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

Shining a Light on the Right to Privacy: Surveillance in Venezuela and Zimbabwe

Via International Human Rights Clinic

IHRCSince the 2013 Snowden revelations, media and civil society groups have closely scrutinized U.S. surveillance and intelligence sector law and policy, generating wide-ranging domestic and international debates on privacy, security, and the limits of state power. Less scrutinized, however, are the surveillance and intelligence sector policies and practices of countries that wield little international influence, but whose governments exercise significant control over citizens’ ability to communicate privately and speak freely.

Two such countries, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, are the subject of reports the International Human Rights Clinic and its partners recently submitted to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The joint reports document serious challenges to the right to privacy in both countries, including inadequate legal and policy frameworks on surveillance and intelligence gathering that are compounded by the absence of a strong and independent judiciary. These reports will ultimately help the United Nations Human Rights Council evaluate the human rights situation in both countries through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The Clinic report on Venezuela, co-authored with Privacy International and Venezuelan non-profit Acceso Libre, notes a number of concerning developments since the country’s human rights situation was last assessed through the UPR in 2011: for example, the government has encouraged the emergence of “patriotas cooperantes” (cooperating patriots), anonymous informers who feed information to government officials about the activities of perceived government opponents. In a striking example of this practice, in February 2016 Reuters reported on the case of Rodolfo Gonzalez, who was arrested in April 2014 by intelligence agents and accused of masterminding protests against Venezuela’s President. The arrest was allegedly based on an audio recording provided by a cooperating patriot, in which Gonzalez discussed “destabilising actions” against the government. For nearly a year, Gonzalez was held in a facility operated by Venezuela’s major civilian intelligence agency while he waited for trial; he hanged himself in March 2015.

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Cravath fellows travel globally to experience international and comparative law

Via HLS News

Thirteen Harvard Law School students were selected as the 2016 Cravath International Fellows. The fellows traveled to 12 countries for winter term clinical placements or independent research with an international, transnational, or comparative law focus. Below are accounts of the experiences of four of the new fellows.

Crystal Nwaneri ’17

Crystal Nwaneri ’17 spent winter term in Singapore, conducting research on the legal and technological implications of a court ruling permitting a third party to retransmit over-the-air television without permission of the broadcasters. For Nwaneri, this was a chance to further explore her long-standing interest in the legal challenges brought about by rapidly advancing technology.

As an undergraduate, Nwaneri examined public policy and how legislators and private organizations shape and regulate the technology industry. Prior to law school, she worked at Dell’s government relations office in Washington, D.C., briefing their executives on the internet technology issues discussed at Congressional hearings.

Upon entering Harvard Law, she enrolled in a reading group with Professor of Practice Urs Gasser about the future of online privacy, joined the Women’s Law Association and the Harvard Black Law Students Association, and began working as an editor at the Journal of Law and Technology. As a 2L, she is focusing on the legal infrastructures that support technology innovation, which may affect access for underserved communities. She also supports clients in the Cyberlaw Clinic and is a research assistant with the Student Privacy Initiative at the Berkman Center.

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Myanmar: Investigate Use of Excessive Force Against Letpadan Protesters

Via International Human Rights Clinic

(Yangon, April 14, 2016)—While welcoming the Government of Myanmar’s recent release of political prisoners, Fortify Rights and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic urged authorities today to open a formal investigation into the violent police crackdown against protesters in March 2015 in Letpadan.

The Letpadan protesters were among nearly 200 political prisoners that the recently elected Government of Myanmar—led by the National League for Democracy (NLD)—either pardoned or dropped charges against on April 8. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi announced on her second day in office a plan to free political prisoners, activists, and students in the weeks surrounding the Buddhist New Year holiday. According to human rights groups, more than 100 political prisoners remain behind bars.

“After spending more than a year in prison for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, the Letpadan protesters are finally free,” said Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Their courage and tenacity is an example to human rights defenders across the world. We commend the government for prioritizing their release and urge the authorities to take swift action to hold perpetrators accountable.”

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Lessons from a post-9/11 world

Advocating for torture survivors, Law School instructor tries to hold psychologists accountable

Via Harvard Gazette

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Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
Deborah Popowski, a Harvard Law School instructor, has led the effort to hold psychologists accountable for their involvement in the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “We want lawyers and advocates who are compassionate and empathetic people,” she said.

When Deborah Alejandra Popowski, J.D.’08, was just beginning her studies at Harvard Law School (HLS), she learned a powerful lesson about the value and import of the law.

An American attorney representing a Guantanamo detainee spoke at an HLS event. The lawyer told of her client, a Saudi citizen in his early 20s, and of the regimen of inhuman treatment that he endured at the hands of U.S. military forces. For Popowski, the lawyer’s testimony brought home the human dimension of torture.

“Everybody in law school was talking about concepts and the rule of law regarding torture,” Popowski said. “That was the first time that I had ever heard somebody talking about people.”

Ever since, she has tried to follow that example and tend the people.

Since 2009, when Popowski began working as a fellow at the HLS International Human Rights Clinic, she has advocated for torture survivors as part of a movement to seek accountability for U.S. torture through both state and international courts.

Popowski, who became an HLS clinical instructor in 2011, has focused on the role that psychologists played in the U.S. torture program authorized by the Bush administration and implemented as part of its “war on terror.”

As is widely known, psychologists helped design the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which included water-boarding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, and religious and sexual humiliation of Muslim men and boys detained by U.S. intelligence and military agencies. Psychologists also participated in interrogations as advisers.

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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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Fernando Ribeiro Delgado recognized by students for integrating critical race theory into classroom

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Fernando hugs Keaton as she presents him with the award.Yesterday, it was my great honor to present Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, my former clinical instructor, with the Shatter the Ceiling Award for Excellence in Integrating Critical Race Theory into the Curriculum. The annual award, given by Students for Inclusion and the Shattered Ceiling Committee of the Harvard Women’s Law Association, is based on feedback from a student survey. Below are the comments I prepared for the ceremony, followed by the complete list of faculty honorees:

“The first time I thought ‘there may actually be a place for students like me here’ was during my 2L year in the International Human Rights Clinic.  Deborah and Tyler’s human rights seminar was intellectually engaging in ways I had never experienced at HLS and I was sure none of my other classes could compare. But my developing clinical education with Fernando was not just comparable; it was the ultimate practical supplement.

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Short Film Documents Ongoing Struggle for Safe, Quality Schools in South Africa

Via International Human Rights Clinic

The challenges are immense: schools built of mud, overcrowded and collapsing classrooms, unsanitary toilets, inadequate water supply, insufficient electricity, and a painful lack of science labs, libraries, computer access, and sports fields. For years, our partners in South Africa, Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), have fought for safe, quality schools—and won many important victories. Now a new short film is documenting their ongoing work, sharing the stories of affected students and highlighting how community activism and creative lawyering can bring about real change.

EE first launched its infrastructure campaign back in 2010; a hard-won court victory against the Minister of Basic Education led to the promulgation of binding norms and standards for school infrastructure in 2013; and by November 2016, all schools across the country will be required to have running water, basic sanitation, and electricity, while no schools can be built entirely from wood, mud, metal, or asbestos.

The film, made in partnership with Adam Stofsky’s (JD ’04) New Media Advocacy Project, documents infrastructure problems in the Eastern Cape in particular.  Students, teachers, parents, and principals speak about the devastating impact that poor facilities have on learning outcomes.  The piece is an inspiring testament to the power of storytelling and to the movement that EE and EELC have built.  Our Clinic is proud to have supported it since 2012.

Three clinics, one common value

Lauren Blodgett, J.D. ’16

My clinical experiences at Harvard Law School have deeply enriched and shaped my legal education. During my time at HLS, I have had the privilege of engaging with many different clinics. I participated in the International Human Rights Clinic for two semesters, as well as the Immigration and Refugee Clinic, the Child Advocacy Clinic, and an independent clinical in Tanzania. These experiences helped pave my career path and contributed to my personal and professional growth. These clinics have given me the opportunity to collaborate with clinicians and classmates on pressing issues, travel to countries across the world, and see the positive impact of our legal work on individuals’ lives.

Lauren Blodgett, J.D. '16

Lauren Blodgett, J.D. ’16

By gaining practical experience in these clinics, I learned many lessons that I hope to carry with me throughout my legal career. In the International Human Rights Clinic, I worked on two projects: one, advocating for the prosecution of senior U.S. officials for authorizing and implementing the use of torture and another, proposing stricter regulations on the use of incendiary weapons. This international advocacy taught me to stand up for what I believe in, even if it is an unpopular or controversial position. It also taught me the importance of negotiation, compromise, and teamwork when advocating for new international laws and norms. In the Immigration and Refugee Clinic, my teammate and I helped our clients through various stages of the asylum application process. This experience not only helped me improve my interviewing and writing skills, but also taught me how to be a compassionate and effective advocate when working directly with clients. Finally, through the Child Advocacy Clinic I am currently representing children with mental disabilities in their interactions with their school system. I am learning how the support of a lawyer can have such a profound impact on the realization of the rights of these children – a vulnerable population who might otherwise be voiceless.

A common value that was instilled in me from all of these experiences is the importance of public service work. These clinics strengthened my commitment and ability to dedicate my career to fighting for the human rights of others. After graduation, I will be providing representation and community outreach to child refugees in New York City. My passion and preparation for this position are directly attributable to the experiences I had in the clinical programs here at HLS.

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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Clinic Files Petition for Certiorari in Final Attempt to Hold Two U.S. Corporations Accountable for Supporting Apartheid

Via International Human Rights Clinic

IHRL Clinic

The Clinic and its partners today filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court in the In re South African Apartheid Litigation suit, asking the Court to clarify the circumstances under which defendants may be held accountable in U.S. courts for human rights violations. The case, which involves the actions of U.S. corporations IBM and Ford, raises questions about whether a defendant’s knowledge is sufficient to establish aiding and abetting liability, or whether specific intent or motive must also be demonstrated. It also concerns how closely a human rights violation must be connected to the United States in order to sue under the Alien Tort Statute(ATS), and whether corporations can be held liable at all under the ATS.

The petition argues that through their actions, and decades-long support for violations associated with apartheid, defendants IBM and Ford purposefully facilitated violations of international law by enabling the “denationalization and violent suppression, including extrajudicial killings, of black South Africans living under the apartheid regime.” According to the petition, “IBM and Ford purposefully designed, sold, and serviced customized technology and vehicles for the South African government that they knew in advance would be used to racially segregate and systematically oppress black South Africans.”

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Moving on from the Human Rights Program (a note from Mindy Jane Roseman)

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

After ten years as Academic Director at the Human Rights Program, and many years before that as a collaborator at the Harvard School of Public Health, I write to let you know that I am leaving HRP, effective February 5, 2016.  I will be joining Yale Law School as Director of both its International Programs and its Gruber Program on Global Justice and Women’s Rights. This was not an easy decision, especially since it means I will be warming the bench from the other side of the basketball court.

There are many communities at Harvard Law School that are dear to me, but I cherish HRP – its work, staff, faculty, students, alumni – perhaps above all. I’ll still be on campus this semester (teaching a seminar), and my email will be active through June.

I hope to stay in touch and wish you all the best of luck.

Fondly,

Mindy

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

Via International Human Rights Clinic

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

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

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

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

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

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Pivotal Elections in Myanmar

Via International Human Rights Clinic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinic and HRW Urge Strengthening of International Law Governing Incendiary Weapons

Via International Human Rights Clinic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World’s Role in Burma’s Peace Process

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

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

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

Via International Human Rights Clinic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via HLS News

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

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

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

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

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Undermining Injustice, One Prison Visit at a Time

Via HLS News

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

Fernando DelgadoCredit: Dana Smith

Fernando Delgado
Credit: Dana Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HLS Blog- Picture 2

Philippa Greer HLS LL.M. ’14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Joint Report on Civilian Harm from Explosive Weapons

Via International Human Rights Clinic

(Geneva, June 19, 2015) – Extensive civilian casualties caused by the use of explosive weapons in towns and cities around the globe show the urgent need for countries to agree to curb the use of these weapons in populated areas, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Remains of the Luhansk airport terminal in eastern Ukraine, which was destroyed by repeated use of explosive weapons. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

Remains of the Luhansk airport terminal
in eastern Ukraine, which was destroyed by
repeated use of explosive weapons. © 2014
Human Rights Watch

Air-dropped bombs, artillery projectiles, mortars, rockets, and other explosive weapons kill or injure tens of thousands of civilians every year. In the first half of 2015, Human Rights Watch documented incidents involving the use of explosive weapons that claimed civilian lives and destroyed vital infrastructure in populated areas of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere.

The 35-page report, “Making a Commitment: Paths to Curbing the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas,” published jointly with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, says that countries should develop and implement a new non-binding agreement to reduce the harm from explosive weapons and offers options for developing such an agreement.

“The high levels of civilian death and destruction from explosive weapons are avoidable,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “Nations should agree to curtail the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and stop using those with wide-area effects entirely.”

Continue reading the full story here.

Joint Publication Released on Encryption, Online Anonymity and Human Rights

CaptureVia International Human Rights Clinic

The International Human Rights Clinic and Privacy International released a publication today that examines the vital role that encryption and anonymity tools and services play in safeguarding human rights. The 30-page publication, “Securing Safe Spaces Online: encryption, online anonymity, and human rights,” complements a landmark report by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.

Kaye’s report, which he will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva today, calls on states to ensure security and privacy online by providing “comprehensive protection” through encryption and anonymity tools.

The clinic’s joint publication explores measures that restrict online encryption and anonymity in four particular countries – Morocco, Pakistan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. In all four countries, these restrictions impede private and secure online communication and inhibit free expression. The publication also points to opportunities for governments, the corporate sector, and civil society to eliminate or minimize obstacles to use of encryption and online anonymity.

The Clinic’s collaboration with Privacy International dates back to last fall, when we supported a coalition of NGOs calling for the creation of a new Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy. In March 2015, the Human Rights Council established this new Special Rapporteur.

The Clinic began work on the encryption and anonymity publication this past spring. Clinical students Sarah Lee, JD ’16, and Mark Verstraete, JD ’16, worked on the publication throughout the semester and participated in a meeting of Privacy International’s global partners in April.

Clinic Files Reply Brief in Apartheid Litigation Appeal

CaptureVia International Human Rights Clinic

Yesterday, the Clinic and our partners filed a reply brief in In re South African Apartheid Litigation, currently on appeal before the Second Circuit. The case, which is being litigated under the Alien Tort Statute, brings claims against Ford and IBM for the assistance and support they provided to the apartheid government and security forces to commit human rights violations against black South Africans.

At issue in the appeal is whether the Plaintiffs will be allowed to file their proposed amended complaints so that the case can proceed. In order to do so, the claims must “touch and concern” the territory of the United States with sufficient force, as mandated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

Plaintiffs argue that they meet this standard because the proposed amended complaints contain detailed and specific allegations of the ways in which both Defendants, in the United States, took actions to aid and abet the South African government and security forces. For example, the complaints allege that, in the United States, IBM developed hardware and software systems used to produce identity documents that stripped black South Africans of their citizenship and that Ford, in the United States, made decisions not only to sell but also to specialize vehicles used by the South African security forces to oppress and control the black population.

Oral argument before the Second Circuit will be heard on June 24, and a decision is expected later this year.

Susan Farbstein appointed Clinical Professor

Farbstein_Susan

Assistant Clinical Professor
Susan H. Farbstein ’04

Via HLS News

Susan Farbstein ’04 has been appointed Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic, Farbstein has been an assistant clinical professor at HLS since 2012.

Farbstein’s current work focuses on Southern Africa, transitional justice, Alien Tort Statute litigation, community lawyering, and economic, social, and cultural rights. She is an expert on South Africa, having worked on a variety of human rights and transitional justice issues in that country for nearly 15 years. Her writing has been published in scholarly journals, including the Harvard Law Review and the Harvard International Law Journal, as well as The New York Times and SCOTUSBlog.

“Susan is a true leader in human rights and transitional justice, and she is also an amazing teacher,” said Martha Minow, Harvard Law School Dean. “Her innovative work spans social and economic rights in South Africa, transitional justice issues in Africa and Asia, and Alien Tort litigation in the United States. Susan’s devotion to students and tireless, imaginative work makes her an outstanding member of this community and the entire human rights community.”

Continue reading the full story here.

From Bosnia to Somalia: Classifying “Involvement” in Armed Conflict

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

The laws governing armed conflict may seem simple on the surface. Soldiers can be targeted; civilians cannot. But the line between these groups is blurry and can have life-and-death implications.

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, civilians can be intentionally killed if they “directly participate in hostilities.” But what does direct participation mean? What if a civilian feeds combatants, drives members of an armed group, provides equipment or intelligence, or takes up arms to protect family members? Does it matter if involvement was voluntary or forced? Do such actions mean the civilian can be lawfully targeted?

CIVICCoverA new 84-page report, to which the International Human Rights Clinic contributed a case study, takes a fresh look at this contentious issue. The People’s Perspectives: Civilian Involvement in Armed Conflict, released Tuesday by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), documents the experiences of people in four former or current conflict zones: Bosnia, Libya, Gaza, and Somalia. It does not seek to come up with a conclusive definition of direct participation in hostilities. Instead, it aims to inform the debate among military commanders, lawyers, academics, and other experts by adding the voices of those who have lived through war.

The report finds that civilians become involved in conflict in a number of ways, ranging from fighting to providing logistical support to membership in civil defense forces or political parties. While sometimes voluntary, their involvement is often motivated by threats from armed groups or the need to survive. The people CIVIC interviewed had varied understandings of who is a civilian and who is a combatant and found it difficult to delineate the difference. They agreed, however, that the legal status that derives from involvement can not only determine whether civilians are targeted but also affect their lives long after a conflict ends.

Continue reading the full story here.

New Publication Examines Different Approaches to Assisting Victims of Armed Conflict and Armed Violence”

Via the International Human Rights Clinic

(Cambridge, MA, April 30, 2015) – Mitigating the human costs of armed conflict and armed violence has become a moral and legal imperative over the past two decades. Within the international community, several strategies for helping civilian victims have emerged. A publication, released this week by Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program and Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), seeks to advance understanding and promote collaboration among leaders in the field.

AcknowledgeAmendAssist-compressedcover-212x300The 28-page report, Acknowledge, Amend, Assist: Addressing Civilian Harm Caused by Armed Conflict and Armed Violence, examines a range of current approaches: casualty recording, civilian harm tracking, making amends, transitional justice, and victim assistance. In so doing, the report illuminates their commonalities and differences and analyzes the difficulties they face individually and collectively.

“These programs all provide valuable assistance to civilian victims, but they have yet to be viewed holistically,” said Bonnie Docherty, editor of the volume and lecturer on law in the Human Rights Program. “A comparative look at the approaches could help reduce overlapping efforts and identify gaps that should be closed.”

Continue reading the full story here.

Harvard Law champions entrepreneurship and innovation

A native of California who came to HLS with an interest in startups and business, Shant Hagopian ’15 gave legal advice to entrepreneurs as a student in the Transactional Law Clinic during his 2L year. Shortly thereafter, he co-founded Virtudent, a tele-dentistry startup designed to increase oral health care access for underserved populations. Credit: Heratch Photography

A native of California who came to HLS with an interest in startups and business, Shant Hagopian ’15 gave legal advice to entrepreneurs as a student in the Transactional Law Clinic during his 2L year. Shortly thereafter, he co-founded Virtudent, a tele-dentistry startup designed to increase oral health care access for underserved populations.
Credit: Heratch Photography

Via HLS News

The moment Shant Hagopian ’15 stepped through the doors of the Harvard Innovation Lab, the air was abuzz with the energy of wildly creative ideas, and he knew Harvard Law School had been the right choice for him.

“The first time I walked into the i-lab I thought, ‘Wow, this is a really cool place,’” says Hagopian, a native of California who came to HLS with an interest in startups and business. “The i-lab brings together students from many different academic backgrounds to launch their ideas for how the world should look in the future.”

The i-lab, a collaborative workspace and idea incubator at Harvard University which champions entrepreneurship and innovation, connects students, faculty, and other creative idea-makers from across the university to resources, thought leaders, and funding sources. Since launching in 2011, it has drawn scores of law students who’ve worked on a wide variety of cutting-edge projects—some law-related, and many not.

Credit: Martha Stewart Chris Bavitz, Clinical Professor of Law and managing director of the HLS Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Credit: Martha Stewart
Chris Bavitz, Clinical Professor of Law and managing director of the HLS Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society

“Anyone with a Harvard ID can tap in, sit down, and do their thing,” says Chris Bavitz, Clinical Professor of Law and managing director of the HLS Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Dean’s Designate to the i-lab. “That means anything from having shared space to work to looking at a physical bulletin board where people are looking for a software developer or lawyer. Nearly every night of the week, there’s programming about venture capital or how to deal with employment issues or any number of other legal and business concerns that startups face.”

As a 2L in the HLS Transactional Law Clinics , which holds office hours at the i-lab where law students give legal advice to entrepreneurs, Hagopian found himself wanting to make the leap to the other side and become an entrepreneur himself.

Just a few months later, he did—as a co-founder of Virtudent, a tele-dentistry startup created by a friend, Dr. Hitesh Tolani, a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Hagopian introduced Virtudent to the i-lab, where doors quickly opened and connections were made. Last year, Virtudent, designed to increase oral health care access for underserved populations, was a finalist in the 2014 President’s Challenge, which offers a $100,000 prize for the most innovative idea for solving a complex societal problem. Though it didn’t win the grand prize, Virtudent received initial funding from Harvard and will soon be rolling out.

Continue reading the full story here.

Australian Radio Interviews Tyler Giannini on Mining Company Settlement with Rape Survivors

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

Earlier this week, Australian radio interviewed Tyler Giannini about a significant development in the world of business and human rights: one of the world’s largest mining companies, Barrick Gold, recently settled claims with a group of women in Papua New Guinea who were raped by the company’s security guards. The settlement, negotiated by EarthRights International, came as the women were preparing to file suit.

The International Human Rights Clinic has been investigating abuses around the Porgera mine for several years, along with NYU’s Global Justice Clinic and Columbia’s Human Rights Clinic. Reports of rape around the mine in the highlands of Papua New Guinea date back to at least 2006, but the company did not acknowledge them for years.

In 2012, the company set up a complaint mechanism, which Tyler describes in the interview as inadequate. Initially, the company was preparing to offer the women who stepped forward a compensation package of used clothing and chickens. At the urging of advocates, including the Clinic, the company later revised its offer, and more than 100 women accepted the settlement.

EarthRights represented a group that did not agree to settle through the company’s complaint mechanism. At least one woman described the original settlement offers as “offensive.”

“If you have settlements that aren’t really getting to justice, the discourse with the community is not really healed, and you don’t get real reconciliation,” Tyler said in the interview. “That’s not good for the company, that’s not good for the survivors, and I think that’s one of the lessons that needs to be taken away.”

Listen to the full 7 minute interview here

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