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July 31, 2014

Fellowship Announcements!

Posted by Mindy Roseman

The Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce the establishment of the Global Justice Fellowship (GJF) with the generous support of the Planethood Foundation. The fellowship supports scholars, advocates, and practitioners with a demonstrated background in international justice and the rule of law. Of most interest are those whose work concerns ongoing human rights issues, especially those touching on egregious violations, including genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.

Matthew Bugher, JD ‘09, is the inaugural Global Justice Fellow. Over the coming year, Matthew will work to combat state-sponsored violence and persecution in Myanmar and Zimbabwe. More specifically, he will contribute to the Clinic’s ongoing advocacy relating to military policy reform in Myanmar; work with partners on new initiatives to promote accountability for gross human rights violations; and support local activists in their efforts to document abuses.

Earlier in the summer, the Human Rights Program made several other fellowship awards. With the support of a Henigson Human Rights Fellowship, Maryum Jordan, J.D. ’14, will work in Peru with EarthRights International; Lindsay Henson, J.D. ’14, will work in South Africa with Lawyers Against Abuse; Sarah Wheaton, J.D. ’14, will work in Egypt with St. Andrew’s Resettlement Legal Aid Project; Anjali Mohan, J.D. ’14, will work in Myanmar with Justice Base; and Hannah Dixie, LLM ’14, will work in Uganda with Human Rights Network-Uganda.

HRP also awarded two Satter Human Rights fellowships: to James Tager, J.D. ’13,  who will work with the International Commission of Jurists in Thailand, and to Jason Gelbort, J.D. ’13, who will work with Public International Law & Policy Group in Myanmar.

NOTE: HRP recently re-opened the application process for one more Satter Fellowship.

July 29, 2014

Susan Farbstein in the Harvard Human Rights Journal

In the latest volume of the Harvard Human Rights Journal, released last week, Clinic Director Susan Farbstein reflects on when, if ever, violence is justified in the struggles for social and political change. The article is adapted from her remarks this past spring at Harvard Law School’s memorial event for Nelson Mandela, the South African leader who died last December. Farbstein, whose work in South Africa currently focuses on the right to education, says in part:

“Ultimately, it is not enough to answer the question posed. We must ask ourselves an equally important follow-up question: If violence is sometimes justified- or resorted to–in struggles for social and political change, how might the damage inflicted on the emerging society be minimized? Mandela’s legacy of forgiveness and reconciliation offers the beginnings of an answer.”

Read Farbstein’s article in full in Volume 27 of the Harvard Human Rights Journal.

July 16, 2014

The Satter Human Rights Fellowship: A Call for Applications

Here’s some good news for recent grads committed to doing human rights work: we’re re-opening the application process for our Satter Fellowship!

The Satter Human Rights Fellowship is designed to support and promote human rights defense in response to mass atrocity or widespread and severe patterns of rights abuse.

Aminta Ossom, JD ’09, worked for Amnesty International, building the evidence base and capacity for crimes against humanity and war crimes in West Africa.

Aminta Ossom, JD ’09, worked for Amnesty International, building the evidence base and capacity for crimes against humanity and war crimes in West Africa.

Past fellows have worked with Amnesty International, building the evidence base and capacity for crimes against humanity and war crimes in West Africa; with Public International Law & Policy Group in Libya providing legal advice on issues related to constitution making, transitional justice and accountability, and access to justice; and with Fortify Rights International in Thailand on monitoring, advocacy, and training to protect and promote human rights in several different regions in Myanmar.

To apply for the Satter, you must have graduated from Harvard Law School within the last three years. Applications will be accepted until the fellowship is filled.

Learn more about the application process here.

July 02, 2014

Fourth Circuit’s Post-Kiobel Ruling Revives ATS Claims Against U.S. Corporation for Violations Committed Abroad

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

On Monday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the presumption against extraterritoriality in Alien Tort Statute (ATS) cases, established by the April 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Co., does not bar claims against a U.S. contractor for torture and mistreatment of foreign nationals in Iraq.

The Al Shimari v. CACI ruling is a major decision in the ongoing battle over the meaning and interpretation of Kiobel. Kiobel  held that there is a presumption against extraterritoriality in ATS cases unless the “claims touch and concern the territory of the United States with sufficient force,” in which case the presumption can be displaced. In Kiobel, the Supreme Court found the “mere corporate presence” of the defendant in the United States did not overcome the presumption.

The Fourth Circuit compared the factual circumstances in Kiobel with those in Al Shimari, and concluded that the corporate defendant had a much more significant connection to the United States than mere presence. In so ruling, it became the first appellate court to hold that the plaintiffs’ claims sufficiently “touch and concern” U.S. territory to displace the presumption.

In the wake of the Kiobel decision, lower courts across the country have wrestled with how to interpret the new “touch and concern” standard given the limited guidance provided by the Supreme Court. Some courts have avoided the complexities of the Kiobel presumption altogether. However, the Fourth Circuit embraced the challenge:

Although the “touch and concern” language in Kiobel may be explained in greater detail in future Supreme Court decisions, we conclude that this language provides current guidance to federal courts when ATS claims involve substantial ties to United States territory. We have such a case before us now, and we cannot decline to consider the Supreme Court’s guidance simply because it does not state a precise formula for our analysis. Read More

June 16, 2014

The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots

Posted by Cara Solomon

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council took a fresh look at fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots.” Previous international debate had focused on the weapons’ ability to comply with laws of war; the Council, by contrast, examined the issue through the lens of international human rights law, which applies in times of peace as well as armed conflict. In this June 9 post originally published by JURIST, Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty argued that killer robots threaten the most fundamental human rights.


Fully autonomous weapons, which could select and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention, have the potential to revolutionize the nature of warfare, bringing greater speed and reach to military operations. In the process, though, this emerging technology could endanger both civilians and soldiers.

Nations have been considering the multiple challenges these weapons would pose to the laws of war, also called international humanitarian law. But little attention has been given to the implications for human rights law. If these weapons were developed and used for policing, for example, they would threaten the most basic of these rights, including the right to life, the right to a remedy and the principle of human dignity.

Fully autonomous weapons, also known as autonomous weapons systems or “killer robots,” do not yet exist, but research and technology in a number of countries are moving rapidly in that direction. Because these machines would have the power to determine when to kill, they raise a host of legal, ethical and scientific concerns. Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic are advocating for a pre-emptive prohibition on fully autonomous weapons. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a global coalition of 52 nongovernmental organizations coordinated by Human Rights Watch, is making the same call. Read More

June 04, 2014

Taking on “Killer Robots”

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

As readers of this blog will know, last month Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty traveled with students to Geneva for the first multilateral meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons devoted to fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots.” Below is her re-cap of the week’s events, published originally on May 23, 2014 in the online forum Just Security.


“Taking on ‘Killer Robots’”


New weapons that could revolutionize killing are on the horizon. Lethal autonomous weapons systems, also called fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots,” would go beyond today’s armed drones. They would be able to select and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention. In other words, they could determine themselves when to take a human life.

Representatives from 87 countries gathered at the United Nations in Geneva last week to discuss concerns about this technology and possible ways to respond. The conference was the first multilateral meeting dedicated to lethal autonomous weapons systems. It represented a crucial step in a process that should result in a ban on these problematic weapons before it grows too late to change course.

Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic are calling for a pre-emptive prohibition on the development, production, and use of these weapons. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a global coalition of 51 nongovernmental organizations coordinated by Human Rights Watch, is making the same call.

Overall, the talks in Geneva were productive and positive. The conference, under the auspices of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), attracted hundreds of delegates from governments, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and nongovernmental groups, setting a record for a CCW meeting. Participants engaged in four days of substantive discussions about the technical, ethical, legal, and operational concerns raised by fully autonomous weapons.

This “informal meeting of experts” was also noteworthy for its timeliness, unusual for a CCW conference. This meeting took place just a year and a half after Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic issued a groundbreaking report on these weapons, Losing Humanity: The Case against Killer Robots, which the UN website credited with bringing the issue to “the international community’s attention.”

The meeting illuminated both areas of emerging agreement and ongoing points of contention. At their next meeting in November, states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons should show that they are serious about taking action to deal with fully autonomous weapons and adopt a mandate for even deeper discussions in 2015.

Areas of Emerging Agreement

Four promising themes emerged at the recent meeting. First, there was widespread support for continuing discussions. The countries made clear that they saw last week as merely an initial foray into the issue. Many delegates also explicitly recognized the importance of continuing to involve nongovernmental groups, including the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and its member organizations.

Second, a significant number of countries expressed particular concern about the ethical problems raised by fully autonomous weapons. The chair’s final report noted that these countries “stressed the fact that the possibility for a robotic system to acquire capacities of ‘moral reasoning’ and ‘judgment’ was highly questionable.” Furthermore, these machines could not understand and respect the value of life, yet they would be given the power to determine when to take it away. Fully autonomous weapons would thus threaten to undermine human dignity.

Third, many countries emphasized that weapons systems should always fall under “meaningful human control.” While the parameters of this concept will require careful definition, obligating nations to maintain that control is vital to averting a watershed in the nature of warfare that could endanger civilians and soldiers alike.

Finally, countries frequently noted in their statements the relevance of international human rights law as well as international humanitarian law. Human rights law applies in peace and war, and it would govern the use of these weapons not only on the battlefield but also in law enforcement operations. In a new report released last week, Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic found that fully autonomous weapons could contravene the rights to life and a remedy as well as the principle of dignity.

Legal Debate

The most contentious part of the discussion surrounded the application of international humanitarian law to fully autonomous weapons. The debate echoed many of the points raised in a second paper that Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic released at the meeting. “Advancing the Debate on Killer Robots” responds directly to 12 critiques of a ban on the weapons.

The meeting revealed a divergence of views about the adequacy of international humanitarian law to deal with fully autonomous weapons. Critics of a ban argue that problematic use of these weapons would violate existing law and that supplementary law is unnecessary. A new treaty banning the weapons, however, would bring clarity, minimizing the need for case-by-case determinations of lawfulness and facilitating enforcement. It would also increase the stigma against the weapon, which can influence even states not party to a treaty to abide by a ban. In addition, a treaty dedicated to fully autonomous weapons could address proliferation, unlike traditional international humanitarian law, which focuses on use.

The debate about the adequacy of international humanitarian law to deal with fully autonomous weapons is reminiscent of arguments made in earlier Convention on Conventional Weapons meetings about cluster munitions. The adoption of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions by 107 states resolved that dispute. Prohibitions on five other weapons that cause unacceptable humanitarian harm—antipersonnel landmines, blinding lasers, chemical weapons, biological weapons, and poison gas— provide additional precedent for new law. While most states are reserving judgment on the best solution to deal with the problems posed by fully autonomous weapons, five countries called for a ban last week.

Participants in the last week’s meeting also disagreed about when action should be taken. Critics of a ban supported a wait-and-see approach, arguing that improvements in technology could address the obstacles to compliance with international humanitarian law. There are serious doubts, however, that robots could ever replicate certain complex human qualities, such as judgment, necessary to comply with principles of distinction and proportionality. Furthermore, grave ethical concerns, the likelihood of proliferation and a robotic arms race, an accountability gap, and the prospect of premature deployment all suggest a technological fix would not suffice to address the weapons’ problems.

Action should be taken now before countries invest more in the technology and become less willing to give it up. The pre-emptive ban on blinding lasers in Protocol IV to the Convention on Conventional Weapons can serve as a useful model.

Next Steps

Despite some points of disagreement, the meeting advanced efforts to deal with fully autonomous weapons. Nations need to keep up momentum, however, to avoid having such meetings become what some have called a “talk shop.” In the short term, individual countries should establish national moratoria on fully autonomous weapons.

In November, the parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons should adopt a mandate to study the issue in greater depth in 2015. They should agree to hold three to four weeks of formal meetings, known as a Group of Governmental Experts. They should also be clear that the meetings would be a step toward negotiating a new protocol on fully autonomous weapons. Such intense discussions would move the debate forward. They would show that the treaty members are committed to addressing this issue and that the Convention on Conventional Weapons is re-emerging as an important source of international humanitarian law.

Read More

June 03, 2014

Thank You, Class of 2014 (Plus Pictures)!

Posted by HRP staff and faculty

Dear Graduates,


Secondly, if we missed each other during commencement, here is what we wanted to say: Thank you. Thank you for the many things you brought to us, in addition to your time and talent. You showed us kindness and humility and curiosity and commitment- qualities that made us proud to work alongside you. We hope you will bring those things with you wherever you go.

Finally, we wanted to send our sincere appreciation to the students who made public service a focus of their time here. A grand total of 16 Clinic graduates performed more than 1,000 hours of community service: Lara Berlin, Tess Borden, Madison Condon, Catherine Cooper, Nathaniel Counts, Alexandra Gliga, Elizabeth Hague, Alysa Harder, Lindsay Henson, Maryum Jordan, Andrew Mamo, Lynnette Miner, Jonathan Nomamiukur, Harin Song, Colette Van Der Ven, and Sarah Wheaton.

Unbelievably, one of our graduates, Jeanne Segil, logged more than 2,000 hours of community service. And three were given the Dean’s Award for Community Leadership: Maryum Jordan, Jeanne Segil, and Sarah Wheaton.

Terrific work, Class of 2014. We wish you all the good luck that life has to give.

And now, for the party pictures:













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. Read More

May 20, 2014

Clinical Team Effort Yields Courtroom Win for Bolivian Human Rights Plaintiffs



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.).

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.