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May 31, 2018
Judge Overturns Unanimous Jury Verdict That Found Former Bolivian President and Defense Minister Responsible for Massacre of Indigenous People
Plaintiffs Argue Jury Made Right Decision, Promise Swift Appeal
May 30, 2018, Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Today, a federal judge overturned the verdict of a unanimous jury that found the former president of Bolivia and his minister of defense responsible for extrajudicial killings carried out by the Bolivian military, which killed more than 50 of its own citizens and injured hundreds during a period of civil unrest in September and October 2003. The jury’s decision, announced on April 3, came after a 10-year legal battle spearheaded by family members of eight people killed in what is known in Bolivia as the “Gas War.” The jury awarded a total of $10 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiffs. The trial marked the first time in U.S. history a former head of state has sat before his accusers in a U.S. civil court.
Today, Judge James I. Cohn upheld a motion by the defendants that argued there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict. The plaintiffs contend that the evidence presented at trial was more than sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude—as all 10 jurors did—that Bolivian soldiers killed the plaintiffs’ family members, and that the former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, are responsible for those deaths.
“The judge’s decision to overturn the jury’s unanimous verdict cannot change the truth, which the 10 jurors saw during the trial and affirmed after deliberating for nearly five days,” said Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a plaintiff and member of the indigenous Aymara community of Bolivia, who were victims of the defendants’ decision to use massive military force against the population. “We have been fighting for justice for our family members for over fourteen years, and we have no plans to stop now. We will appeal this decision.”
Both Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín have lived in the United States since they fled Bolivia following the massacre in 2003. In Bolivia, in 2011, former military commanders and government officials who acted under Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín’s authority were convicted for their roles in the 2003 killings. Both Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín were indicted in the same case, but could not be tried in abstentia under Bolivian law.
During the nearly month-long trial, the 10 jurors listened to the testimonies of 30 witnesses and heard evidence of at least 58 civilian killings and hundreds of civilian injuries carried out by the military in September and October 2003. The plaintiffs argue that the jury could have reasonably inferred that the death toll reflected the military’s deliberate use of lethal force against unarmed civilians, and that Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín consciously failed to stop the killings.
“The jury sat in trial for three weeks, deliberated for five days, and we are confident that they reached the right conclusion that the former President and Defense Minister were responsible for these killings. The judge depended on an erroneously high standard of evidence to overturn this verdict—that the defendants needed to have a premeditated plan to kill civilians—which the law does not require,” said Judith Chomsky, an attorney for the plaintiffs, cooperating through the Center for Constitutional Rights. “This case is not over, and we intend to swiftly appeal this decision.”
The family members are represented by a team of lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, and the law firms of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, and Akerman LLP. Lawyers from the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) are cooperating attorneys.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.
Juez revoca veredicto unánime del jurado que halló al expresidente boliviano y al antiguo ministro de Defensa responsables de masacre de indígenas
Los Demandantes argumentan que el jurado tomó la decisión correcta, prometen pronta apelación
30 de mayo, 2018, Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Hoy, un juez federal revocó el veredicto de un jurado que unánimemente halló al expresidente boliviano y a su ministro de Defensa responsables de los homicidios culposos realizados por los militares bolivianos, quienes mataron a más de 50 de sus propios ciudadanos e hirieron a cientos durante un período de disturbio civil en septiembre y octubre de 2003. La decisión del jurado, anunciada el 3 de abril, llegó después de una batalla legal de 10 años conducida por los familiares de ocho personas asesinadas en lo que se conoce en Bolivia como la “Guerra del gas.” El jurado otorgó un total de $10 millones en compensación por daños a los demandantes. El juicio fue la primera vez en la historia de los EUA en que un antiguo mandatario de estado se sentó frente a sus acusadores en una corte civil estadounidense.
Hoy, el juez James I. Cohn defendió una moción de los demandados que argumenta que la evidencia no era suficiente para respaldar el veredicto. Los demandantes contienden que la evidencia presentada en el juicio era más que suficiente para que un jurado razonable concluyese—así como lo hicieran 10 miembros del jurado—que los soldados bolivianos mataron a los familiares de los demandantes, y que el expresidente Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada y su ministro de Defensa, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, fueron responsables de esas muertes.
“La decisión del juez de revocar el veredicto unánime del jurado no puede alterar la verdad que vieron los 10 miembros del jurado durante el juicio y que afirmaron después de deliberar por casi cinco días,” dijo Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, un demandante y miembro de la comunidad indígena aymara de Bolivia, la cual fue víctima de la decisión de los demandados de usar fuerza militar masiva contra la población. “Por más de catorce años hemos luchado por justicia para nuestros familiares y no pensamos detenernos ahora. Apelaremos esta decisión.”
Tanto el expresidente boliviano, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, como su antiguo ministro de Defensa, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, han estado viviendo en los Estados Unidos desde que huyeron de Bolivia después de la masacre de 2003. En Bolivia, cinco excomandantes militares cuyas acciones dependían de Sánchez de Lozada y Sánchez Berzaín fueron condenados en 2011 por sus roles en las ejecuciones de 2003. Tanto Sánchez de Lozada como Sanchez Berzaín fueron imputados en el mismo caso, pero no pudieron ser juzgados in abstentia según la ley boliviana.
Durante casi un mes en juicio, los 10 miembros del jurado escucharon los testimonios de 30 testigos y escucharon la evidencia sobre al menos 58 civiles asesinados y cientos de civiles heridos por los militares en septiembre y octubre de 2003. Los demandantes argumentan que el jurado pudo inferir razonablemente que la cantidad de víctimas refleja el uso deliberado de fuerza letal que hicieron los militares contra civiles desarmados, y que Sánchez de Lozada y Sánchez Berzaín se abstuvieron conscientemente de detener esa matanza.
“El jurado estuvo en el juicio por tres semanas y deliberaron por cinco días, y estamos seguros de que llegaron a la conclusión correcta de que el expresidente y el antiguo ministro de Defensa fueron responsables de esos homicidios. El juez se respaldó en un estándar erróneamente alto de evidencia para revocar este veredicto—que los demandados precisaban tener un plan premeditado para matar civiles—algo que la ley no requiere,” dijo Judith Chomsky, una abogada de los demandantes, cooperante a nombre de Center for Constitutional Rights [Centro por los derechos constitucionales]. “Este caso no ha terminado y tenemos la intención de apelar esta decisión con prontitud.”
Los familiares están representados por un equipo de abogados de Center for Constitutional Rights, Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, y los bufetes de Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, y Akerman LLP. Las(los) abogada(os) de Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) [Centro por la ley, la justicia y la sociedad (Dejusticia)] son abogadas(os) de cooperación.
Para mayor información, visite la página del caso (case page) del Center for Constitutional Rights.
May 23, 2018
This piece originally appeared as a spotlight feature on Harvard Law School’ s Today homepage on May 22, 2018, written by Ian Spaho.
In recognition of their demonstrated excellence in representing clients and undertaking advocacy or policy reform projects, Amy Volz ’18 and Ha Ryong Jung (Michael) ’18 were named the 2018 recipients of the David A. Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award at Harvard Law School. The award is named in honor of the late Clinical Professor David Grossman ’88, a public interest lawyer dedicated to providing high-quality legal services to low income communities.
Described by nominators as “the embodiment of Grossman’s tireless pro bono spirit,” Volz contributed thousands of hours of pro bono service to clients through the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), the International Human Rights Clinic, and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC).
At HLS, Volz co-founded the Immigration Response Initiative, a student group comprised of nearly 400 students. The Immigration Response Initiative focused on more than a dozen projects, including legal research for the American Civil Liberties Union; state and local advocacy for immigrant-friendly policies; and support for HIRC’s litigation efforts to stop the Muslim Ban. Volz wrote answers to frequently-asked-questions related to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and helped organize DACA renewal clinics for members of the Harvard community. She also drafted portions of an amicus brief to stop President Trump’s Executive Order from cutting refugee admissions. She did all of this work pro bono without receiving any academic credit.
Volz also put together a noteworthy report detailing a range of issues, including detention, denial of parole or release from detention, criminalization of asylum seekers, and the expansion of expedited removal proceedings. The report became the basis for a request for a hearing before the Inter-American Commission and litigation before the Canadian courts.
“Amy is a consummate professional and clear communicator who is thoughtful about her role as well as her place on a team. She listens effectively but, at the same time, she is always prepared to offer her opinions and ideas,” wrote her nominators from the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. “She is smart, enthusiastic, thoughtful, and totally reliable.”
Her commitment to social justice is also evident in her work with the International Human Rights Clinic, where she worked for two years. Throughout this time, she worked on a complicated lawsuit, Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, which was litigated in U.S. federal court on behalf of the family members of Bolivian citizens who were killed by the Bolivian military in 2003. The suit brought claims against Boliva’s former president and minister of defense for their roles in orchestrating these killings. In April, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the families, awarding them $10 million.
“Volz was involved in all aspects of the litigation and her work was nothing short of outstanding. She developed a deep, detailed knowledge of a very intricate case, from the most minute factual details to larger strategic decisions, a testament to not only her intelligence but also her commitment,” her nominators wrote.
“Her ability to connect with people in such a meaningful way, combined with her deep understanding of the case and the evidence that we needed to provide at trial, helped us elicit the testimony that we needed to prove our case from multiple difficult witnesses,” said Clinical Professor of Law and Co-Director of the International Human Rights Clinic Susan Farbstein, who also nominated Volz.
“I am incredibly honored to be a recipient of this award and grateful for the many opportunities I have had to get involved in clinical and SPO work at HLS,” said Volz. “Working with amazing mentors in the Immigration & Refugee Clinical Program and the International Human Rights Clinic has been the greatest gift of my time in law school. I am excited to carry on the lessons I have learned here as I begin my career.”
Ha Ryong Jung (Michael)
Ha Ryong Jung, a native of South Korea, was recognized for his unparalleled commitment to clinical education and the field of children’s rights. At HLS, he contributed more than 2,000 pro bono hours with the International Human Rights Clinic, Child Advocacy Clinic, and HLS Advocates for Human Rights. He also worked pro bono at the regional office of the United Nations Children’s Fund in Thailand, Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Boston Juvenile Court, and Volunteer Lawyers Project.
“Jung has spent the better part of his lifetime building his capacity to promote the human rights of children, particularly the neediest children,” wrote his nominators in the Child Advocacy Program. They noted that his clinical and academic work were outstanding, showing a drive to learn, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to make connections.
In the Child Advocacy Clinic, Jung received special recognition for his important contributions to his placement organization and the quality of his participation and engagement in the clinic seminar. He worked on laws and policies affecting children and young people, including those undergoing removal proceedings and experiencing custody complications due to undocumented parents facing deportation. “His thoughtful and reflective contributions made him a beloved member of his fieldwork office and the class,” wrote his nominators.
Jung has taken his clinical experiences and infused them into other aspects of his law school life. He is the first student to complete the Harvard-wide Child Protection Certificate Program administered by the Harvard François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Additionally, he re-ignited HLS’ student group Child & Youth Advocates, organizing events and skills-based training related to child welfare, education, and juvenile justice. He also created a student database to encourage networking among HLS students and graduates interested in the field of child advocacy.
One of his most impressive accomplishments, according to his nominators, was establishing the Child Advocacy Hub, which connects organizations working on children’s issues to law students interested in working remotely on short-term projects. Seeing an unmet need in the legal services community for additional help, and a desire on the part of HLS students to volunteer, Jung came up with the idea of matching the two groups. With this vision and his exceptional organizational and leadership skills, he reached out to stakeholders and launched the Hub in early 2018. “Jung’s efforts were driven by his ability to identify a problem and solve it, and also by his deep drive to ensure that the range of opportunities to gain skills and participate in child advocacy-oriented activities for current and future HLS students is as robust as possible,” wrote his nominators.
“Jung is truly a one-of-a-kind person and student, and he is undoubtedly going to make significant contributions to the field of children’s rights once he begins his career,” his nominators concluded.
Reflecting on his three years at HLS Jung said, “When I was notified about this award, my first reaction was one of puzzlement and amazement because I knew so many students who were deserving of an award, and I never considered myself to fit that definition. However, the feelings that followed were of immense gratitude and honor with the understanding that the individuals I deeply admire had recognized my work as contributing to the lives of children and trusted that my efforts will firmly persist. I feel blessed to have been a part of the International Human Rights Clinic and the Child Advocacy Clinic for most of my time in law school, and those experiences have undoubtedly taken me a step closer to becoming an effective advocate for children. This award is the greatest gift that I have received, and it will serve to be an immeasurably valuable source of support and encouragement for me as I continue my pursuit of helping to protect children and their rights.”
May 21, 2018
Listen: ACCPI’s Bonnie Docherty Discusses Humanitarian Disarmament Career Path on Leading Questions Podcast
Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative Associate Director Bonnie Docherty spoke with the Harvard Law Record‘s Hannah Solomon-Strauss, JD’18, and Evelyn Douek, SJD Candidate, on their Leading Questions podcast. Docherty discussed her career path from history student to journalist to a teacher and lawyer that most recently helped advise the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in their Nobel Peace Prize-winning efforts in humanitarian disarmament.
When asked what drove her when her goals—such as the historic treaty banning cluster munitions in 2008—felt like a “long shot,” Docherty responded: “I think it was partly having seen the effects of these weapons, both [in] Afghaniston, Iraq, and in Lebanon. And knowing first-hand what they did really did keep me motivated. So intellectually I was motivated by the challenge of crafting treaty text and that was really exciting once we got in the negotiations. But I think [it is] important in this work to remember the humans and not to get lost in the advocacy or the legal details. […] If you remember the humans, it keeps you going.” Below is the full audio of the conversation.
May 18, 2018
Posted by Susan Farbstein
This post is tough to write: Cara Solomon, our Communications Manager, is leaving HRP. Having endured eight years in an office full of lawyers, she is following her passion to focus full-time on Everyday Boston, the nonprofit that she founded to build community across the city and break down stereotypes through storytelling. So we’re losing a dear colleague and friend. And we’re left to write this tribute without her invaluable editorial input.
It comes as no surprise that this is her next step. Cara, who joined us following a career as a print journalist, is a storyteller at heart. She loves nothing more than speaking with interesting people—asking insightful questions and digging deep to understand who they are and what drives them—and then turning that raw material into a beautifully reported piece. From articles about the bonds that form between clinical students, to profiles of clinical instructors and their work, to in-depth features on clinical projects and victories, Cara captures the story.
Her writing resonates not simply because she cares about the issues, but because she connects with people and puts them at the center of her work. During a break in the Mamani trial in March, I watched Cara sit outside the courtroom with Gonzalo Mamani Aguilar, one of the plaintiffs. Cara speaks no Spanish, and Gonzalo no English. Yet somehow they were deep in conversation—smiling, laughing, gesticulating, commiserating. This is just her way.
In addition to being a gifted storyteller, Cara has also proven herself to be a natural teacher. She taught us all to be better writers—how to find our voices, show rather than tell, shrug off the constraints of legal writing to speak to a broader audience—and then she tirelessly revised, edited, and reworked our pieces until they met her exacting standards.
She did this not only for those of us who work in the Clinic but also for our students, teaching clinical teams how to frame advocacy messages and talking points, to write blogs and op-eds, and to pitch ideas to journalists. In the classroom, Cara developed and taught modules on media advocacy and storytelling, dissecting op-eds and advocacy plans drafted by students and providing incisive feedback and suggestions.
Cara always called it like she saw it. Over the years, many students and staff turned to her as a listening ear to celebrate achievements, exchange frustrations, or seek advice. She looked out for them, checked in on people, reminded us all to take better care of ourselves. She had a keen eye for injustice and the need to break down hierarchies, including within the law school itself.
Thank you, Cara, for making us better writers, but more importantly for your kindness and friendship. We will miss you tremendously but know that your creativity, collaborative spirit, and curiosity will be put to good use at Everyday Boston. We’re excited to see the impact that you, and Everyday Boston, are already having on the community—and we wish you every success!
May 10, 2018
Emily Nagisa Keehn Co-Authors Article on Strategic Litigation to Address HIV and TB in South African Prisons
Congratulations to Emily Nagisa Keehn, Associate Director of the Academic Program, who co-authored with Ariane Nevin an article published this week in the Health and Human Rights Journal. The article, “Health, Human Rights, and the Transformation of Punishment: South African Litigation to Address HIV and Tuberculosis in Prisons,” examines the use of strategic litigation to develop and vindicate the health rights of incarcerated people in South Africa.
As the authors note: “The South African experience illustrates the value of an incremental strategic litigation strategy that begins with tackling narrow issues, such as access to anti-retroviral therapy (ART), and progresses towards challenging systemic drivers of disease, such as overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.” The article also examines “how South Africa’s strong and independent judiciary has facilitated change through the courts—despite the absence of popular support for penal reform—and how sustained lobbying, coalition-building, and mass media advocacy by activists have increased the impact of litigation.”
May 9, 2018
This piece originally appeared as the spotlight feature on Harvard Law School’s homepage.
The global impact of populist movements was the topic of a two-day symposium, “Human Rights in a Time of Populism,” that was held on March 23-24 at Harvard Law School. The Human Rights Program organized the conference under the leadership of its co-director, Gerald L. Neuman, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law.
Friday’s two panels, “Populism and its Causes” and “Populism and its Effects: The United States and Poland,” brought together a team of faculty and international experts to discuss the direct and indirect effects of this worldwide and largely right-wing phenomenon.
“This will not be the most cheerful conference I’ve attended,” noted former HLS Dean Martha Minow, who moderated the second panel. The speakers looked at populist movements including the rise of Donald Trump in America, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland, and Viktor Orban in Hungary, and found that each shared similar xenophobic tendencies and anti-elite rhetoric.
At the opening of the first panel, Peter A. Hall, Knapp Foundation Professor of European Studies at Harvard, said that populism is a hard term to define, but pinpointed what it means in the current climate: “I would define populist candidates as ones with a distinctive set of appeals; those who claim to speak for a broad people whose voice is said to be ignored by a political elite that is presented as corrupt or incompetent.” By this standard, he said, Donald Trump would be defined as a populist while Bernie Sanders, though a radical critic of capitalism, would not.
Hall asked the underlying question: Why this movement, and why now? One answer, he said, is the sense of the middle class being “left behind,” socially and economically marginalized. “If the root cause of discontent lies in the disappearance of decent jobs, and I think it does, remember that public policies such as minimum-wage laws can make existing jobs more decent.” Instead, he said, modern populists have moved the focus to social issues such as immigration. “Centering political competition around values issues makes a perfect storm for populist candidates.”
Stephen Pomper, the Director of the International Crisis Group’s U.S. program and a veteran of the Obama administration, said that human rights foreign policy initiatives are difficult to enforce in the best of times—and that this is definitely not the best of times. Obama, he said, was criticized for being soft on abusive regimes, but he still had a human rights policy that he tried to implement. “What’s most jarring about the Trump administration is that it has called the ideals themselves into question. He ran as a candidate on the presumption that Washington and foreign elites cooked up deals that were harmful to ordinary Americans. Now we are being driven by economic nationalism, immigration restriction, and a robust militarism that may not be about getting into wars but threatening them.” The silver lining, he suggested, is that many of Trump’s staff actively disagree with him—but this hardly bodes well for human rights initiatives.
HLS Professor Matthew C. Stephenson examined the role that corruption—or sometimes, just the perception of corruption—plays in the rise of such movements. In some cases, he said, a regime change results when actual systematic corruption is exposed; Italy’s “Mani pulite” (“clean hands”) investigations, which led to the collapse of its center-left and center-right parties in the ‘90s, is a notable example. But more recent populists, including Trump and Orban, have campaigned on the idea that the existing elite is corrupt, without necessarily providing evidence. Thus, said Stephenson, “Corruption itself can open the door for an insurgent populism, but anti-corruption rhetoric can do the same thing.”
The paradox, he noted, is that the new leaders maintain their popularity when they themselves are revealed to be corrupt. “Why doesn’t this behavior alienate supporters of the populist movement more? One hypothesis is that the rhetoric of corruption wasn’t really what they were appealing to; it was more a code word for ‘Defeat cosmopolitan snobs taking your jobs.’ Another possibility is that even though voters don’t like corruption, they dislike moralists even more. Berlusconi in Italy and Trump in America are seen as living the dream. [Voters] admire the charismatic populist leader, and take attacks on the leader as attacks on them.”
HLS Professor Ruth L. Okediji examined populist trends in sub-Saharan Africa. Although in some countries democracy may seem stable on the surface—as reflected in this month’s famous handshake between Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his political arch-rival Raila Odinga—tensions are likely growing beneath. “The deep dissatisfaction that fuels populism is a strange thing to see in the African context, because economic insecurity has long been the status quo. But there is something different about the current state of economic anxiety.” She warned that the insufficient emphasis of the human rights movement on realizing economic, social and cultural rights has contributed to the success of populist leaders who claim to provide economic benefits for their own constituencies, instead of a pluralist democratic system serving the good of all.
According to Wojciech Sadurski, a visiting professor at Yale Law School, the recent right-wing power grab in Poland is the most puzzling of all. “There is no reason that democracy should have failed in Poland. None of the common factors apply, not even [the presence of] oil.” Yet, he said, Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party was able to rise through a familiar populist formula. “What he did was to package together xenophobia, an anti-elite type of rhetoric, and a sense of cultural distance from modernism—LBGT, the Green movement, etc. By being able to present this package as logical and serious and responding to certain anxieties in society, he managed to create a backslide in a society where it should never have happened.” Poland, he said, is already feeling the effect on human rights, particularly in the courts. “They are now used as an instrument of the government, to fight its opposition. Yet because those changes maintain the façade of the institution, they are less visible to outsiders.”
One way forward, suggested Douglas A. Johnson of the Kennedy School, is a return to the more traditional definition of populism: A movement of the people. “Even if the public prefers stricter gun control or universal healthcare, those are difficult things to make happen. In public-good situations, this only happens when there is a strong sense of moral urgency that keeps a social movement at play.” Thus, he suggested, the best solution may be a return to old-fashioned activism. “Historically, populism has created agendas that forced elites to make changes. You can’t create a movement unless you have an adversary.” And he recommended that future populists learn the art of political messaging. “What moves things forward is a language, often an emotional language. I think it’s important that the human rights movement embraces that.”
Pomper also suggested that the best antidote to populism may be a more enlightened populism. “We’re not headed into a good space in the next couple years,” he said toward that panel’s end. “But it’s important that the community who cares about these issues figures out what their approach is going to be.”
The conference continued on Saturday with panels on populism in Southeast Asia, Turkey, and Latin America. It then turned to lessons learned for human rights regimes, and how to address the effects of populism. Some of the speakers on Saturday included Jeremy Waldron, Michael Posner, T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Richard J. Heydarian, Jamie O’Connell, and Anna Crowe.
May 9, 2018
Posted by Cara Solomon
In Kenya’s sprawling Kakuma Refugee Camp, there’s no telling when the internet connection will work: Sometimes it will flicker or fail for three weeks straight. But ever since the opportunity to study came into his life, Yunis, a refugee from Somalia, comes to the center as often as possible, hoping to learn.
“His dream is to become an expert in computer science and networking,” said Kitala Mupenge Fabrice, co-founder of the Solidarity Initiative for Refugees (SIR), which runs a center that provides online access to higher education for 47 students. “He has a little skill now and he is surely assisting the community in Kakuma.”
For the founders of SIR, the dream is to offer this kind of online education to more of their neighbors in the camp—and to find programs that will provide certificates or diplomas that testify to the students’ achievements. Currently, they say, the online higher education options for refugees in Kenya are too limited.
In a camp largely run by humanitarian and government bodies, SIR is part of an ecosystem powered by refugees themselves. The materials for the center came from researchers who live abroad: 13 second-hand computers, one modem, four batteries, six solar panels, a lockbox, and iron sheets for walls. But the vision came from Fabrice and three other refugees, who recruited students and have run the center for the past year.
It all started with a Google search. Fabrice, a social worker by training, found an online higher education program on social work. He told his friend Ebengo Honore Alfani, also a social worker, who was then admitted to an online program to study political science. Months later, they had the idea to help even more refugees access these online learning opportunities.
The first obstacle was the advertisement.
“The question was: How will we make it while we don’t have paper or a laptop for typing?” said Honore.
Fabrice offered to donate 500 Kenyan shillings ($5 USD) to buy a ream of paper. Honore promised to find a laptop for typing.
“We wrote an announcement, which was saying that everyone who is interested to pursue his higher education, let us meet at Fuji Primary School on Sunday at 2 p.m.,” said Fabrice. “That Sunday, we got 253 potential applicants.”
Together with two other refugees, they formed SIR, bringing under the same umbrella several different refugee-run initiatives. They created a constitution. They created operational rules. And with donations from foreigners, they set up a small learning center in Kakuma 3, one of the four parts of the camp.
May 1, 2018
Posted by Dana Walters
As part of its mission to merge theory with practice, the Human Rights Program continually offers students the opportunity to leave the law school environment to engage in scholarly inquiry and gain practical experience in the field. Winter Term is but one period that offers JD students a short yet intensive time to do research or internships abroad in human rights. This year, the Program provided Winter Term fellowship awards to four students to immerse themselves in different arenas of advocacy, human rights research, and documentation with courts and NGOs.
Elisa Quiroz, JD ’19, conducted research in Chile, examining the government’s legislative and policy responses to the country’s rapid rise in migration. Recently, Chile has sought to strengthen migrants’ access to socio-economic rights, including labor rights, the right to health, and the right to education. Quiroz examined how services are being delivered, and whether the government is meeting commitments in line with its international human rights obligations.
Without working under the umbrella of an organization, Quiroz undertook this research initiative largely independently. Assistant Clinical Professor Sabi Ardalan of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic served as her adviser, as the project had grown out of an International Labor Migration reading group Ardalan had taught with Lecturer on Law Jennifer Rosenbaum. Spending time in Chile doing desk research and speaking with academics and civil society experts allowed Quiroz to further contextualize the historical conditions of this recent migration and the legal responses to it. In one instance, she notes, migrants’ equal access to housing is compromised by the insufficient attention the government gives to housing rights in general. Quiroz hopes to analyze this rights gap, as well as the innovative responses by the government and civil society to the influx of new peoples, in a longer academic paper.
In addition to Quiroz, other Winter Term grantees included Molly Ma, JD’18, Ellen Zheng, JD’18, and Mila Owen, JD’18. Ma traveled to The Hague to work with Judge Chung Chang-ho of the International Criminal Court, where she researched the operations of the Court and potential reforms. As a returning intern at Justice Base in Myanmar, Zheng studied ethnic violence and discrimination in the Rakhine state. Likewise, Mila Owen, JD’18, also continued her work for the second year in a row at Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights in Harare, where she focused on disability rights, among other projects. You can read more about her experience in Zimbabwe on the OCP blog here.
This summer, the Human Rights Program has funded six fellows to intern abroad at various human rights organizations. Among these are: Ginger Cline, JD’20, who will travel to Kenya to work for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; D Dangarang, JD’20, for Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa; Krista Oehlke, JD’20, for EarthRights, International in Peru; Sara Oh, JD’19, for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey; Delphine Rodrik, JD’20, for Human Rights Watch in Lebanon; and Eun Sung Yang, JD’20, for Justice Base, in Myanmar.
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