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March 31, 2015

What’s So Bad About a 10-Mile Walk to School?

Posted by David Victorson, JD '16

A few weeks ago the Harvard Human Rights Program tweeted about the fact that many students in rural South Africa have to walk more than 20km each day to get to and from school. They cross rugged mountains and flooded rivers. They navigate dangerous highways and treacherous weather. They face physical injury and emotional harm.

Surprisingly, shortly after we posted our tweet, a small number of Twitter users pushed back. One accused us of ignoring how lucky these students are to even be at school, implying that the difficulties of getting there are inconsequential. Another responded that if “it doesn’t kill you it makes you strong.” But as those paying attention to news reports over the past month know, a poor learner transport system has, in fact, already led to the death and injury of multiple children this year. And on our recent trip to Nqutu, KwaZulu-Natal, it didn’t take long to find students who have personal experience with the risks of robbery, rape, kidnapping, and even the death of friends – all created by the long journey to school.

How can this be inconsequential? How does this make anybody stronger?

Faced with such a difficult journey to school, many affected students drop out before completing Grade 12. During our trip, we heard from those who have continued attending school that they arrive exhausted, hungry, and have difficulty focusing in class. When they get home late at night, they may have responsibilities such as caring for livestock, fetching water, and helping to bathe siblings, nieces, and nephews before they can study. Some students go to bed at 11:00 pm, only to rise at 4:00 am and start their journey again.

Because of the many hours lost traveling to and from school, these students are forced to fit a full 24-hour day into something much less. Many struggle to do so by sacrificing homework and sleep, which has long-term consequences on their ability to stay healthy, to concentrate and to learn, and ultimately, to reach their full potential as adults.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s unemployment rate currently hovers around 25%. Among the youth labor force, this numbers jumps to over 33%. Nearly one-third of those aged 15 to 24 are not in employment, education, or training. They are detached from the labor force with seemingly no way to better their situation.

The consequences for South African society stretch far beyond these unemployed individuals. Continue Reading…

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March 26, 2015

Tomorrow, March 26: “International Criminal Courts and Tribunals: Challenges and Successes”

We’re very pleased to co-sponsor this year’s Harvard Human Rights Journal Symposium, which takes place tomorrow, Friday, March 27. The half-day event will focus on the challenges and successes of international criminal law as a response mechanism to world crises. The event panels are as follows:

“Where Has International Criminal Law Taken Us and Where Can it Go?”

Keynote Address by Serge Brammertz, Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY

12:00 – 1:00 pm, Ames Courtroom, Austin Hall
Lunch will be served

“The Laws of War: Enforcement in Human Rights Versus International Criminal Courts”
1:30 – 3:00 pm, WCC 1015

This panel will feature Judge Robert Spano of the European Court of Human Rights (graciously brought to the Symposium by Harvard European Law Association), Nema Milaninia of the ICTY in the Appeals Division of the Office of the Prosecutor, Fergal Gaynor of the International Criminal Court Victims Division, former ICC prosecutor Professor Alex Whiting, and Vanderbilt University Professor Michael Newton. The panel will discuss the pros and cons of enforcing international humanitarian law in international criminal courts versus international human rights courts. This panel is cosponsored by the Harvard European Law Association.

Coffee with the Experts
3:00 – 4:00 pm, WCC 3038

“Prosecuting a War: Justice for Syria?”
4:00 – 5:30 pm, WCC 1023

Syria triggers critical questions for the role of international criminal law. What system of justice will best address the atrocities that have been committed and documented by various actors throughout the conflict? National courts? An international tribunal? A hybrid model? What role should local forms of justice play in such a process? How can the lessons of past justice models inform the international community’s approach to Syria? What role should the US or other Western powers play? The panel will feature Emily Hutchinson and Jim Hooper of the Public International Law and Policy Group, and Federica D’Alessandra from the Harvard Kennedy School. All three panelists have been involved in Syria fact-finding missions, and Ms. Hutchinson and Mr. Cooper have participated in negotiations with key members of the moderate coalition. Susan Farbstein from the Harvard Human Rights Program will moderate the panel.

Wine and Cheese Reception
WCC 1023, HLS Pub

March 23, 2015

Student Transport Vital to Unlocking the Promise of Education in South Africa

Posted by Katie King, JD '16

I’ve always loved school. Starting from a young age, I even loved the journey to get there. It was time spent with my siblings—an opportunity to tease each other and a chance to get a taste of what felt like the grown-up responsibility of walking alone.

The students in Nqutu, a small, rural area in eastern South Africa, are often just as excited as I was about school. However, as I heard during a trip there this past January with the International Human Rights Clinic, the morning starts for many of them at 4 or 5 a.m., when they wake to fetch water, let out their family’s cows, and help their younger siblings get ready. They then set off on a walk that often exceeds 10 miles.

Some students in Nqutu walk 20 miles to and from school. See more images from the Clinic's recent trip in this slideshow.

Some students in Nqutu walk 20 miles to and from school. See more images from the Clinic’s recent trip in this slideshow.

They tease each other and gossip as I once did, doing their best to protect their uniforms and textbooks from the dirt and weather. But, as the students told us, by the time they arrive at school two hours later, their energy has worn off—and they are fully aware, as they do their best to pay attention in class, that they will have to repeat the journey all over again at the end of the day.

Factor in the additional risks of robbery, rape, snakebites, and treacherous river crossings, and it’s difficult for me to imagine that my five-year-old self would ever have been able to make it to school, let alone focus in class or have the time and energy to complete my homework, in similar conditions. I arrived well-rested and ready to learn. Can the same be said of Nqutu’s students?

Since 2009, the South African government has dragged its heels on finalizing a national scholar transport policy that would address the education system’s many transport-related problems. This is no small matter. As a result of this failure to act, the government is not fulfilling a fundamental right in South Africa’s constitution: the right to a basic education.

Our partners, Equal Education and Equal Education Law Centre, have been campaigning for a range of improvements in the educational system, taking on everything from schools without water and electricity to access to textbooks. In 2014, their student-powered movement shifted its focus to another critical piece of the puzzle: safe, affordable, and reliable school transport.

Not only has the national government failed to fix the problems it itself acknowledged in the draft national scholar transport policy, but the KwaZulu-Natal government has ignored the legal responsibilities it previously set for itself. Provincial policy requires KwaZulu-Natal to provide transportation subsidies to learners who walk more than 3 kilometers to school—a distance easily exceeded by dozens of students we talked to in our short time in Nqutu. None of the students we spoke with were receiving this assistance.

Principals told us they had submitted applications to the provincial government and never heard anything back. Determined to make sure children receive an education, some adults who live closer to school have opened their homes to students from more remote villages. Others drive trucks with more than 20 students packed into the back.

These stop-gap solutions are unsustainable; the government has the responsibility to act. Without a safe, reliable way to get to school, students’ ability to learn is compromised, and education’s promise of a better, more equitable future goes unfulfilled.

The solution may have to be multi-faceted. As we learned on our visit, though many of the difficulties students face are common, there are also different obstacles from school to school; one school may simply need a bus, while another may have learners who are so dispersed that school boarding facilities are the best response. Still, such complexities are not sufficient reason for continuing to stall—especially not when South Africa’s students, in the face of so many challenges, continue to embark upon their long walk to education every day.

View slideshow from the Clinic’s recent trip to Nqutu

Katie King, JD ’16, has been working with the International Human Rights Clinic since last September on issues related to the right to education in South Africa. She spent her 1L summer interning at Equal Education Law Centre in Cape Town.

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March 11, 2015

Tomorrow, March 12: “Palestine and the International Criminal Court: Implications of Recent Treaty Actions”

March 12, 2015

“Palestine and the International Criminal Court: Implications of Recent Treaty Actions”

7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
WCC 3016

 

At the turn of the year, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, purported to take two treaty actions with respect to the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The first was to deposit an instrument of accession on behalf of the State of Palestine. The second was to a lodge a declaration of consent with the ICC Registrar, accepting the Court’s jurisdiction retrospectively. Both actions are controversial and raise complex legal and political issues. Please join us for a discussion of these issues with Professor John Cerone, the Distinguished Chair in Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Visiting Chair in Public International Law at Lund University Faculty of Law, and Visiting Professor of International Law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University).

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March 10, 2015

Plaintiffs’ Victory Against Former Somali Prime Minister Allowed to Stand

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

After 11 long years of litigation, plaintiffs from Somalia learned yesterday that their $21 million judgment for damages for torture and war crimes would stand. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the appeal of the defendant, General Mohamed Ali Samantar, a former Somali Prime Minister and Minister of Defense who was implicated in the abuses. Samantar, who now lives in Virginia, can make no additional appeals.

Beyond the victory for the plaintiffs, counsel from the Center for Justice & Accountability noted this ruling is critically important because it preserves a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found egregious rights violations cannot be considered “official acts” shielded by sovereign immunity.

The ruling comes amidst ongoing debate about how the United States should treat high-ranking former foreign government officials who are accused of human rights abuses and are now living in the United States. The International Human Rights Clinic and its partners have been involved since 2007 in one such case, Mamani et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, which brings Alien Tort Statute claims against the former President and the former Defense Minister of Bolivia for their role in extrajudicial killings in 2003. Last Friday, the Mamani plaintiffs filed a brief with the Eleventh Circuit opposing the defendants’ appeal, which is considering the issues of exhaustion of remedies and command responsibility.

Like Samantar, the defendants in Mamani came to the United States after leaving power, and have remained in the country ever since.

March 10, 2015

Tomorrow, March 11: Criminal Justice & Policing After Events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, & Elsewhere: Next Steps

Criminal Justice and Policing After Ferguson-Next StepsMarch 11, 2015

“Criminal Justice & Policing After Events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, & Elsewhere: Next Steps”

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
Milstein West AB

 

Join small group roundtable discussions with faculty experts on concrete proposals. Facilitators: Jennifer Chacon, Andrew Crespo, Fernando Delgado, Phil Heymann, Benjamin Levin, Charles Ogletree, Deborah Popowski, Sonja Starr, Carol Steiker, Jeannie Suk and Alex Whiting.

 

This event will involve the participation of the HLS Ferguson Action Committee.

March 6, 2015

March 9-10: “The Role of African Women in the Post 2015 Development Agenda and +20 Beijing”

URGENT ACTION Conference Progr_Page_01March 9-10, 2015

“The Role of African Women in the Post 2015 Development Agenda &  +20 Beijing”

9:00 a.m.- 6:00 p.m.

Austin Hall (on March 9)

Wasserstein Milstein AB (on March 10)

 

Please join the Human Rights Program, Urgent Action Fund–Africa, and the Ford Foundation-East Africa Office for a two-day round table discussion on the role of African Women in the Post 2015 Development Agenda and the Beijing +20. Review the program here.The meeting brings together approximately 50 African women leaders from across socio-economic and political arenas. They, and their US-based counterparts, include women’s rights advocates, femocrats, academics, United Nations representatives, corporate and media professionals. Together they will share success stories, challenges, innovations, knowledge, and history to advance and cement women’s leadership as part of the 2015 global agenda for integration, development and social change.

 

ALSO on March 9, a rescheduled event:

 

15 01 26 Gender -Re-assignment poster“Gender (Re)assignment: Legal, Ethical and Conceptual Issues”

12:00 p.m.
Pound Hall 102

Lunch will be served

 

Trans and intersex individuals face a series of legal, medical, and social challenges. This panel explores these overlapping issues, including: healthcare coverage of treatments such as gender reassignment therapy, the legal recognition of trans identities, intersexuality, and asexuality. Join us for a wide-ranging panel discussion with panelists Noa Ben-Asher, Visiting Associate Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Elizabeth F. Emens, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia Law School; Gerald L. Neuman, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, Harvard Law School; Matthew J.B. Lawrence, Academic Fellow, Petrie-Flom Center; with moderator I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center.

March 5, 2015

Tomorrow, March 6: Forum on Human Rights and Everyday Governance in Thailand

We’re particularly pleased to call your attention to the event below, not just because it’s relevant to our work, but also because one of our Visiting Fellows, Benjamin Zawacki, is a featured speaker. His remarks are entitled “A Perfect Storm: Forecasting Human Rights in Thailand.”

 

March 6, 2015

“Forum on Human Rights and Everyday Governance in Thailand: Past, Present and Future”

9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Harvard University Asia Center
K050
CGIS Knafel
1737 Cambridge St.,
Cambridge, MA

Please join the Asia Center for a day-long event featuring the following speakers: Graeme Bristol, Centre for Architecture and Human Rights; Pandit Chanrochanakit, Ramkhamhaeng University; Tyrell Haberkorn, Australian National University; Michael Herzfeld, Harvard University; Pinkaew Laungaramsri, Chiang Mai University; Duncan McCargo, Leeds University; Pitch Pongsawat, Chulalongkorn University; Yukti Mukdawijitra, Thammasat University; Benjamin Zawacki, George Washington University, as well as discussant Gazi Kapllani, Emerson College.

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