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June 25, 2019

Clinic Contributes to New Human Rights Watch Research on Forced Evictions in Guinea


Human Rights Watch recently released research revealing a devastating round of forced evictions in Guinea’s capital, Conakry. The initial spark for the research came from fieldwork conducted this spring, when students in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School interviewed victims of the evictions.

HRW’s press release provides detail about the circumstances unfolding in Guinea and what the government should do to abide by international law:

“Between February and May 2019, more than 20,000 people were displaced after bulldozers and other heavy machinery demolished buildings and forcibly evicted residents from the Kaporo-Rails, Kipé 2, Dimesse, and Dar Es Salam neighborhoods. Guinea’s government said that the land belongs to the state and will be used for government ministries, foreign embassies, businesses, and other public works.

“‘The Guinean government hasn’t just demolished homes, it has damaged peoples’ lives and livelihoods,’ said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. ‘The failure to provide alternative housing or even immediate humanitarian assistance to those evicted is a violation of human rights law and shows a blatant disregard for human dignity.’

In March, April, and June, Human Rights Watch interviewed 40 victims of evictions in Conakry, as well as government officials, lawyers, nongovernmental organizations, religious leaders, and politicians. Human Rights Watch also reviewed satellite imagery, which showed that at least 2,500 buildings were demolished in the Kaporo-Rails, Kipé 2, and Dimesse neighborhoods in February and March and more than 385 buildings in Dar-Es-Salam in May

.The Ministry for Towns and Planning, which oversaw the evictions, maintains that the evicted areas were state land. However, many of the people whose homes were demolished said they had documentary proof that their families had decades-old property rights over the land. ‘It’s devastating to lose everything you have in 30 minutes,’ said Makia Touré, a mother of six who said her family had lived in Kipé 2 since 1985.”


To read the full press release and for more, visit the HRW website.

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June 20, 2019

Emily Nagisa Keehn and Dana Walters Co-Author Article on Progressive 1940s Prison in The Conversation


On June 14, HRP’s Emily Nagisa Keehn and Dana Walters published an article in The Conversation titled, “When America had an open prison – the story of Kenyon Scudder and his ‘prison without walls.’ ” The article discusses the prison reformer Kenyon Scudder and the California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino, California, founded in 1941. An “open” prison, CIM was more progressive than many minimum security institutions today.


As the authors state:

“At the time, California’s maximum security institutions in San Quentin and Folsom were, as one newspaper put it, “powder kegs ready to explode.” Violence was rampant, particularly between guards and convicts, and California was considered to have one of the most oppressive penal systems in the nation.

To alleviate the draconian and overcrowded conditions at San Quentin and Folsom, in 1935 the California state legislature decided to build a new prison.

Kenyon J. Scudder, a veteran penologist who had a raft of ideas for how to change a prison system he viewed as archaic and inhumane, was hired to head Chino.

The California Institution for Men didn’t use terms like “warden” or “guards.” There was the “superintendent” – Scudder – and his “supervisors,” the vast majority of whom were college educated.

In fact, Scudder intentionally avoided hiring supervisors who had previously worked in prisons: He didn’t want staff members with punitive mindsets. Instead of relying on batons and guns, he trained this new staff in judo for self-defense. Weapons were reserved for absolute emergencies, and Scudder emphasized the development of conflict resolution skills.

Those being held wouldn’t have their identities reduced to a number. They could choose their own clothing and which jobs to do and what to study. Their cells had locks, but accounts indicate they weren’t used. The original plans for the prison called for a 25-foot perimeter wall with eight gun towers. Scudder put a halt to this; instead, he convinced the Board of Prison Directors to erect only a five-strand barbed wire livestock fence.

Scudder encouraged family members to regularly visit, allowed inmates to have picnics on the grounds and even permitted some physical contact.

He also refused to segregate anyone along racial lines, an unusual policy at the time.”

Keehn and Walters wrote the piece from research on United Nations criminal justice policy and a resolution on open prisons adopted in 1955 at the First Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders. At preparatory discussions for the resolution, penal experts discussed open prisons in the U.S., with the American delegate calling them “the contribution of this generation” to modern prison management. This sparked the authors interest in historical U.S. use of open prisons.

Learn more about the Chino facility and read the rest of the article at The Conversation.

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June 17, 2019

United Nations Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz to Pursue LGBTQI Research from HRP

UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz (above) visited HRP in February 2019 for a talk about his mandate. He will be in residence at HLS for the 2019-2020 year.

The Human Rights Program is pleased to announce that Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations Independent Expert (IE) for the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), will be joining HRP as a Senior Visiting Researcher. Mr. Madrigal-Borloz will be in residence at Harvard Law School from July 2019 to December 2020 while carrying out his mandate as Independent Expert. He will build a team of students to support his research agenda, take part in HRP’s prestigious Visiting Fellowship Colloquium, present his research publicly to the HLS community, and join the larger human rights community at Harvard University.

“The Human Rights Program is honored to welcome Victor Madrigal-Borloz to Harvard Law School while he carries out his mandate,” said Gerald Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School. “His work demonstrates his nuanced understanding of the issues and his sophisticated approach to dialogue with governments in order to achieve progress. Even as homosexuality is decriminalized in India, we see the world take steps backward elsewhere. Advocacy on these issues is more timely than ever.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Mr. Madrigal-Borloz for a three-year term beginning January 2018. As Independent Expert, he is pursuing two overarching objectives: 1) heightening awareness of the violence and discrimination people experience due to sexual orientation and gender identity and 2) identifying measures that States may undertake to eradicate such violence and discrimination. He pursues these objectives via a variety of mechanisms: writing thematic reports, reviewing allegations of human rights violations, and evaluating country-specific situations, among others.

“I am delighted to have found an ideal match in the Human Rights Program for three key reasons: its resolve to pursue excellence to ensure the furtherance of human rights, the commitment of its faculty to the eradication of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the intellectual curiosity and contagious enthusiasm of its students,” said Mr. Madrigal-Borloz.

Until recently, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz was the Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (ICRT). He was previously Head of the Registry of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in addition to serving as a member of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture. In the latter role, he was Rapporteur on Reprisals and oversaw a draft policy on the torture and ill-treatment of LGBTI persons.

Mr. Madrigal-Borloz previously visited HRP in February 2019 for a public talk. He participated in a live Q&A with Zhadé Long JD’20, which can still be viewed on our Facebook page.

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June 11, 2019

HRP Visiting Fellow Dr. Tony Ellis Wins Appeal Barring Client’s Extradition to China


On June 11, 2019, the New Zealand Court of Appeal announced that it would block the extradition to China of Kyung Yup Kim for an alleged homicide. The Court cited New Zealand’s commitment to human rights and a reasonable fear that Mr. Kim would suffer torture or other abuse and lack of a fair trial in the Chinese criminal justice system. Human Rights Program Visiting Fellow Dr Tony Ellis, who is also a New Zealand barrister with Blackstone Chambers, has represented Mr. Kim for the last ten years.

In a press release, Dr. Ellis said that the nearly 100-page judgment should have “profound human rights importance” for New Zealand and the greater Common Law world. Following the Court’s decision, Justice Minister Andrew Little will be forced to consider the human rights situation in China, and whether or not to trust “diplomatic assurances given by China” that torture will not be used, and that Mr. Kim would receive a fair trial, said the New Zealand Herald. In The New York Times and elsewhere, Dr. Ellis stated that he was hopeful the judgment would remain undisturbed, given Prime Minister Arden’s and the Labour government’s focus on human rights and criminal justice reform, as well as favorable circumstances around the makeup of the Court, and the powerful precedent they have set in this decision.

In quashing the extradition order, New Zealand joins its neighbor Australia in concerns over Chinese human rights abuses and its implications for extradition. Over the past week, protesters have taken to Hong Kong streets, demonstrating against a proposed law that would likewise allow for extradition to mainland China.

Dr. Ellis has been in residence at Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program for the Spring Semester of 2019. Here, he focuses his research on the arbitrary detention of the intellectually disabled within an international setting.

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June 5, 2019

Scenes from Graduation 2019


Last week, Harvard Law School graduated 801 members of the Class of 2019. Of these new JDs, LLMs, and SJDs, many were dedicated members of the International Human Rights Clinic, student leaders in HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and Human Rights Program summer and post-graduate fellows.

On the afternoon of May 30, 2019, we held a party to celebrate the new graduates and welcome their families and friends into our space. Below are a selection of photos from that celebration. Congrats to these new lawyers and those who supported them throughout their law school careers!

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June 3, 2019

Mamani: Lessons and Learning From a Decade-Long Struggle for Justice

By Lindsay Bailey JD’19, Lisandra Novo JD’19, and Elisa Quiroz JD’19

From left to right: Nicole Antoine JD’18, Lindsay, Elisa, Kelsey Jost- Creegan JD’17, Amy Volz JD’18, and Lisandra outside of the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. Antoine, Jost-Creegan, and Volz previously worked on the Mamani case.

Having grown up, lived, or worked abroad for several years in Ghana, Chile, and Cuba, among other locations, the three of us came to Harvard Law School excited about pursuing international law. We had ideas about what a career in this field might look like and were eager to get involved with clinics and student practice organizations. But prior to joining the International Human Rights Clinic and working on the Mamani case, we didn’t really understand what practicing intentional human rights law meant.

Since the fall of our 2L years, we have worked together on Mamani et al v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, a federal lawsuit against the former president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and the former Minister of Defense, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for their respective roles in planning and ordering security forces to use deadly military force against unarmed civilians to suppress popular protests against government policies. In 2003, security forces under their leadership slaughtered 58 citizens and injured more than 400, almost all from indigenous Aymara communities.

On April 3, 2018, following a month-long trial, the jury issued a historic verdict and found both men liable for extrajudicial killings under the Torture Victim Protection Act, awarding our plaintiffs—the parents, husbands, wives, and siblings of individuals who were killed—$10 million in damages. The judge subsequently overturned the jury’s verdict after a Rule 50 motion, and the case is currently on appeal in the Eleventh Circuit.

We have continued to work on the appeal well into our last semester as HLS students. And though our time on the case will at some point come to an end, we are certain the long- lasting effects of this experience will continue to shape our lives and careers.

Our time on Mamani contributed significantly to our lawyering skills and career paths. Between the three of us, we traveled to Bolivia to conduct interviews of witnesses that would testify at trial; helped lawyers from HLS and Akin Gump take and defend depositions of expert and lay witnesses prior to trial, in locations ranging from Washington D.C. to Ecuador; and spent, collectively, hundreds of hours in two weeks between the hotel “war room” and the federal courthouse in Fort  Lauderdale,  Florida, working on the first civil trial in U.S. courts against a living former head of state for human rights abuses committed abroad. We learned how to interview plaintiffs, conduct depositions, review evidence, and prepare nervous witnesses, who had traveled thousands of miles to an unfamiliar place, for a historic trial.

More importantly, however, Mamani shaped our identities as lawyers. With our clinical instructors – Susan Farbstein, Tyler Giannini and Thomas Becker – we were lucky to experience firsthand how to be an effective lawyer while retaining compassion, humility, and humanity. We observed Thomas treating plaintiffs and witnesses not just as clients, but as equals and friends. We watched how Tyler was able to bring peace of mind to a nervous plaintiff, who had witnessed the death of his father, and remind him that the truth was his  own. We learned from Susan about the importance of caring for each other during tough times and working as a team, which became a true family.

Our time in the International Human Rights Clinic confirmed our passion for and commitment to international law. Next year we will be pursuing a Fulbright in Spain to research the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate Franco-era crimes; litigating cases of universal jurisdiction in Geneva, Switzerland; and continuing to pursue human rights litigation in U.S. courts. Through these new and challenging experiences, we will bring with us the frustrations, joys, and lessons we learned on Mamani wherever we go.

This post was first printed in the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs Commencement Newsletter. It was reprinted on the OCP blog on May 29, 2019.

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