Gaining experience in transnational human rights litigation

Delphine Rodrik '21by Delphine Rodrik ’20

I spent this past summer at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a German nonprofit organization focused on tackling impunity through human rights litigation. I worked within ECCHR’s migration unit, which works to address unlawful border practices, such as push-backs, aimed at deterring those fleeing conflict and hardship from reaching Europe. Working at ECCHR was a fantastic opportunity to gain substantive experience in transnational human rights litigation, and it was fascinating to compare the approach of litigation responses to migration policy in Europe with those in the U.S., which has similarly oriented policy crafted to keep asylum-seekers out and away from the county’s borders. Early on in my internship, I attended a conference in Berlin on refugee protection in Germany and Europe, which brought together academics, humanitarians, policy-makers and other practitioners in the field and provided me with insight into the key challenges facing the refugee response in Europe. This enabled me to better understand perspectives and points of contention on this topic, and experiences like this helped me to frame the work I was doing with reference to existing gaps in human rights protection and compliance. I also had the opportunity to take part in ECCHR’s “critical legal training” program, which included skills workshops, presentations by other staff and guest speakers, and discussions on challenges and critical issues in the human rights field, alongside other trainees from various countries. A highlight of my summer was getting to know and learn from the other trainees, as well as the staff at ECCHR, in these sessions.

Delphine Rodrik, now a third-year student at HLS, is interested in the intersection of international human rights, humanitarian law, and refugee law. She spent her 2L summer in Germany as a Chayes International Public Service Fellow.

Serious challenges, with some green shoots of hope

Eric Gitari, an S.J.D. candidate at HLS

Eric Gitari is a candidate for the Doctorate in Juridical Science (S.J.D.) at Harvard Law School. Before beginning his studies at HLS, he was the co-founder and executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in Kenya.

In a 2018 Harvard Law Today profile, Gitari discussed his work with NGLHRC—most notably, a case in Kenya that his NGO brought on behalf of two young men arrested in 2015 on suspicion of engaging in homosexual activities—a felony in Kenya—and distributing pornographic material.

Earlier this month, he described his work this summer, as a 2019 Chayes International Public Service Fellow, monitoring the status of human rights for LGBTIQ persons in Gambia and Senegal, and his ongoing efforts to decriminalize same-sex relations in these and other African countries.

Read “Serious challenges, with some green shoots of hope” on Harvard Law Today.

Photo: National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

A fresh look at financing green activities

By Ayako Fujihara ‘21

During my summer placement at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London, I conducted research related to emerging legal frameworks for tackling climate change, including the EU’s efforts to codify the green bond framework (bonds issued where the funds are to be allocated to “green” activities). On a related project, I wrote a memo on how central banks can help tackle climate change, which is not traditionally perceived as being within the mandate of central banks, especially in the U.S. or Europe. But what was really interesting to see is that some central banks in emerging economies in Asia, such as India and Bangladesh, have already been taking active steps—some for almost a decade—to promote investment in green activities in their economies. These measures include compensating commercial banks for loans extended to green activities, or committing to allocate a certain proportion of their lending to green activities. Central banks have the potential to leverage their position of oversight over financial markets to exercise a stronger influence over the country’s policy in this sphere, to ensure that active steps are being taken by financial institutions towards supporting the transition into a greener economy.

This turned out to be a wonderful way to see the intersection of law and policy, understanding how the Legal Transition Team works not just to advocate for legal reform in the EBRD’s countries of operations, but also takes into consideration what policy initiatives can be implemented. My understanding is that the EBRD is aiming to hold an event for central bankers across Eastern Europe and Central Asia on this topic in the coming months, so I hope that some of my research will be integrated.

Ayako Fujihara is a second-year student at HLS, with an interest in the legal infrastructures that undergird the international economic system.  She spent her 1L summer as a 2019 Chayes International Public Service Fellow, working with the EBRD’s Legal Transition Team. Her research focused on emerging challenges for various stakeholders in tackling climate change, as well as comparative analysis on international and national legal instruments in public procurement.

Photo courtesy of Ayako Fujihara

Fostering peace and democracy

Sceni photo of Tunis, Tunisia

by Brooke Davies ’21

This summer, I worked on the constitution-building team at International IDEA, an IGO that assists in democracy promotion around the world. I was placed in IDEA’s Tunis office, which was my first time in North Africa. I truly could not have asked for a more impactful, fulfilling, and challenging summer.

My team worked primarily on two projects while I was there, one in Yemen and one in Sudan. In Yemen, we assisted the UN Envoy in the ongoing peace negotiations, which included spending one week in Stockholm, Sweden, participating in a dialogue session with the parties to the internationally recognized government. My role included preparing for that session, providing legal research to the Envoy’s office, and answering questions that the parties had raised in the course of the negotiations. For our work in Sudan, I assisted the team in consulting on the political negotiations that began after President Bashir was ousted earlier this year.

Not only was I given more responsibility than I had ever expected to have, but I was working at a level that felt deeply impactful on issues unfolding in real-time. Going forward, I want to remember both all the lessons that I learned from the summer, and all the realizations I had about what I want from my own career after law school. Both have given me a greater sense of purpose, motivation, and drive as I come back to law school for my second year.

Brooke Davies, a second-year student at HLS, spent her 1L summer as a 2019 Chayes International Public Service Fellow. She worked with International IDEA in Tunis, Tunisia, on peace negotiations in the Middle East and Africa. 

Photo credit:  Brooke Davies

Addressing Clean Air, Migration and Climate Change in Mexico

By Rachel Westrate ’21

I spent my summer working at the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA, from its Spanish name Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente) in Mexico City, Mexico as an intern with the Climate Change and Human Rights programs. AIDA is a small nonprofit that works throughout Latin and South America on the issues of marine protection, fresh water, climate change, and human rights. They work with lawyers and scientists to support strategic litigation, help people advocate for their environmental rights, and promote sound environmental policies.

My work this summer had two main focuses. The first was supporting AIDA in their participation in the Observatorio Ciudadano de Calidad del Aire (OCCA), an organization comprised of several NGOs in the Mexico City area fighting to improve air quality in the Mexico City metropolitan zone. I researched and wrote memos concerning Mexico’s international obligations in protecting clean air as a human right, compared Mexico City’s new proposals to improve air quality to the recommendations from OCCA and Mexico’s National Court of Human Rights (Corte Nacional de Derechos Humanos), and monitored daily air quality in Mexico City in comparison to the World Health Organization limits (which are much lower than the Mexican national limits).

Group photo of Rachel Westrate '21 and her colleagues at AIDA, an evironmental NGO in Mexico

Rachel Westrate ’21 (ninth from left) and her colleagues at AIDA

My second project involved initial research on the link between migration and climate change, specifically for Central American migrants, and potential legal claims migrants might bring against those contributing to climate change. Currently, countries in the “dry corridor” of Central America, especially Honduras, are experiencing a historic drought, which is pushing people out of their local villages since they can no longer provide for their families through subsistence agriculture. Many of these people are moving to the United States seeking better opportunities—but currently, climate change is not a reason to grant asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and so many migrants are being detained at the border by a country who is responsible for contributing to climate change and the drought in their home countries. While in the very early stages, the topic of international immigration and climate change law is a burgeoning area which will gain importance as more and more people are pushed out of their homes by climate-related issues, and I was excited to be at the forefront of this research with AIDA this summer.

My summer experience at AIDA was incredible, and showed me the difference a small organization can make with a group of dedicated and passionate people. For more information on AIDA and the wonderful work they do, visit

Rachel Westrate, now a second-year J.D. student at HLS, spent her 1L summer in Mexico as a 2019 Chayes International Public Service Fellow.