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

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.

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. 

Meeting with Community Leaders

by Jung Min Shin

This is a photo of me (third person from the left) with other EarthRights International staff at a community consultation. We met with community leaders from groups that were negatively affected by the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to discuss possible strategies to implement a more community-focused grievance mechanism for complaints that arise in the SEZ. The SEZ is a joint venture of the Myanmar and Japanese governments to construct a 2,500 hectare [approximately 9.65 square mile] economic zone consisting of an industrial zone, a port, and a power plant. The project affects six villages, which are home to 1,123 households and 4,313 people. Without any compensation for their land, more than a hundred households have been relocated so far to a resettlement site that lacks basic infrastructure and farming land, leaving villagers in a state of food insecurity and unemployment. This was a really eye-opening and fantastic experience and I hope to make many more trips.

Shin, a first-year student at HLS, is a 2019 Chayes International Public Service Fellow. This summer, she is working with EarthRights International in Yangon, Myanmar, evaluating resettlement plans and grievance mechanisms for populations affected by the Thilawa Special Economic Zone.

Meet the 2019 Chayes Fellows

Seventeen Harvard Law School students have been awarded 2019 Chayes International Public Service Fellowships for work in 13 countries.

The Chayes International Public Service Fellowships are dedicated to the memory of Professor Abram Chayes ’49, who taught at Harvard Law School for more than 40 years. Professor Chayes was a leading authority on international law, and throughout his career, as a lawyer, arbitrator and legal advisor, he took on notable cases arising from military and paramilitary activities in Nicaragua, boundary disputes in Africa, and the genocide in Kosovo, among many others.

Accordingly, these fellowships provide Harvard Law School students with the opportunity to spend eight weeks during the summer working with governmental or non-governmental organizations concerned with issues of an international scope or relevant to countries in transition.

Aanchal Chugh
Reprieve, United Kingdom

Merve Ciplak
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Brooke Davies
International IDEA, Tunisia

Alev Erhan
TRIAL International, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Ayako Fujihara
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, United Kingdom

Eric Gitari
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Senegal and The Gambia

Johanna Lee
Legal Support for Children and Women, Cambodia

Andrea Loera
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Mexico

Roberta Mayerle
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China

Jeel Oza
Southern Africa Litigation Center, South Africa

Shaiba Rather
Norwegian Refugee Council, Myanmar

Delphine Rodrik
European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Germany

R. Scott Sanderson
Advocates for Community Alternatives, Ghana

Jung Min Shin
EarthRights International, Myanmar

Rachel Westrate
Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, Mexico

Parker White
U.S. Department of State, Office of the Legal Counselor, The Netherlands

Alexis Yeboah-Kodie
Legal Resources Centre, Ghana

Read their biographies here, and stay tuned for posts and photos from them during the summer.

Chayes Fellow News: Commencement 2019

At Commencement on May 30, we learned that seven Chayes Fellows have received fellowships to continue their important work:

Public Service Venture Fund Fellowships
Hayley Evans
Natalie McCauley
Madeleine O’Neill

Sumner N. Redstone Fellowships in Public Service
Kimberly Grano
Elisa Quiroz
Natalie Trigo Reyes

Satter Human Rights Fellowship
Daniel Levine-Spound

Congratulations to them, and to all of the graduating Chayes Fellows:
Kelsey Annu-Essuman
Daniel Cooper
Brayden Koslowsky
Allena Martin
Terrence Neal
Lisandra Novo
Ratana (Kevin) Patumwat
Philip Stachnik
Mihret Woldesemait