Clinic and all of Harvard.”

The promotion gives Bonnie room to deepen and expand her work on civilian protection. She plans to increase support for civil society organizations working in the field, create a track for students interested in careers in civilian protection, and provide a forum for experts to develop practical innovations.

A senior researcher in the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch as well as a Harvard lecturer on law, she’ll continue to dedicate much of her time to humanitarian disarmament, which seeks to eliminate civilian suffering from problematic weapons. It’s an area Bonnie has been working in for 16 years.

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Losing Control: The Dangers of Killer Robots

Via International Human Rights Clinic

This piece originally appeared in The Conversation on June 16, 2016

New technology could lead humans to relinquish control over decisions to use lethal force. As artificial intelligence advances, the possibility that machines could independently select and fire on targets is fast approaching. Fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” are quickly moving from the realm of science fiction toward reality.

The unmanned Sea Hunter gets underway. At present it sails without weapons, but it exemplifies the move toward greater autonomy.U.S. Navy/John F. Williams

These weapons, which could operate on land, in the air or at sea, threaten to revolutionize armed conflict and law enforcement in alarming ways. Proponents say these killer robots are necessarybecause modern combat moves so quickly, and because having robots do the fighting would keep soldiers and police officers out of harm’s way. But the threats to humanity would outweigh any military or law enforcement benefits.

Removing humans from the targeting decision would create a dangerous world. Machines would make life-and-death determinations outside of human control. The risk of disproportionate harm or erroneous targeting of civilians would increase. No person could be held responsible.

Given the moral, legal and accountability risks of fully autonomous weapons, preempting their development, production and use cannot wait. The best way to handle this threat is an international, legally binding ban on weapons that lack meaningful human control.

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Killer Robots: The Case for Human Control

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Nations Convene to Discuss Fully Autonomous Weapons

(Geneva, April 11, 2015) – Countries should retain meaningful human control over weapons systems and ban fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic said in a report issued today. The concept of meaningful human control will be a centerpiece of deliberations at a week-long multilateral meeting on the weapons, opening April 11, 2016, at the United Nations in Geneva.

The 16-page report, “Killer Robots and the Concept of Meaningful Human Control,” discusses the moral and legal importance of control and shows countries’ growing recognition of the need for humans to remain in charge of the critical functions of selecting and firing on targets.

“Machines have long served as instruments of war, but historically humans have directed how they are used,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic and the report’s lead author. “Now, there is a real threat that humans would relinquish their control and delegate life-and-death decisions to machines.”

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At Harvard Law School symposium, military and academic leaders explain legal and cultural issues in counterterror operations

Via HLS News

On March 5, Harvard Law School hosted the first-ever Legal, Cultural and Strategic Issues in Counterterror Operations Symposium bringing together military officers from the 3rd Legal Operations Detachment and academic scholars whose work focuses on areas of Islamic and human rights law as well as on cultural and international security issues.

John Fitzpatrick ’87, HLS Clinical Instructor and a major in the US Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps with Harvard Law School Lecturer on Law Bonnie Docherty, at the Legal, Cultural and Strategic Issues in Counterterror Operations Symposium, at HLS on March 5.

John Fitzpatrick ’87, HLS Clinical Instructor and a major in the US Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps with Harvard Law School Lecturer on Law Bonnie Docherty, at the Legal, Cultural and Strategic Issues in Counterterror Operations Symposium, at HLS on March 5.

More than 30 military personnel from the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Navy attended the daylong symposium, which featured presentations by faculty from Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, Boston University and Tufts. Presentations focused on the effects of war on civilian populations in areas of armed conflict; the sources and representative doctrines in Islamic family and domestic relations law; and the cultural, political, and legal issues impacting current operations in Afghanistan.

The symposium was organized by John Fitzpatrick ’87, a senior clinical instructor at HLS, with assistance from Staff Sergeant Derek Piatt of the Army’s 3rd Legal Operations Detachment.

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Hostile Intent and Civilian Protection: Lessons From Recent Conflicts

Via International Human Rights Clinic
By Bonnie Docherty

ReportIs a driver speeding toward a military checkpoint launching a suicide attack or racing his pregnant wife to the hospital? Is a local man digging on a roadside at night planting an improvised explosive device (IED) or working his farm when the temperature is cooler? Is a resident who jumps up when troops burst into his home at 2am reaching for a gun or reacting in fear? In Afghanistan and Iraq, US troops have had to answer such questions repeatedly, often in split-second time. Civilian and military lives have depended on the accuracy of their determinations.

Under the US Standing Rules of Engagement (SROE), troops are allowed to fire in self-defense if they encounter someone demonstrating hostile intent, i.e., the “threat of imminent use of force.” Identifying such a threat presents challenges, however, especially when enemy forces blend in with the local population. Mistaken determinations of hostile intent were a major cause of civilian casualties attributable to the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2014.Tackling Tough Calls, a new report by the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, examines this problem. Drawing on interviews with combat veterans and current servicemembers as well as open source research, it shows how the US military could better protect civilians from such errors without jeopardizing the lives of its troops.

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Extinguishing the Use of Incendiary Weapons

By Sarah Abraham, J.D. ’17; Lauren Blodgett J.D. ’16;
and Danae Paterson J.D. ‘16

Incendiary weapons rank among the cruelest means of armed conflict. Through the production of fire and heat, these weapons cause excruciating burns that are difficult to treat and can lead to long-term psychological harm and severe disfigurement. Despite the horrific effects of incendiary weapons, existing international law provides very weak protections against the use of such weapons. Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) purports to regulate incendiary weapons, but in reality is ineffective due to definitional loopholes and textual inconsistencies. Today, we live in a world where these weapons can essentially be used without any consequences, with recent use seen in Syria and Ukraine, and allegations of use in Libya.

As part of the International Human Rights Clinic, we were able to contribute to the fight to regulate – and ideally ban – the use of incendiary weapons. For our clinical project, we partnered with Human Rights Watch to write a memo to States Parties attending the annual CCW meeting in November 2015. The memo outlined the recent use of incendiary weapons, the horrific injuries these weapons cause, and the shortcomings of Protocol III in providing protection from incendiary weapons. The memo looked at developments surrounding incendiary weapons over the past five years and highlighted how over three dozen countries have spoken out against this issue during that time period. In light of five years of discussions and criticism surrounding incendiary weapons, our memo, “From Condemnation to Concrete Action,” called on states to take concrete steps towards strengthening Protocol III. In particular, we proposed specific amendments that State Parties could support to alter Protocol III and provide more protections for civilians.

To make our advocacy more effective, our clinical supervisor (Bonnie Docherty) and one of our team members (Sarah Abraham) travelled to Geneva to attend the CCW meeting in person. In Geneva, they reinforced the message outlined in our memo through formal and informal discussions with state delegates and civil society. Ultimately, 15 state delegates made formal, public statements addressing incendiary weapons. Many states said they were open to discussing potential amendments to Protocol III. This momentum comes at a crucial time, since next year the CCW will be holding a “Review Conference” which occurs once every five years. These review conferences have traditionally been a place for concrete action to take place. We hope that our memo has helped contribute to the push for amending Protocol III during this session.

Through this project, we learned about the importance of international law and UN treaty mechanisms for protecting civilians during armed conflict. These slow and complex processes, however, are frustrating in light of the urgency of the issue of incendiary weapons and the horrors faced by victims and survivors of these attacks. Learning how to navigate this system and be an effective advocate has been indispensible to our legal educations and has enabled us to contribute to this crucial fight against incendiary weapons.

Fighting for disarmament

Via Harvard Gazette

Researcher calls for stronger regulation of incendiary weapons, ban on killer robots

Bonnie Docherty

Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Bonnie Docherty, a senior instructor at Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic, traveled to Geneva to advocate for stronger regulations on incendiary devices, which she calls “exceptionally cruel weapons.” “These are weapons that create fire or injure by burning,” she explained, showing examples of inert incendiary weapons and cluster munitions.

After researching the devastating humanitarian effects of the deadly cluster munitions used in Afghanistan in 2002, Bonnie Docherty joined a worldwide campaign to eliminate them.

Six years after she started her probe, cluster bombs were banned. Her investigation on the use of cluster munitions in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq and Lebanon, was highly influential in a 2008 treaty signed by 117 countries banning these weapons.

For Docherty, a lecturer on law and a senior instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, the battle to protect civilians from unnecessary harm continues.

Last month, Docherty traveled to Geneva to advocate for stronger regulations on incendiary devices, which she calls “exceptionally cruel weapons” that have been used in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine.

Docherty, who is also a senior researcher in the arms division at Human Rights Watch, recently sat down for an interview to talk about these weapons, killer robots, and her guiding principle: to protect civilians from suffering caused by armed conflicts.

GAZETTE: Before you became a disarmament advocate, you were a reporter for a local newspaper. Can you tell us about this part of your life?

DOCHERTY: After college, I was a reporter for The Middlesex News, now the MetroWest Daily News, outside of Boston, for three years. I covered mostly local news, government meetings, environmental issues, but I had the opportunity to go to Bosnia and embed with the peacekeepers for about 10 days in 1998. There was an Army lab in my town, that’s how I got the invitation to go to Bosnia. I had been interested in armed conflicts, but that trip definitely increased my interest in that field.

GAZETTE: How did you make the jump from suburban journalism to human rights and disarmament issues?

DOCHERTY: After I left the newsroom, I went to Harvard Law School. Right after graduation, I went to Human Rights Watch, which was a perfect mix of journalism and law because you go out in the field and you apply the law to what you find. My start date was Sept. 12, 2001, by happenstance, so whatever was planned was changed. Six months later, I was in Afghanistan researching the use of cluster munitions, which was my first exposure to disarmament issues.

GAZETTE: What are cluster munitions, and why are they so dangerous?

DOCHERTY: Cluster munitions are large weapons, such as bombs or rockets that contain dozens or hundreds of small munitions called submunitions. They’re problematic because they have a broad area effect — they spread over the size of a football field — and because many of them don’t explode on impact and lie around like landmines and explode in years or decades to come.

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Commentary: The Horror of Incendiary Weapons and the Need for Stronger Law

Via International Human Rights Clinic
By Bonnie Docherty

This post, “Unrivaled Cruelty: The Horror of Incendiary Weapons and the Need for Stronger Law,” was originally published in Jurist

Incendiary weapons inflict almost unrivaled cruelty on their victims. Photos taken after an incendiary weapon attack on a Syrian school show the charred bodies of children, who must have experienced unimaginable agony. The weapons cause excruciatingly painful burns, and treatment for survivors requires sloughing off dead skin, which has been likened to being flayed alive. While individuals often react to accounts of such suffering with horror, government efforts to minimize the harm from these weapons by strengthening international law have been unacceptably slow.

Many countries have expressed outrage at the use of incendiary weapons over the past five years, including at meetings of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), the treaty that regulates the weapons. The voices of these countries are crucial and they should continue to raise the issue. But it is time to move from condemnation to concrete action. A major disarmament conference scheduled for next year presents an excellent opportunity for progress.

Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. They can be designed to burn people or materiel, serve as smokescreens or provide illumination. People who survive attacks with incendiary weapons not only experience physical injuries, but also frequently endure psychological trauma, permanent disfigurement and difficulties reintegrating into society.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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Cluster Munitions Ban: National Laws Needed

bonniereportVia the International Human Rights Clinic

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

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

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Taking on “Killer Robots”

CaptureVia the International Human Rights Clinic

By Bonnie Docherty
Senior Clinical Instructor & Lecturer on Law

New weapons that could revolutionize killing are on the horizon. Lethal autonomous weapons systems, also called fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots,” would go beyond today’s armed drones. They would be able to select and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention. In other words, they could determine themselves when to take a human life.

Representatives from 87 countries gathered at the United Nations in Geneva last week to discuss concerns about this technology and possible ways to respond. The conference was the first multilateral meeting dedicated to lethal autonomous weapons systems. It represented a crucial step in a process that should result in a ban on these problematic weapons before it grows too late to change course.

Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic are calling for a pre-emptive prohibition on the development, production, and use of these weapons. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a global coalition of 51 nongovernmental organizations coordinated by Human Rights Watch, is making the same call.

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A Second Release in Geneva: “Advancing the Debate on Killer Robots”

Stop-Killer-Robots-2Via the International Human Rights Clinic
By Joseph Klingler, JD ’14

In Geneva today, the Clinic and Human Rights Watch released the latest in a series of publications calling for a preemptive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. The weapons- also called “killer robots”- would be capable of selecting and firing upon targets without any meaningful human control.

The joint paper, entitled “Advancing the Debate on Killer Robots,” systematically rebuts 12 arguments that have been raised by critics of a ban. Its release coincides with a major international disarmament conference dedicated to fully autonomous weapons, being held at the UN in Geneva this week. More than 400 delegates from government, international organizations, and civil society have gathered to discuss the weapons under the framework of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, a treaty that governs problematic weapons.

Stop Killer Robots 2Clinical students Evelyn Kachaje, JD ’15, and Joseph Klingler, JD ’14, who along with Yukti Choudhary, LLM ’14 helped Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty draft the paper, are attending the talks. The Clinic is working with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, to increase momentum towards an eventual treaty banning fully autonomous weapons.

On Monday, before the conference began, the Clinic and Human Rights Watch released “Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots.” The report found that fully autonomous weapons threaten fundamental human rights and principles: the right to life, the right to a remedy, and the principle of dignity.

Jonathan Nomamiukor Reflects on His Clinical Experience

L to R: Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty, Jonathan Nomamiukor, JD ’13, and Kenny Pyetranker, JD ’13, at an NGO forum

Jonathan Nomamiukor (JD ’13) writes movingly on the International Human Rights Clinic blog about how his experiences in the clinic helped dissipate his disillusionment with law school:

“In a room with political activists, ethicists, and scientists, I could see the important role lawyers also played in the production of frameworks that protect human and civil rights worldwide. It may have taken a while, but thanks to the International Human Rights Clinic, I now know how to begin using these tools–and I’m ready to get started.”

Read more about what compelled him to take a break from law school, his work with the International Human Rights Clinic on the issue of fully autonomous weapons, and the mentorship he received from Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty in the full post.