• Page 1 of 1

December 20, 2017

The Nobel Peace Prize Celebrations: Recognition and Reinvigoration for Humanitarian Disarmament Advocates

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

On December 10, 2017, at 1 p.m., uniformed musicians on the grand staircase of Oslo City Hall brought their gleaming trumpets to their lips and the audience to its feet. The clarion salute they sounded heralded the arrival of the king and queen of Norway and a new era of nuclear disarmament.

ICAN Director Beatrice Fihn speaks at 2017 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo City Hall. Photo credit: Ralf Schlesener.

In front of dignitaries, diplomats, and dozens of civil society campaigners, myself included, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The award honors ICAN for having “given the efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons a new direction and new vigour.” In particular, the prize recognizes the civil society coalition’s “ground-breaking” work to realize a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

More than 70 years after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons makes clear that nuclear weapons are illegal as well as immoral and increases the stigma against them. It also shows that real progress in nuclear disarmament is possible.

I had the honor of attending the Nobel ceremony as part of ICAN’s delegation because, along with Clinical Instructor Anna Crowe and a team from the International Human Rights Clinic, I partnered closely with ICAN during last summer’s treaty negotiations. We provided legal advice and successfully lobbied for obligations to address the humanitarian and environmental harm caused by nuclear weapons.

I can best describe my four days in Oslo as magical. In addition to the ceremony, the celebrations included a torchlight parade, a concert in ICAN’s honor, and the opening of a museum exhibition on the coalition. Nobel Peace Prize banners hung from street lamps on the city’s main boulevard, and the lights on a Ferris wheel alternated flashing the Nobel medal and the ICAN logo.

Bonnie Docherty by Laureates’ box after Nobel Peace Prize Concert on December 11, 2017.

The experience was made all the more meaningful because I shared it with friends from around the world with whom I’ve advocated for humanitarian disarmament for more than 15 years.

The genesis of the nuclear weapon ban treaty exemplifies the power of a humanitarian approach to disarmament. After the 1996 adoption of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, there was minimal progress in advancing the law on nuclear weapons; international discussions continued but produced no tangible results.

In 2010, ICAN and other proponents of a new treaty began to reframe nuclear weapons as a humanitarian, rather than national security, issue. Publications from ICAN and its member organizations highlighted the horrific harm caused by use and testing. A resolution from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement called for using “the framework of humanitarian diplomacy” to work toward a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. In 2015, 127 states endorsed the “Humanitarian Pledge,” committing “to promote the protection of civilians against risks stemming from nuclear weapons” and to strive for a world free of nuclear weapons.

This shift in the debate broke the international deadlock. The following year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to initiate treaty negotiations, and on July 7, 2017, 122 states adopted a global ban on nuclear weapons. Only one country voted against, and one abstained.

As I explained at a legal seminar held during the Nobel celebrations, the influence of humanitarian disarmament is evident in the treaty’s text as well as the process behind it. The preamble recognizes the overwhelming human and environmental consequences of the weapons, and acknowledges the disproportionate impact on women and girls and indigenous peoples. Continue Reading…

Share By Email


December 19, 2017

HRP Associate Director’s Work with Sonke Gender Justice on Prison Conditions Recognized with Award

Congratulations to Emily Keehn, Associate Director of HRP’s Academic Program, whose work at the pioneering human rights organization, Sonke Gender Justice, in South Africa, recently won the “Investing in Future Health Award” from the Mail and Guardian and Southern Africa Trust. The Investing in the Future Awards recognize organizations that contribute to the future of South Africa.

As head of policy development and advocacy at Sonke, Emily led a team that tracked complaints of severe overcrowding at Pollsmoor Remand Facility; developed litigation with Lawyers for Human Rights that challenged inhumane conditions at the facility and resulted in a drop in overcrowding from 300% to 150%; and launched a campaign to encourage judges to conduct independent inspections of prisons across the country.

Sonke’s work in prisons aims to address the epidemics of HIV and TB and sexual abuse in prisons. These are driven by toxic gender norms and behaviors, as well as structural factors such as extreme overcrowding, poor ventilation, inadequate access to medical services, and other human rights abuses against people in prison.

Emily continues to work on criminal justice issues at HRP, most recently by helping to organize the successful two-day conference, “Behind Bars: Ethics and Human Rights in U.S. Prisons,” which HRP co-sponsored with the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics. Earlier this semester, she was a panelist at an event about decriminalization and human rights, which you can view here.

Share By Email


December 18, 2017

Fall 2017 Events in Review: A Recap in Video and Audio

The Human Rights Program hosted an exciting array of speakers and panels this fall, including talks by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings and experts on gender justice in South Africa and LGBTI equality in Jamaica.

For those who missed out, we’ve included videos and recordings from some of our featured events below:

“Decriminalization & Human Rights: A Panel Discussion,” with Co-Director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program at HLS and Professor of Law Carol Steiker, Professor of Philosophy and Law at Rutgers Douglas Husak, and HRP Associate Director Emily Nagisa Keehn, moderated by HRP Co-Director and Professor of Law Gerald Neuman Nov. 10, 2017, on YouTube and Soundcloud

A Facebook Live conversation with Dr. Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Nov. 3, 2017, on YouTube

Dr. Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Nov. 1, 2017, on YouTube

A Facebook Live conversation with Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, leading Islamic feminist scholar and founding member of Musawah Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family, Sept. 29, 2017, on YouTube

“Tackling Gender-Based Violence & HIV in Southern Africa,” a talk by Dean Peacock, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sonke Gender Justice, Sept. 28, 2017, on SoundCloud

A Facebook Live conversation about the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar with HRP Co-Director Tyler Giannini, Clinical Instructor Yee Htun, and HKS student Tarek Zeidan’18, Sept. 25, 2017, on YouTube

“Freedom of Expression and LGBTI Equality in Jamaica,” a talk by Maurice Tomlinson, attorney and senior policy analyst with the Canadian Legal Network, Sept. 19, 2017, on SoundCloud

Check back in January for our spring events, featuring “Human Rights in a Time of Populism,” a public conference on March 23 -24, 2018.


Share By Email


December 18, 2017

HRP Summer Fellowships: Deadline Approaching!

Every summer, the Human Rights Program funds internships at NGOs and government agencies for several law students who are considering human rights work as a career. HRP’s Summer Fellowship is open to JD students going into their 2L or 3L years and some LLMs.

The summer fellowship is a particularly great opportunity for those considering advanced human rights studies during the remainder of law school, and then careers in human rights.

“Human rights work is very rewarding but also challenging,” HRP Associate Director Emily Keehn said. “The summer fellowship enables students to gain substantial field experience, which is critical to the development of their human rights careers.”

Applications are due February 1, 2018; students must meet with Emily before applying.

To get a sense of the range of opportunities, here’s where our 2017 summer fellows worked:

Allie Brudney, JD ’19, worked at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights; Niku Jafarnia, JD ’19, worked at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ankara, Turkey; Alisan Oliver-Li, JD ’19, worked at the Legal Assistance Centre in Windoek, Namibia; Claudia Torres, LLM’16/SJD’20, worked in Mexico City at Brigada Callejera de Apoyo a la Mujer “Elisa Martinez,” an organization advocating for low-income sex workers’ human rights and civil liberties; Thaya Uthayophas, JD ’18, worked at Privacy International, a London-based organization advocating for the right to privacy across the world; and Evelyn Zheng, JD’18, worked at Justice Base, a Yangon-based organization that aims to promote the rule of law in transitional and post-conflict societies.

Emily will be available throughout January to advise students in-person. Please also feel free to email her (ekeehn@law.harvard.edu) with any questions. Detailed information on the application process can be found on HRP’s website.


Share By Email


December 12, 2017

Student Perspectives on Working in the International Human Rights Clinic

We’re so pleased to reprint below two student perspectives on the International Human Rights Clinic, published recently on the blog for the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. First, Salomé Gómez Upegui LL.M. ’18, reflects on her work on women’s rights in the Arab world. Next, Zeineb Bouraoui LL.M. ’18, describes her work on detention-related abuses in Yemen. Both students worked under the supervision of clinical instructor Salma Waheedi.

Great work, all!


My Time at the International Human Rights Clinic
by Gómez Upegui LL.M. ’18

I believe in law as an instrument for social change, and I came to Harvard interested in focusing on that. A year is not much time, and as any LL.M. student can confirm, we all suffer from “fear of missing out”.  I’m happy to say the International Human Rights Clinic, was perfect to curb this fear. In a short time I was able to do so much more than I expected. It was a unique opportunity for hands-on learning, while engaging in public service, and making a difference.

Salomé Gómez Upegui LL.M. ’18

Women’s rights are something I particularly care about, and when I got into this clinic I was eager to learn more about how International Human Rights Law is relevant to feminism. Thankfully, I joined Salma Waheedi’s team for a project on this subject, and my expectations were exceeded. We worked in coordination with Musawah, an NGO advocating for equality of Muslim women. In this project, creative thinking was at the center; using comparative law, alternative interpretations of Islamic law, and human rights standards, we drafted thematic shadow reports on women’s rights for the Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. I had the opportunity to travel to Geneva and participate in the 68th CEDAW Session at the United Nations, where the reports we drafted where presented. This trip was a rare chance to network and learn first-hand how international institutions, governments, and NGOs serve to advance (or sometimes set-back) feminist agendas.

The International Human Rights Clinic allowed me to strengthen fundamental lawyering skills. I especially enjoyed learning innovative advocacy strategies, and I have to say I was happily surprised by the people I met. Working alongside individuals with such passion and dedication to human rights was the highlight of this experience. I felt part of something meaningful from day one, there is a real sense of community, and the value of teamwork is constantly stressed. In a world where individuality is the rule, this was an exceptionally wonderful learning environment, and I’m so grateful to have been part of it.

“Advancing Human Rights in the Middle East”
by Zeineb Bouraoui LL.M. ’18


Following the escalation of the Syrian Civil War in 2012, I began working for the Syrian American Medical Society in Washington DC, assisting Syrian refugees in emigrating to the United States, mainly through public policy initiatives. This experience greatly influenced my desire to apply to law school. I was craving the opportunity to acquire effective tools that would allow me to fight back against the injustices that outraged me and to advance economic and social equality in my native region, the Middle East and North Africa.

Zeineb Bouraoui LL.M. ’18

At Sciences Po Law School, I focused my studies on international investment law and economic development, and graduated in 2016 with a masters’ degree in Economic Law and Global Business Law and Governance. I then started working at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, working on policy coordination efforts in order to help governments resist protectionist pressures and develop effective policies to respond to legal concerns raised by international investment.

It was especially important to me to pursue my commitment to advance human rights in the MENA region at Harvard Law School, leveraging the numerous tools that the university provides to its students, in order to conduct the most effective research, and hope to have the most effective impact on the region.

At the International Human Rights Clinic, I am working on the Yemen project. My team, led by Salma Waheedi, is contributing to a Human Rights Watch report on the growth of the missing file in Yemen. Since 2014, Yemen has become home to one of the most violent non-international armed conflicts in the world. Egregious human rights violations are being committed there on a daily basis. My team focuses mainly on investigating detention-related abuses currently being carried out by all sides to the conflict. We are in the process of mapping the network of secret prisons, and outlining the human rights abuses committed in them. We will then determine the international legal obligations of state and non-state actors involved in the conflict, and investigate enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

The Clinic constituted an eye-opening experience to me, allowing me to understand firsthand the challenges that human rights lawyers and activists are routinely facing with funding, media outreach and advocacy, or even the simple act of gathering accurate and reliable information. It was particularly challenging to work on a non-international armed conflict, as raising awareness on a conflict happening on the other side of the world, with very little interest for the United States can be at times frustrating.

I particularly enjoyed conducting in-depth factual research and interacting with local Yemeni NGOs such as Mwatana, which are doing an incredible job in producing exhaustive accounts of the human rights violations committed throughout the course of the civil war, often at the peril of their lives.

Share By Email


December 4, 2017

Tomorrow, December 5: Realizing Access to Effective Remedy

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

“Realizing Access to Effective Remedy”

A report-back from the 6th UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

5:00-7:00 p.m.
Lewis 202

Please join Tyler Giannini, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program and its International Human Rights Clinic, and Malcom Rogge, SJD Candidate and Teaching Fellow at HLS and Harvard Kennedy School, for a report-back from the 6th UN Forum on Business and Human Rights.  The Forum is the global platform for yearly stock-taking and lesson-sharing on efforts to move the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights from paper to practice. The central theme of the 2017 Forum was “Realizing Access to Effective Remedy.”

Share By Email


  • Page 1 of 1