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

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.

Extraordinary Opportunities at the ECCC

by Merve Ciplak

I’m about halfway through my twelve weeks interning at the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The court is a UN-Cambodian hybrid tribunal trying the leaders of the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the ‘70s under Pol Pot, and is therefore focused on international (and local Cambodian) criminal law. The court currently has a number of cases at different stages and in different chambers. My work is focused on the ongoing appeal for Case 002/02, charging two of the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge. The case is monstrous by US legal standards – the Trial Chamber issued their final judgment exceeding 2,200 pages earlier this year, and in the beginning of July, the two defense parties and the prosecution submitted a list of their grounds of appeal, totaling over 2,100 grounds across the parties. Most of the work I’m doing focuses on breaking down and analyzing the numerous crimes, findings, and evidence in the judgment to better understand the submitted grounds for appeal and any other issues the Supreme Court is considering. I work directly with one of the UN-appointed judges, Judge Florence Mumba, and it’s been a fascinating experience to work for a judge with no intermediary clerks. There is much more independence involved in our working style, and my assignments are self-guided and larger in scope than I would have expected before starting my internship.

In addition to the work I’m doing, I got the very exciting opportunity to sit in on the three-day Pre-Trial Chamber hearing for Case 004/02, which is the appellate hearing to determine whether the court has personal jurisdiction to try an accused party as one of “those most responsible” or not (pictured below — I am at the very left beyond the glass in the courtroom). It was surreal to watch everything we’ve studied and read about academically come to life in person, and to know that we were witnessing a moment that will one day form a critical portion of history and justice in remedying and documenting a series of atrocities that took place over forty years ago. This hearing was also probably one of the last that the court will hear as its mandate comes to an end, so it was a hugely unique chance for us.

Credit: Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

For anyone interested, most of the court’s filings and documents are public and published online as they take place. I personally found it fascinating to read up on the cases before I started my internship and will probably continue to do so after my internship is done.

Merve Ciplak, a first-year student in HLS’ joint JD/MBA program, is a 2019 Chayes International Public Service Fellow. This summer, she is working at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, located in Phnom Penh.