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May 28, 2014

Tyler Giannini Receives Teaching Award, Stresses the Importance of Solidarity

Posted by Cara Solomon

This afternoon, during the Class Day ceremony, Tyler Giannini stood up to the podium and accepted from the Class of 2014 the Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence. It was a thrilling moment for those of us who know him, and work with him, and see this as a tribute not just to Tyler himself, but to clinical education at Harvard Law School.

His speech is reprinted below:

 

Thank you for this honor. It is humbling—and honestly a bit terrifying—to be here with all of you: with Dean Minow, faculty, staff, friends, parents, and the graduating class. In all seriousness, I am deeply moved to receive this teaching award from you, the graduating class. What has struck me—what continues to strike me—is how strange it feels to be singled out. Perhaps this is because I have always been part of a team in my human rights work—and it has never been more perfectly realized than here with the students and clinicians at our human rights clinic.

In reflecting on today—and I’m a clinician, so you better believe reflection comes with the territory—I thought back, I wondered—how was I crazy enough to start an NGO during my last year of law school, which then took me to Thailand for a decade, and then somehow end up here teaching at Harvard. The answer is clear to me: there have always been others with me along the way. I have never done it alone—never. Continue Reading…

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May 20, 2014

Clinical Team Effort Yields Courtroom Win for Bolivian Human Rights Plaintiffs

PRESS RELEASE

 

Clinical Team Effort Yields Courtroom Win for Bolivian Human Rights Plaintiffs

Extrajudicial Killing Claims Against Former President and Minister of Defense May Proceed Under the Torture Victim Protection Act

 

(Cambridge, MA) – Today, U.S. District Judge James Cohn issued orders allowing the human rights claims of eight Bolivian residents to proceed against former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and former Defense Minister Jose Carlos Sánchez Berzaín (“Defendants”), both of whom have lived in the United States for more than a decade. The Clinic, working in coalition with human rights lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights and pro bono counsel at Akin Gump, represents the Bolivian plaintiffs (“Plaintiffs”) who have been seeking to hold the Defendants liable for their roles in the 2003 military killings that claimed the lives of eight of their relatives: fathers, wives, husbands, sisters and daughters, as well as an unborn child.

Judge Cohn found that Plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged facts that “plausibly suggest that these killings were deliberate” and further found that the Plaintiffs’ complaint adequately alleged that Defendants were responsible for the killings under the doctrine of command responsibility.
Specifically, Judge Cohn found that Plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that:

– even before taking office, Defendants had planned to use lethal force to quell political disturbances

– Plaintiffs’ relatives were killed as a result of that plan

– Defendants had failed to prevent killings by the military under their command

Rejecting Defendants’ motion to dismiss in part, Judge Cohn held that the Plaintiffs could assert claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) because “it does not appear that Bolivia will have the opportunity to specifically redress Defendants’ alleged human rights violations within its own judicial system anytime soon, if at all.” In response to Defendants’ arguments that humanitarian payments made to Plaintiffs by the Bolivian government precluded claims against them, the court further held that “it would be absurd to conclude that Defendants could avoid liability for their alleged wrongs merely because the Bolivian government saw fit to render some humanitarian assistance to Plaintiffs.”

The court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss claims asserted under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), finding that the claims alleged in the complaint were not sufficiently connected to the United States, as they occurred entirely in Bolivia. Plaintiffs’ case had previously been ordered dismissed by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in 2011. The amended complaint that was the subject of Judge Cohn’s order was filed in 2013.

In the proceedings before Judge Cohn, plaintiffs were represented by a legal team including Beth Stephens and Judith Chomsky, working with the Center for Constitutional Rights; Tyler Giannini, Susan Farbstein and Thomas Becker, affiliated with the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic; David Rudovsky of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP; and Steven Schulman, Michael Small, Jeremy Bollinger and Jonathan Slowik of Akin Gump. HLS clinical students Betsy Boutelle, JD ’14, Avery Halfon, JD ’15, Lynnette Miner, JD ’14, Ariel Nelson, JD ’15, and Oded Oren, JD ’15, have also contributed countless hours to the case over the past year.

The cases are Mamani v. Sanchez de Lozada, No. 08-21063 (S.D. Fla.), and Mamani v. Sanchez Berzain, No. 07-22459 (S.D. Fla.).

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May 14, 2014

A Second Release in Geneva: “Advancing the Debate on Killer Robots”

Posted by Joseph Klingler, JD '14

In Geneva today, the Clinic and Human Rights Watch released the latest in a series of publications calling for a preemptive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. The weapons- also called “killer robots”- would be capable of selecting and firing upon targets without any meaningful human control.

The joint paper, entitled “Advancing the Debate on Killer Robots,” systematically rebuts 12 arguments that have been raised by critics of a ban. Its release coincides with a major international disarmament conference dedicated to fully autonomous weapons, being held at the UN in Geneva this week. More than 400 delegates from government, international organizations, and civil society have gathered to discuss the weapons under the framework of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, a treaty that governs problematic weapons.

Stop Killer Robots 2Clinical students Evelyn Kachaje, JD ’15, and Joseph Klingler, JD ’14, who along with Yukti Choudhary, LLM ’14 helped Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty draft the paper, are attending the talks. The Clinic is working with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, to increase momentum towards an eventual treaty banning fully autonomous weapons.

On Monday, before the conference began, the Clinic and Human Rights Watch released “Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots.” The report found that fully autonomous weapons threaten fundamental human rights and principles: the right to life, the right to a remedy, and the principle of dignity.

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May 12, 2014

Keep “Killer Robots” Out of Policing

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

Keep ‘Killer Robots’ Out of Policing

Fully Autonomous Weapons Threaten Rights in Peace, War

 

(Geneva, May 12, 2014)Fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” would jeopardize basic human rights, whether used in wartime or for law enforcement, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today, on the eve of the first multilateral meeting on the subject at the United Nations.

The 26-page report, “Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots,” is the first report to assess in detail the risks posed by these weapons during law enforcement operations, expanding the debate beyond the battlefield. Human Rights Watch found that fully autonomous weapons would threaten rights and principles under international law as fundamental as the right to life, the right to a remedy, and the principle of dignity.

“In policing, as well as war, human judgment is critically important to any decision to use a lethal weapon,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments need to say no to fully autonomous weapons for any purpose and to preemptively ban them now, before it is too late.”

International debate over fully autonomous weapons has previously focused on their potential role in armed conflict and questions over whether they would be able to comply with international humanitarian law, also called the laws of war. Human Rights Watch, in the new report, examines the potential impact of fully autonomous weapons under human rights law, which applies during peacetime as well as armed conflict.

Nations should adopt a preemptive international ban on these weapons, which would be able to identify and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention, Human Rights Watch said. Countries are pursuing ever-greater autonomy in weapons, and precursors already exist.

The release of the report, co-published with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, coincides with the first multilateral meeting on the weapons. Many of the 117 countries that have joined the Convention on Conventional Weapons are expected to attend the meeting of experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems at the United Nations in Geneva from May 13 to 16, 2014. The members of the convention agreed at their annual meeting on November 2013 to begin work on the issue in 2014. Continue Reading…

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