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A living witness to nuclear dystopia

Via Harvard Law Today

By Juan Siliezar

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

First came a flash. Thirteen-year-old Setsuko Nakamura felt as if she were drifting skyward. And then darkness.

Seventy-four years later Setsuko still remembers the moment of detonation after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the first of two exploded over the island nation, a deployment that proved so horrendous the weapons have never been used since.

“That very morning I was at the military headquarters, not at the school,” she told a rapt audience at Harvard Law School on Tuesday as part of the University’s Worldwide Week. Instead of being in class on Aug. 6, 1945, Setsuko was reporting for her first day of work, as one of the thousands of students the government mobilized to provide cheap labor during the wartime shortage.

Setsuko, who now uses her married last name Thurlow, and about 30 other girls were assigned to help the army decode top-secret messages. They were about a mile from ground zero and on the building’s second floor.

“Sharp at 8 o’clock the assembly started,” she said. “Maj. Yanai was giving a pep talk: ‘This is the day you prove your patriotism to the emperor. Do your best,’ and so on. We said, ‘Yes, sir! We’ll do our best.’ Then at that second I saw the blinding blueish-white flash in the window, and I had a sensation of floating up in the air.” Then she lost consciousness.

As a living witness to the devastation and human suffering the use of nuclear weapons brings, Thurlow has been telling this story for decades now. Often she brings her listeners to tears, as she did this day.

“I speak because I feel it is my responsibility as someone who has intimate knowledge of what these horrific things can do to human beings,” Thurlow said. “I consider it my moral responsibility.”

The 87-year-old is best known for her advocacy work with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a global coalition working to make the arms illegal. As a leading figure and spokeswoman for ICAN, Thurlow was on hand to accept the Nobel Peace Prize with the group in 2017 when it was recognized for its role in the United Nations’ adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which would completely ban all nuclear arms if implemented.

To date, 32 countries have ratified the accord; 50 are needed for it to become law. None of the nine nuclear-armed nations, including the U.S., have signed on, and in fact, they actively oppose it, viewing the weapons as a way to maintain peace and assure security under the threat of mutually assured destruction.

A Survivor’s Story: From the Atomic Bomb to the Nobel Peace Prize” was organized by the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative and co-sponsored by the Human Rights Program, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and Hibakusha Stories/Youth Arts New York. The event came at a time of heightened tensions among nuclear powers and followed years in which Iran and North Korea have aggressively pushed to develop their own weapons.

“The eyewitness accounts of Setsuko and other survivors provide a vivid reminder of the human consequences of nuclear weapons,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection and lecturer on law at the Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. During negotiations for the U.N. treaty, the clinic provided legal advice and advocacy support to ICAN.

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki killed more than 200,000 people and practically destroyed both cities. In Hiroshima, the devastation was near-total, wiping out about 90 percent of the city while instantly killing more than 80,000 people.

Thurlow recalled the aftermath in harrowing detail. After regaining consciousness, “I found myself pinned under the collapsed building in total silence, total darkness,” she said. “I tried to move my body, but I couldn’t, so I knew I was faced with death … Then I started hearing faint voices of my classmates: ‘Mother, help me.’ ‘God, help me.’ ” She knew she was not alone. “Then all of a sudden someone started shaking my left shoulder from behind — a strong male voice: ‘Don’t give up! Don’t give up! Keep moving! Keep kicking! Keep pushing!’” He told her to crawl toward the light.

Once out, she found a hellscape. Smoke and dust filled the air. Buildings crushed into piles of debris. Fires everywhere, including in the rubble she’d escaped. A procession of severely burned and disfigured people slowly emerged, “shuffling from the center of the city to the outskirts.” She and three girls who’d also escaped the collapsed headquarters walked with them. “We learned how to step over the dead bodies,” she said.

They came to an army training ground the size of two football fields “packed with dead bodies and dying people.” She stayed there the rest of the day, bringing people water from a nearby stream. “When the darkness fell we sat on the hill and all night we watched the entire city burn, feeling numbed from massive death and human suffering we had witnessed all day,” she recalled.

Her mother and father were spared, but Thurlow lost eight members of her family as result of the bombing, including her 4-year-old nephew who died four days after the explosion.”

That was only the beginning. Days, weeks, and years followed with a steady stream of deaths from injuries and illnesses from the radiation; thousands coping with homelessness; American occupation; rebuilding and memorialization efforts; and the discrimination that survivors often from fears of the long-term effects of radiation exposure.

Thurlow said these experiences formed the basis of her anti-nuclear advocacy, which began in 1954 when she spoke out during an interview about her thoughts on the news of tests of an even more powerful bomb by the U.S. in the Marshall Islands. Since then, she has testified widely, including before world leaders such as Pope Francis and hundreds of diplomats during ICAN’s campaign for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Thurlow said she was thrilled that the U.N. adopted the treaty, but admitted that it will be an uphill battle to totally eliminate nuclear weapons. And she called on listeners, especially students, to take up the cause.

“You are getting the best education,” Thurlow said. “You have a lot to return to your society, to humanity — not just to the United States, to the entire world. I am really asking you to take this issue seriously. It’s really a matter of life and death.”

The message struck a chord with many listeners, including law student Ragad Alfaraidy, who was among many who lingered after the lecture to meet Thurlow and see the Nobel medal, which she had on hand. Events like this, Alfaraidy said, inspire fresh thoughts for students wrestling with decisions about how to do something meaningful with their educations.

“We’re always torn between going to the private sector or going to the public sector,” she said, “and I believe talks like this draw important emphasis on things that we tend to forget sometimes.”

In Q&A, Bonnie Docherty discusses humanitarian disarmament

Reducing the civilian impact of arms and armed conflict has been the focus of Bonnie Docherty’s career since she was a student at Harvard Law School.

Since 2005, Docherty ’01, an international expert on civilian protection in armed conflict, has served as a lecturer on law at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. She participated in the negotiations of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions and has promoted strong implementation of the convention since its adoption. She recently played a key role in the negotiations of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, successfully advocating for specific provisions and providing legal advice to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the civil society coalition that received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2018, Docherty launched the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) at Harvard Law School, where she serves as associate director.

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Docherty hosted an event with Hiroshima bombing survivor Setsuko Thurlow, who accepted the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of  ICAN. Accompanying the event, HLS also showcased a photo exhibit, “From the Atomic Bomb to the Nobel Peace Prize”, which illustrates the history of nuclear disarmament.

Over the course of her career, Docherty has mentored scores of clinical students, from field researchers in conflict zones to advocates inside the halls of the U.N. in Geneva. Daniel Moubayed ’20, a student in the International Human Rights Clinic who works closely with the Initiative, sat down with Docherty prior to the talk to discuss the exhibition, Thurlow’s presentation, and the ACCPI.

A Q&A with Bonnie Docherty

Daniel Moubayed: This month, you’ve arranged for Hiroshima atomic bombing survivor Setsuko Thurlow to give a presentation on campus alongside an ACCPI photo exhibition. Could you tell me a little bit about that exhibition?

Bonnie Docherty: The photos trace the journey from the original atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki through nuclear testing up to the present day where a humanitarian approach significantly advanced the disarmament field. We’re trying to highlight both the catastrophic harm that can be caused by nuclear weapons and the successful approach to disarmament that’s been applied lately and in which the Clinic has actively been involved. This is really important, especially now when international tensions are very high. To move forward, we need to look beyond national security to the human impact of these weapons.

DM: And what impact do you hope to achieve by bringing Setsuko Thurlow to HLS?

BD: It’s a real honor for her to visit. She’s a very powerful speaker, and I’m thrilled she’s able to make the trip. She is one of the decreasing number of survivors from the bombings at Hiroshima. It’s remarkable and significant to be able to hear first-hand testimony of this horrible event from over 70 years ago. As a survivor, she’s one of the strongest voices for disarmament. So I’m hoping that her talk will not only increase awareness of the humanitarian harm caused by nuclear weapons but also inspire the audience not to lose faith in the wake of recent events and trying times.

DM: You were also involved with ICAN at the time they won the Nobel Prize. Could you tell me more about that?

BD: Well, it was a team effort. I worked with ICAN, four HLS students, and my colleague, Anna Crowe [assistant director of the International Human Rights Clinic]. We acted as a legal adviser to ICAN in 2017, when they were negotiating the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted in July 2017 by 122 countries. Only one voted against it. The U.N. General Assembly mandated the negotiations so they had widespread support. We were on hand if ICAN needed information about precedent for a certain provision, for instance, but we focused primarily on advocating for provisions requiring countries to assist victims of past use and testing and remediate the environment where countries used or tested. We wanted to address the harms that had already been caused, not just advocate to eliminate future harm. Students did a lot of research and wrote papers in advance of the negotiations, and we worked closely with states and other NGOs to successfully get these provisions added to the Treaty. It was a real accomplishment and very rewarding for all of us.

DM: Incredible work. Did you first meet Setsuko during these negotiations?

BD: Yes, and she was the concluding speaker at the adoption. Hearing how long she had waited for this day and how meaningful this treaty is — not just on a geopolitical level, but on a personal one — was very moving. That’s what made me want to invite her to campus, and I believe she has inspired others to want to continue work in this field.

DM: So you were there for both the adoption of the treaty and the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Can you talk more about that?

BD: It was one of the highlights of both my professional and personal life. There’s nothing like seeing a treaty adopted — it’s a sign of hope for the work I do. Most of my projects focus on documenting the harm that’s caused, so it’s nice to see that things can change. At the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, Setsuko accepted alongside Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN. What struck me in that moment was how ordinary people can do extraordinary things. I was looking at friends of mine with whom I’ve been working on disarmament issues for the past 18 years, who aren’t heads of states or archbishops or world leaders. They’re ordinary citizens raising awareness and pushing states to action. Setsuko was once a girl buried in the rubble of her destroyed school. Now she’s delivering a Nobel Peace Prize lecture. What an amazing journey.

DM: I love that. “Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Let’s fast-forward: you help win a Nobel, you’re doing your other Clinic work on killer robots and incendiary weapons, and you also have a job in the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch. Yet in March 2018, you launch the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative, or the ACCPI, because clearly you didn’t have enough on your plate. Can you take us back to when the ACCPI was still in the planning stages? What were the goals of setting up the Initiative?

BD: The motivation came from my years of work in civilian protection. I began considering the human rights and humanitarian impacts of armed conflict right when I graduated from HLS in 2001. My fellowship with Human Rights Watch just happened to start the day after 9/11. Six months later, I was in Afghanistan researching cluster munition use, getting my first hands-on exposure. That led to many other field missions, and eventually, I got involved in treaty negotiations.

With the ACCPI, I wanted to enhance advocacy and support NGOs working to reduce the civilian effects of armed conflict. But also I felt that it was important to have it here at HLS. I wanted to provide an opportunity for students to get involved and continue this work after graduation. I’ve always been doing this kind of work at the Clinic, but formalizing it gives it greater influence.

DM: What were the resources in this area while you were a student? The ACCPI didn’t exist. You had to go out and start it. What were discussions like then and how have they changed?

BD: Opportunities were more diffuse; you had to seek out the conversations. I have always been interested in armed conflict, and originally I thought I was going to be a history professor. Then, I had the opportunity to embed with peacekeepers in Bosnia as a journalist between undergrad and law school, which was very influential. At law school, most of my international law and humanitarian law professors were visitors, but now we have permanent faculty that address these issues. There was the Harvard Human Rights Journal and the International Law Journal, which I worked on. But there wasn’t any hands-on experience available like we have now with our clinical and pro bono programs. Luckily, we had a strong human rights community on campus, and I received an HRP summer fellowship to work with Article 19 after my 1L year. Things have changed since then for the better.

DM: As a clinical student, I’m incredibly excited about the ACCPI’s work; there’s really a broad focus on affecting change. We’re now in the second academic year of the Initiative. How are you hoping to galvanize students and accomplish your own advocacy goals?

BD: The ACCPI is really centered on students, on developing the next generation of leaders in this field. We’re laying the foundation for what I call the three pillars of the Initiative. So, first we have advocacy through our ongoing clinic work. That’s not necessarily new but we’ve expanded our focus areas, including environment and armed conflict or cultural heritage and armed conflict. Second, we’ve built a resource database for students interested in pursuing careers in the field. We’ve also had alumni come to campus to do advising. This past spring, we hosted Matt Wells ’09, who is Senior Crisis Advisor with Amnesty International, and Chris Rogers ’09, a Senior Program Officer with Open Society’s Human Rights Initiative. Third, we’re promoting innovation. We’re bringing practitioners to campus to raise awareness but also to do the actual brainstorming and work of disarmament. This includes Setsuko’s visit and the ACCPI’s launch in 2018, when we invited leaders in the field to HLS to meet, strategize, and collaborate around issues we’re facing as a community.

DM: What are your long-term thoughts while directing this Initiative? What’s the vision going forward?

BD: One immediate goal is to develop an alumni mentorship program, which we plan to pilot this fall thanks to Nicolette Waldman ’13, an alum of the Clinic and the Satter Fellowship, who spent last spring as an ACCPI Senior Clinical Fellow. Long term, we hope to create a formal track at HLS and the Clinic for students interested in these issues. We’re providing trainings and resources for students and shaping a more concrete path for them to follow. Off campus, we’re working on framing the humanitarian disarmament issue and increasing collaboration among different organizations in the field. We’ve held workshops for diplomats in Geneva, published reports and pamphlets, and served a convening function for NGOs. We hope to continue those activities and engage students as we go.

DM: So there are things happening here in Cambridge and in Geneva and all over the world, really, a bit of everything.

BD: Yes, a bit of everything. And we respond to real world events. I’m heading to Vienna next week for negotiations on a new political declaration of reducing the effects of explosive weapons — rockets and bombs — when they’re used in civilian areas. I also have a clinical team working on that.

DM: How do you keep it all going?

BD: Adrenaline. And I’m energized by both colleagues and by students like yourself who come in with great enthusiasm who want to immerse themselves in the issues and will go on to make the world a better place.

Clinic Celebrates First Year of the ACCPI

Waldman gives a talk for students on her involvement in an Amnesty International investigation into torture and executions in Syrian prisons.

Via Human Rights @ Harvard Law

By Nicolette Waldman

The Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) recently completed its first full year, and it was a banner one. Launched in March 2018, the initiative has worked both on campus and around the world to advance its goal of reducing the harm caused by war.

The ACCPI brings together students, practitioners, and academics to advocate for civilian protection, cultivate the next generation of leaders, and promote innovation in the field. It is a collaborative endeavor, led by disarmament and international humanitarian law expert Bonnie Docherty. Clinic alum Lan Mei JD ’17 and I have worked closely with Docherty to lay the foundations for the ACCPI’s ongoing success. The initiative has also received invaluable support from faculty and staff across the Human Rights Program and partnered with numerous nongovernmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and PAX.

Over the past school year, the team behind the ACCPI achieved a great deal. We led clinical projects on armed conflict and civilian protection; brought experts to campus for trainings, panels, and individual presentations; connected students to these and other practitioners; and created a database of potential host organizations for students. Beyond Harvard, we were especially active in the area of “humanitarian disarmament,” which seeks to prevent and remediate the human suffering inflicted by arms. We played a leadership role in coordinating cross-campaign collaboration and raising awareness of the approach.

An overview of the ACCPI’s activities from September 2018-August 2019, other than clinical projects, is provided below. In the coming months and years, the ACCPI plans to develop a track for Harvard Law students who want to pursue careers in the field and to consolidate the school’s position as center of excellence on civilian protection in armed conflict. Civilians affected by war have far too few advocates, and we aim to do all we can to address this gap.

Stay tuned this fall for updates on new events, trainings, student resources and programs, and publications!

Harvard Law School Events

Organized or co-sponsored the following presentations and panel discussions:

“Humanization of Arms Control: Paving the Way for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” October 17, 2018

“Universal Jurisdiction: Help or Hindrance in the Prosecution of War Criminals?” October 25, 2018

“International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on Crimes against Humanity,” January 2019

“Sustainable Justice: Lessons from Twenty Years of Domestic War Crimes Prosecutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” February 4, 2019

“The Destruction of Culture: The War against Culture and the Battle to Save It,” February 20, 2019

“The Human Impact of Nuclear Weapons,” March 7, 2019

“Hell on Earth: Uncovering Atrocities in Syria’s Prisons,” March 27, 2019

“Investigating Myanmar’s Atrocity Crimes: Human Rights Work Amid Conflict and Crisis,” April 5, 2019

Student Resources

Offered “Fieldcraft: Conducting Research on Armed Conflict and Mass Atrocities,” a two-part workshop by former Amnesty International researcher Nicolette Waldman, March 11 and April 1, 2019

Organized advising sessions with alumni Lillian Langford JD ’13, Chris Rogers JD ’09, and Matt Wells JD ’09, all of whom work in the area of armed conflict and civilian protection

Created a database of relevant organizations that could host interns or post-graduate fellows

Started to build a network of alumni working in the field

Humanitarian Disarmament: Publications, Events, and Messaging

Launched humanitariandisarmament.org website, October 2018

Published Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead, a summary of the ACCPI’s inaugural conference, October 2018

Hosted a strategy session for civil society leaders, New York, October 2018

Wrote and collected 18 civil society organization co-sponsors for a statement on humanitarian disarmament delivered at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, October 2018

Co-organized, with PAX, “Humanitarian Disarmament at the CCW: Examining Incendiary Weapons and Landmines through a Humanitarian Lens,” a side event at the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, Geneva, November 20, 2018

Co-organized, with the Geneva Disarmament Platform, a workshop for diplomats on humanitarian disarmament, Geneva, August 15, 2019

Published Humanitarian Disarmament, a brochure to introduce diplomats, campaigners, and others to the overarching concept, individual arms issues, and key resources, August 15, 2019

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.”

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.

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.

Clinic Reports Show Benefits of Joining the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty Outweigh Concerns

Via the International Human Rights Clinic

Source: Pixabay

By: Bonnie Docherty

As countries engage in national debates about joining the 2017 treaty banning nuclear weapons, they should focus on the treaty’s humanitarian and disarmament benefits.

To inform these discussions, the International Human Rights Clinic has released a new briefing paper and two government submissions that highlight the advantages of ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and seek to alleviate concerns some states may have.

Countries affected by nuclear weapon use and testing have much to gain from the TPNW’s provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation. In a 9-page paper, the Clinic presents 10 myths and realities regarding the TPNW’s so-called “positive obligations.” It aims to raise awareness of these provisions and correct misconceptions and misrepresentations about their content.

The briefing paper explains how the TPNW spreads responsibility for assisting victims and remediating contaminated areas across states parties. While affected states should take the lead for practical and legal reasons, other states parties should support their efforts with technical, material, or financial assistance.

The paper also shows how the positive obligations can be effectively implemented and make a tangible difference, despite the devastating effects of nuclear weapons.

In recent government submissions, the Clinic has addressed the situation of countries that are members of or partners with NATO. It has called on Iceland and Sweden in particular to join the TPNW, but the arguments apply to any states in a comparable position.

Ratifying the TPNW would further these countries’ long-standing support of nuclear disarmament and promote compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. At the same time, members or partners of NATO or a similar alliance should not face legal obstacles to joining the TPNW. While a state party to the TPNW would have to renounce its nuclear umbrella status, it could continue to participate in joint military operations with nuclear-armed states.

The Clinic released related reports focusing on the Marshall Islands and Australia in 2018.

As of April 30, 2019, the TPNW had 70 signatories and 23 states parties. It will enter into force when 50 states have become party.

Clinical students Molly Brown JD ’19, Maria Manghi JD ’20, and Ben Montgomery JD ’20 worked on these publications under the supervision of Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection.

Report: Australia Should Join Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty

Via the International Human Rights Clinic

Source: Pixabay

Australia’s alliance with the United States need not stand in the way of Australia joining the 2017 treaty banning nuclear weapons, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic said in a report released today.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) would require Australia to end its reliance on US nuclear arms for defense. But it would not undermine the countries’ broader collective security agreement established under the 1951 ANZUS Treaty.

“Australia has long claimed to support nuclear disarmament,” said Bonnie Docherty, lead author of the report and the Clinic’s associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection. “Joining the ban treaty would advance that goal without creating insurmountable legal obstacles to ongoing military relations with the US.”

The 13-page report “Australia and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” explains why Australia can renounce its nuclear defense arrangement with the US (under the so-called “nuclear umbrella”) while maintaining military ties to its ally. The report also shows the compatibility of the treaty with Australia’s disarmament commitments under other treaties and policies.

The Labor Party is expected to discuss the TPNW at its national conference from December 16 to 18, 2018. The conference will provide a forum for Labor to develop a new party platform.  In its last platform, adopted in 2015, the Labor Party called for negotiations of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

“Labor should continue to back a nuclear weapons ban and urge Australia to sign and ratify this landmark treaty,” Docherty said.

The TPNW was adopted at the UN by 122 countries on July 7, 2018. The United States, Australia, and most other nuclear-armed and nuclear umbrella states boycotted the negotiations.

Nevertheless, many Australian parliamentarians and the larger public have expressed support for the ban treaty. In 2017, the Senate passed a Labor-initiated motion urging the government to participate in the negotiations. Since then, two-thirds of the current Shadow Ministry have pledged to work toward the treaty’s signature and ratification. A survey of Australians, released last month, found that almost 80 percent of the public supported joining the treaty.

The TPNW requires its states parties to renounce their nuclear umbrella arrangements. Such arrangements would violate the treaty’s prohibition on encouraging other countries to possess nuclear weapons.

But as the Clinic’s new report explains, the ANZUS Treaty makes no reference to nuclear weapons. Australia’s public claims to protection under the nuclear umbrella are based on policy statements that began in 1994.

An affirmative rejection of the nuclear umbrella would not breach Australia’s ANZUS Treaty commitment “to act to meet the common danger” in the case of an attack on an alliance member or in the Pacific. It would also allow Australia to comply with the relevant TPNW prohibition. While the US could object to Australia’s new position and use nuclear weapons in Australia’s defense, the TPNW does not hold states parties responsible for their allies’ choice of weapons.

The TPNW allows parties to participate in military alliances and joint operations with nuclear armed states.  If Australia ratified the treaty, it could not assist the US with certain nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as the planning of strikes with nuclear weapons. But it could continue to provide intelligence for counter-terrorism efforts or engage in non-nuclear military operations, such as those of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.

According to the new report, the TPNW is consistent with some of Australia’s other legal and policy commitments. The TPNW helps states parties, such as Australia, meet their obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to work toward nuclear disarmament, including in the form of a treaty. The TPNW strengthens the NPT’s safeguard measures to ensure countries do not develop nuclear weapons.

Australia has also committed to nuclear disarmament through government policy papers and ratification of the Treaty of Rarotonga, which establishes a South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone.

“By signing and ratifying the nuclear ban treaty, Australia would join with its regional neighbors in the Asia-Pacific and become a disarmament leader among nuclear umbrella states,” Docherty said.

For more information, contact Bonnie Docherty, bdocherty@law.harvard.edu. Read the full text of the report here.

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.

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.

Continue reading the full story here.

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