February 25, 2011

Decades after Dresden, We Must Do More to Protect Civilians from Incendiary Weapons

Posted by Joe Phillips, JD '12

This month marks the 66th anniversary of the World War II firebombing of Dresden, Germany—an event that demonstrated to the world the devastating power of incendiary weapons.  From February 13 to 15, 1945, British and U.S. forces dropped hundreds of tons of incendiary and high explosive bombs on the mostly undefended cultural center of Dresden, where thousands of people had sought refuge from the Eastern Front.  The resulting firestorm destroyed 1,600 acres of the city center and killed an estimated 25,000 to 100,000 people.

Based on his firsthand experience, Kurt Vonnegut describes the scene in his novel, Slaughterhouse-Five:

“Dresden was one big flame.  The one flame ate everything organic, everything that would burn. . . . One thing was clear: Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design.”

During World War II, incendiary weapons generally brought to mind the firebombs used to destroy residential city centers.  Over time, the nature of armed conflict has changed, as has the design of certain incendiary weapons, but militaries continue to use them—often at serious risk to civilians.

The scorched children’s playroom inside Gaza City’s Al-Quds hospital was destroyed during a white phosphorus attack on January 15, 2009. © 2009 Marc Garlasco/Human Rights Watch

In 2004, the United States launched incendiary shells into the city of Fallujah, Iraq; witnesses reported seeing charred bodies of Iraqi civilians, echoing the scenes in Dresden in 1945.  More recently, when Israel used white phosphorus in Gaza in 2008, the substance both injured civilians and set fire to a school, a hospital, and other non-military buildings.

The International Human Rights Clinic has worked for several years to protect civilians through campaigning for a ban on cluster munitions; now, with Human Rights Watch, we are broadening our focus to push for stronger protections from incendiary weapons. Existing law is not enough.

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February 24, 2011

Public Hearing Feb. 25 on the Right to Water

Posted by Tyler Giannini

Since the early 1990s, the link between human rights and the environment has received much more attention.  The UN has taken up the issue on numerous fronts, including providing important guidance on the right to water.  As part of her mission to the U.S., Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Human Rights Council Independent Expert on Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, is holding a hearing on the issue in Boston.

The hearing will focus on the experiences of affected communities and civil society organizations dealing with the right to water.

Date: Friday, February 25

Time: 3:00- 5:00 pm

LocationChurch on the Hill, 140 Bowdoin Street, Beacon Hill, Boston

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February 24, 2011

Images from Abandoned Ireland: Inside a Magdalene Laundry

Posted by Cara Solomon

Recently on this blog, Global Human Rights fellow Maeve O’Rourke, LLM ’10, wrote about Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, where as many as tens of thousands of women and girls were forced to live and work for the commercial benefit of four orders of Catholic nuns.  Today, thanks to photographer Tarquin Blake, we’re posting some striking images of  The Good Shepherd Convent/Magdalene Asylum, which operated a residential laundry until the late 1970s.

A big thanks to Tarquin for letting us post his images.  Check out his project, Abandoned Ireland, here.

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February 23, 2011

Breaking News: Settlement in Abdullahi v. Pfizer

Posted by Susan Farbstein

Pfizer has settled an Alien Tort Statute (ATS) suit brought by Nigerian plaintiffs who alleged that the company violated international law by testing an experimental drug on children, without their parents’ consent or knowledge, and without informing families that another (non-experimental) drug was available.  The case had already led to important legal developments, including a Second Circuit ruling in 2009 which recognized the existence of a norm of customary international law prohibiting medical experimentation on non-consenting human subjects.

After nearly 15 years of litigation, the timing of the settlement is striking—it comes on the heels of the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Kiobel ruling that corporations cannot be liable under the ATS.  Although the terms of the settlement are confidential, we do know that it allows a maximum of $175,000 per child to those who can demonstrate death or permanent disability due to the 1996 trials of the drug Trovan, intended to treat meningitis.  These payments would come from a $35 million trust fund established as a part of a prior settlement with the Kano state government in Nigeria, where the drug testing occurred.   Additional information is available here.

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February 21, 2011

Event Feb. 22: “The Cash Nexus: Advocacy at the Intersection of Development, Human Rights, and the Global Economy”

Event Notice

“The Cash Nexus: Advocacy at the Intersection of Development, Human Rights, and the Global Economy”

February 22, 2011
12:00- 1:00 pm
Lewis 202

Please join us for a brown bag talk featuring Peter Rosenblum, the Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein Clinical Professor in Human Rights Law at Columbia Law School and the Co-Director of its Human Rights Institute.

Prior to joining Columbia, Rosenblum was the Clinical Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard University.  His research has taken him around the world, but his main focus remains Africa, where he has spent much of his career exposing corruption and promoting financial transparency in natural resource contracts.  He has served as a human rights officer with the Geneva-based precursor to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, a program director of the International Human Rights Law Group, and a researcher for Human Rights Watch and the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights.

This event is co-sponsored by the Harvard Law & International Development Society.

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February 18, 2011

Kiobel: Second Petition for Rehearing En Banc Filed

Posted by Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini

Today, the plaintiffs in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. filed a second petition for rehearing en banc.  The previous petition was denied on February 4.

The renewed petition is based on a procedural argument.  Under the Second Circuit’s Internal Operating Procedure 35.1(b), all active judges are entitled to vote on whether a case should be heard en banc, and the determination of “active” is made on the date of entry of the en banc order.  The newest member of the court, Judge Raymond Lohier, was sworn in before the February 4 order was issued.  But his name is not listed on the order, indicating that he may not have been polled.

Given that the court split 5-5 on the question of rehearing en banc, Judge Lohier could provide the deciding vote.

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February 18, 2011

Abuse by Church and State: The Hidden Story of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries

Posted by Maeve O'Rourke, LLM '10, Global Human Rights Fellow

As Ireland grapples with the current economic crisis, there is no shortage of soul-searching going on in the country today.  But as Russell Shorto makes clear in a recent article for The New York Times Magazine, the economy is only one aggravating factor in the identity crisis.  The  legacy of child abuse by church officials has also taken a serious toll on Irish society, forcing us to question the state’s close relationship with the Catholic Church, and to look at who we really are and what we want to stand for.

Shorto is quick to commend the Irish government for its reaction to the sex abuse scandal, pointing out that “Ireland is the first country to bring the force of its federal government to bear against the church.”  And indeed, the country has seen several official inquiries, a state apology and a redress scheme for survivors of childhood abuse in state-funded, church-run residential institutions.  But missing from his article—and most of the narratives about abuse by church officials—is another critical part of the Catholic Church’s abuse story: the incarceration and forced labor of as many as tens of thousands of women and girls in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries.

The government has yet to acknowledge its role in the suffering of these women, whom the Catholic Church deemed unfit for society and warehoused in residential institutions.  Among them were women who had given birth outside marriage; had been sexually abused; were considered “promiscuous” or a burden on their families.  Some were girls, as young as eleven.  Many grew up in the care of the State and the Catholic Church.

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February 14, 2011

Guiding Principles: Defining the Next Decade of Business and Human Rights

Posted by TYler Giannini

In recent years, Harvard Kennedy School Professor John Ruggie has emerged as the most important person in the field of business and human rights.  On Thursday, from 5:00-7:00 pm in Pound Hall, he’ll speak about the Guiding Principles, the culmination of five years of his work as UN Special Representative on the issue.

UN Special Representative John Ruggie

The Principles will be the defining document for business and human rights for the coming decade. It’s really a privilege to have him come and speak about them, right when they’re in the process of being rolled out and voted on by states later this spring.

Click here for a recent memo Ruggie wrote about follow-up to his recommendations.

This event is sponsored by International Legal Studies, the Human Rights Program, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and the Harvard Human Rights Journal.

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February 11, 2011

Op-Ed on Prisons in Panama: Tragedy at Tocumen, A Call for Real Reform

The following Op-Ed appeared today in La Prensa, Panama’s main newspaper. It was written by Jim Cavallaro, Executive Director of the Human Rights Program, and María Luisa Romero, JD ’08, who has been working with the International Human Rights Clinic on prison conditions in Panama since her 2L year.

A fire in the Juvenile Detention Center in Tocumen, Panama, last month claimed the lives of five teenagers.  The fire was apparently caused by tear gas bombs.  Reports indicate that the police laughed at the teenagers as they burned.  The Panamanian government has responded with promises to improve prison conditions, including plans to increase capacity through the construction of new centers.

For those unfamiliar with prison dynamics, the promise of more and better infrastructure may seem like an appropriate response to the problems of the Panamanian prison system.  Although improvements in infrastructure would improve the situation to some extent, the construction of new prisons is an inadequate response, and one that appears to repeat unfortunate pattern in Panama.

For the past five years, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School has been studying and documenting conditions in the adult prison system in Panama.  In 2008, the Clinic published an exhaustive report in which we documented not only overcrowding and unhygienic conditions, but also profound institutional failures.  Rather than professional guards, internal prison security is often left to police officers, who are not trained for this work.

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February 10, 2011

Upcoming on Monday: “Reproductive Rights and the U.S. Supreme Court”

Event Notice

“Reproductive Rights and the U.S. Supreme Court”

February 14, 2011
12:15- 1:15 pm
Lewis 202

This brown bag talk features Priscilla “Cilla” Smith, an attorney and Senior Fellow at the Information Society Project at the Yale Law School.  Her current project focuses on ways to shift and expand reproductive rights dialogues within the legal academy, with particular attention to information policy and new technologies.

Smith served as the Director of the Domestic Legal Program of the Center for Reproductive Rights from 2003 to 2007 and was a litigating attorney with the Center for 13 years.  She litigated cases nationwide, most notably arguing two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Smith also developed and edited the first edition of “What if Roe Fell?” in which the Center examines the probable impact of a reversal of Roe V. Wade in all 50 states.

This event is co-sponsored by Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice.

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