October 22, 2019

Harvard Gazette: A global look at LGBT violence and bias

By Liz Mineo / Harvard Staff Writer

Victor Madrigal-Borloz pictured in Wasserstein Hall.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, who is in residence at HLS. He’ll present his report to the UN General Assembly soon. Victor is seen in Wasserstein Hall. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Costa Rican magistrate Victor Madrigal-Borloz has served for the past 21 months as the U.N. independent experton protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He will present his report on how laws and cultural norms adversely affect LGBT individuals to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. The Gazette interviewed Madrigal-Borloz, who is the Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher with the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, to talk about his work and his hopes for the future.


Q&A: Victor Madrigal-Borloz

GAZETTE: Why did you decide to take on this role?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: I have been working in the field of human rights for over 20 years and I saw the possibility to bring about substantial change. The topic bears a lot of significance to me, as a gay man myself. I have been working on these issues for over a decade, first at the Inter-American Commission [on Human Rights] and now at the global level. I have seen many people suffer as a result of stigma and discrimination, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something about it and put my skills at the service of a cause.

GAZETTE: What did your report find in terms of the root causes of violence and discrimination against LGBT people?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: There are primary and secondary root cases. First, there is the notion that societies are structured around certain power relations, which have been designed in relation to a person’s sex. Your role in society is determined by your genital configuration. That’s a very basic construction, and all forms of violence and discrimination come from a defense of those power relations. The other factors come from mechanisms that aim to protect those power relations, such as the idea that gay, lesbian, or trans people don’t exist, and the stigma around them, which is enabled through the message that gay, trans, bisexual, and lesbian people are sick or mentally ill. The other aspect is criminalization. Same-sex relations are still criminalized in 69 countries, which means that, as of today, over 2 billion people live in countries where being gay or lesbian is illegal. Another factor is demonization expressed in the notion that somehow LGBT lives are sinful, immoral; that gays or lesbians cannot be good citizens. The idea is that at the end of the day, there’s something immoral about our existence, and that’s what all of us need to fight against.

GAZETTE: Of your findings, which ones struck you the most?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: What disturbs me is that in 2019 there are countries that are considering bringing back the death penalty for same-sex relations. There was a discussion in Uganda about it, and early this year Brunei Darussalam enacted legislation allowing the stoning of gay men. That, to me, is shocking. What I also find surprising is that there are environments that are actually extremely progressive when it comes to gender identity, but can be very restrictive when it comes to sexual orientation and vice versa. In Pakistan, for example, there is an extremely forward legislation on the recognition of gender identity, but sexual orientation is very much criminalized. Sexual orientation has always been a more challenging notion for societies, which in general have used the notion of a traditional binary, hetero-parental family as the nucleus of society, and this has been recognized in public discourse and in the law. But what we also know is that homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexuals have existed and sought happiness all throughout history.

GAZETTE: What policies or practices have been the most successful in the protection of LGBT rights?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: Anti-discrimination legislation with the words sexual orientation and gender identity is very important because it allows for all actors in the system to understand that a red line has been drawn and that shouldn’t be crossed. This creates the belief that lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, or gender-diverse people are entitled to protection. Other good practices are policies aiming at promoting integration of LGBT people in society and campaigns to change hearts and minds.

Let me give you an example. About a year ago, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an advisory opinion, OC-24, which determined that Costa Rica and other countries in the continent must implement same-sex marriage, and it gave a time frame for that. Despite the fact that this created great polarization in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican state has now put together a campaign called “Yes, I do,” or in Spanish, “Si, Acepto,” which focuses on the parents of gay and lesbian children and their reasons why they support gay marriage and why their children are entitled to happiness.

Another good measure is access to justice, and this means that judges have to actively seek to implement the principle of nondiscrimination when it comes to LGBT rights. That’s what the Supreme Court of India, the Supreme Court in Botswana, and the High Court in Trinidad and Tobago did when they voted to decriminalize gay sex in their respective countries.

GAZETTE: How do you explain the dramatic advances in the protection of LGBT rights in regions such as Latin America, where same-sex marriage is now legal in five countries?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: It’s the work of civil society and human-rights defenders and advocates who have fought relentlessly for their rights. I began working on these issues over a decade ago, and at that time the trans movement in South America was strong. An extraordinary trans activist in Argentina, Lohana Berkins, used to say that trans women must expose the audacity of their bodies to the society that fails to understand the fragility of their lives. The average life expectancy of a trans woman in Latin America is 35 years, and that’s what Berkins was talking about. It was her voice and those of other great fighters in the LGBT movement that forced people to see their humanity, and ensured that Argentina, Uruguay, and other countries in the continent have the most advanced legislation on legal recognition of gender identity.

GAZETTE: Which countries are the worst and best performers in terms of LGTB rights?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: I have a lot of resistance to ranking countries, because things change very fast. Most of these rights are not necessarily enshrined or written in stone; there are forces in societies that are quite keen on seeing them taken back. We live in times in which rising populism uses certain categories of people, such as LGBT communities, as pawns for their political objectives. But I can say that the most problems arise in the countries where gay sex is criminalized, and they are roughly distributed along the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, some regions of Asia, and the Middle East. It’s not a small part of the world. Criminalization forces people to live underground, and often the situation of those whose existence is considered criminal is devastating. The killing of trans women, for example, has been invisible from public records because they are classified as men. And the levels of violence against lesbian women and gay men all over the world is worrisome.

GAZETTE: Why have there been more gains in protection of sexual orientation than gender identity, and what does it say about the possibility of social change?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: There is a certain concentration of power and influence within gay and lesbian, or cisgender, urban populations. They have been able to represent their valid agendas in the political debate. On issues of concern for the gay and lesbian urban upper and middle class, there has been more progress than on those concerning trans women or trans men coming from the countryside. But those gains show that social change is possible within one generation. Those of us who were born in the ’60s have seen the world change from a majority of countries criminalizing and pathologizing LGBT identities to a majority of countries embracing the richness that comes from diversity.

Social change is possible when the prime minister of Luxembourg speaks at the General Assembly last week, and declares “I was never hoping to be the gay prime minister. I just happen to be the gay prime minister.” When political leaders take part in a pride parade, they are changing the views that people have about LGBT people. I’ve had the honor of marching alongside Justin Trudeau in Vancouver, and the first lady of Costa Rica in pride parades. That makes me hopeful, but also the fact that the new generations have changed their paradigm of thinking; they embrace the notion that their existence is not determined by rigid notions of gender. That is a great source of inspiration.

But I worry that for some, the change will not come fast enough. Elderly LGBT people are suffering enormous health disparities, and after living their lives in inclusive environments, they are being forced to go back into the closet as they move to retirement communities that are not prepared to cater for their needs. They deserve happiness now.

GAZETTE: What would you like to see happening before your tenure as the U.N. independent expert ends in 2020?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: My dream is to see a world free of criminalization of same-sex relations by 2030. Given the fact that international human rights law considers criminalization of same-sex relations a violation of human rights, I see no reason why states would actually get away with continuing this practice past 2030. That’s what I like to dream about.

This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed for length. This article first ran in the Harvard Gazette on October 22, 2019.

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October 21, 2019

WATCH: Victor Madrigal-Borloz Previews United Nations General Assembly Report

Image of Victor Madrigal-Borloz speaking at Harvard Law School on October 17, 2019.

On October 17, 2019, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher with the Human Rights Program and the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, spoke to the Harvard Law School community, previewing his October 24 address to the United Nations General Assembly.

Mr. Madrigal-Borloz shared findings from his recent report on socio-cultural and economic inclusion for LGBT individuals. The report provides an overview of LGBT access to education, employment, housing, health, public spaces, and religious and political discourse. The talk was organized by the Human Rights Program at HLS and co-sponsored by HLS Advocates for Human Rights and the Harvard Human Rights Journal.

Watch the full October 17 address above or on the Harvard Law School YouTube site.

You can read more about Mr. Madrigal Borloz’s HLS residency as a senior visiting researcher on the Harvard Law Today website.

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October 10, 2019

In Q&A, Bonnie Docherty discusses humanitarian disarmament

Docherty reflects on the impact of a Hiroshima survivor’s visit to Harvard Law, and her vision for HLS’s Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

Reducing the civilian impact of arms and armed conflict has been the focus of Bonnie Docherty’s career since she was a student at Harvard Law School.

Since 2005, Docherty JD ’01, an international expert on civilian protection in armed conflict, has served as a lecturer on law at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. She participated in the negotiations of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions and has promoted strong implementation of the convention since its adoption. She recently played a key role in the negotiations of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, successfully advocating for specific provisions and providing legal advice to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the civil society coalition that received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2018, Docherty launched the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) at Harvard Law School, where she serves as associate director.

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Docherty hosted an event with Hiroshima bombing survivor Setsuko Thurlow, who accepted the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of ICAN. Accompanying the event, HLS also showcased a photo exhibit, “From the Atomic Bomb to the Nobel Peace Prize”, which illustrates the history of nuclear disarmament.

Over the course of her career, Docherty has mentored scores of clinical students, from field researchers in conflict zones to advocates inside the halls of the U.N. in Geneva. Daniel Moubayed JD’20, a student in the International Human Rights Clinic who works closely with the Initiative, sat down with Docherty prior to the talk to discuss the exhibition, Thurlow’s presentation, and the ACCPI.

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October 9, 2019

Gerald Neuman files amicus curiae brief to US Supreme Court on deportation cases

Professor Gerald Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program and
J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School, recently filed an amicus curiae brief to the US Supreme Court in a pair of cases involving the standards for judicial review of deportation decisions.

Both cases, Guerrero-Lasprilla v. Barr and Ovalles v. Barr, involve long-term immigrants who were wrongly removed – to Colombia and to the Dominican Republic – based on interpretations of the statutory deportation grounds that the Supreme Court later overturned.  The petitioners applied to reopen the deportation decisions so that they could return to the United States, arguing that the time limit for reopening should be “equitably tolled” because they had diligently sought relief. The immigration agency rejected their claims as untimely, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that their diligence presented an unreviewable issue of fact rather than a reviewable issue of law. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, and the cases will be argued in December, and a decision is expected in the spring.

The amicus brief of three leading Scholars of Habeas Corpus Law explains that reviewable issues of law include “mixed questions” of the application of a legal standard to facts, both as a matter of statutory interpretation and in order to satisfy the Suspension Clause of the Constitution.  It shows how historically, both in the eighteenth century and in the modern era, the right to habeas corpus has included judicial review of the application of law to fact.

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October 1, 2019

Photo Exhibit: From the Atomic Bomb to the Nobel Peace Prize

From October 1 through October 8, 2019, the South Lobby of Wasserstein Hall showcases a photo exhibition that documents the impact of nuclear weapons and recent progress toward their elimination. The exhibit focuses on the devastation caused by early use and testing of these weapons and civil society’s role in producing the 2017 treaty that bans them.

Bonnie Docherty, Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian and Lecturer in Law at the International Human Rights Clinic, organized the exhibit. Her introduction is reproduced below in its entirety.

Campaigners outside the United Nations during negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in New York on March 31, 2017.
The photo, “Campaigners outside the United Nations during negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, New York, March 31, 2017,” is the ninth photo in a series documenting the history of nuclear disarmament currently on view in the South Lobby of Wasserstein Hall. Photo Credit: Claire Conboy.

The exhibit is co-sponsored by the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative, Hibakusha Stories/Youth Arts New York, and HLS Advocates for Human Rights.


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September 20, 2019

Fall 2019 Event Series

HRP and Clinic Co-Director and Clinical Professor of Law Tyler Giannini introduces colleagues and HRP to new students and community members at an information session in early September 2019.
HRP and Clinic Co-Director and Clinical Professor of Law Tyler Giannini introduces colleagues and HRP to new students and community members at an information session in early September 2019.

We have an exciting array of events planned this semester! On Thursday, September 12, HRP staff kicked off the season with an information session on everything the program has to offer, from fellowships to the International Human Rights Clinic.

Picture of Cori Wegener spoke on April 16 about her work gathering evidence of destruction of the Mosul Museum in Iraq.
Cori Wegener spoke on April 16 about her work gathering evidence of destruction of the Mosul Museum in Iraq.

In the first substantive talk this Fall, the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative hosted Corine Wegener, Director of the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, for a discussion of cultural rescue for evidence-gathering after armed conflict. She explored the sad but fascinating world of how art historians record cultural destruction for use in war crimes trials. Interested in other topics ACCPI might be covering? Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow will be here in October 8 to talk about about her work advocating against nuclear weapons.

Want to know more about the interaction between climate change and refugee law? Join us on October 1 for a talk by Jane McAdam, Scientia Professor of Law and Director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales, who is also currently visiting faculty at Harvard Law School. Missed UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal Borloz when he visited HLS last year? He’s back as an HRP Senior Visiting Researcher and will give a public talk on October 17.

Read on to see what else we have planned this semester and stay in the loop through our various social media outlets! Subscribe to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news. And always check our eventspage for up-to-the-moment updates!

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September 19, 2019

2018-2019 Visiting Fellow Spotlight on Alpha Sesay


By Elaine McArdle


As a young person in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, Alpha Sesay knew little but war. He lost close family to the conflict, witnessed atrocities, and was internally displaced before obtaining refugee status in Guinea. As a university student in Sierra Leone, he was arrested and beaten in prison after challenging a police practice as not grounded in law.

“Those experiences really influenced me a great deal in terms of what I wanted to do with my life,” said Sesay, who as a human rights lawyer has held various positions in the human rights and international justice sectors. He is currently an Advocacy Officer for the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) in Washington, D.C. Sesay has dedicated his career to human rights, moved to make sure that his experiences of war are not replicated elsewhere. “What shall I do as an individual so that this doesn’t happen again and that others don’t experience what we did as a country?” he said.

As a law student, Sesay mobilized friends to launch the first student human rights group in Sierra Leone—and the first human rights clinic in Western Africa—which led to the creation of a human rights module at the University of Sierra Leone. After getting his law degree in Sierra Leone and an LLM in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame Law School, he returned to his home country to establish and teach international human rights at the university.

When the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor before the Special Court for Sierra Leone was moved to The Hague, Sesay created and managed a trial-monitoring project for OSJI that provided daily information to Sierra Leonean and Liberian audiences. A few years earlier, he had created a similar trial-monitoring and accountability program for proceedings before the Special Court for Sierra Leone and criminal cases within Sierra Leone’s domestic justice system. In that program, he focused on promoting judicial accountability and providing information to and soliciting feedback from the public, especially victims in Sierra Leone. Today, it has become one of the country’s leading NGOs, he said.

Sesay spoke at a conference at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government in October 2018 on “The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court at 20” with Luis Moreno Ocampo (left), Founding Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and Senior Fellow at the Carr Center.

Sesay took a sabbatical from OSJI in 2018-2019, joining HRP as a Visiting Fellow. At HLS, he researched how the state fails to comply with decisions of human rights bodies. His aim was to devise recommendations for how to better ensure state compliance with human rights standards. As a fellow, Sesay also mentored HLS students interested in human rights work and offered his expertise to Harvard faculty working on various human rights issues.

He described interacting with students and sharing his knowledge of the African human rights system as one of the highlights of his time at the Law School. “To find myself at Harvard doing research and contributing to the university’s academic life was immensely fulfilling,” and the human rights community “is a really welcoming academic environment.”

“Having been an intimate witness to human rights violations myself, I strive to give those a platform who would not otherwise have a voice,” he said. “A lot of people, many of them victims [of human rights violations] themselves, work every day to make life better for vulnerable communities. Those people inspire me every day in the work we do.”

This profile is an excerpt from the 2018-2019 Human Rights Program Annual Report. You can access the full report here.

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September 11, 2019

Clinic Celebrates First Year of the ACCPI

By Nicolette Waldman JD’ 13

Nicolette Waldman JD '13 pictured giving a talk at HLS on atrocities in Syrian prisons.
Waldman gives a talk for students on her involvement in an Amnesty International investigation into torture and executions in Syrian prisons.

The Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) recently completed its first full year, and it was a banner one. Launched in March 2018, the initiative has worked both on campus and around the world to advance its goal of reducing the harm caused by war.

The ACCPI brings together students, practitioners, and academics to advocate for civilian protection, cultivate the next generation of leaders, and promote innovation in the field. It is a collaborative endeavor, led by disarmament and international humanitarian law expert Bonnie Docherty. Clinic alum Lan Mei JD ’17 and I have worked closely with Docherty to lay the foundations for the ACCPI’s ongoing success. The initiative has also received invaluable support from faculty and staff across the Human Rights Program and partnered with numerous nongovernmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and PAX.  

Over the past school year, the team behind the ACCPI achieved a great deal. We led clinical projects on armed conflict and civilian protection; brought experts to campus for trainings, panels, and individual presentations; connected students to these and other practitioners; and created a database of potential host organizations for students. Beyond Harvard, we were especially active in the area of “humanitarian disarmament,” which seeks to prevent and remediate the human suffering inflicted by arms. We played a leadership role in coordinating cross-campaign collaboration and raising awareness of the approach.  

An overview of the ACCPI’s activities from September 2018-August 2019, other than clinical projects, is provided below. In the coming months and years, the ACCPI plans to develop a track for Harvard Law students who want to pursue careers in the field and to consolidate the school’s position as center of excellence on civilian protection in armed conflict. Civilians affected by war have far too few advocates, and we aim to do all we can to address this gap.

Stay tuned this fall for updates on new events, trainings, student resources and programs, and publications!

Harvard Law School Events

Organized or co-sponsored the following presentations and panel discussions:

“Humanization of Arms Control: Paving the Way for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” October 17, 2018

“Universal Jurisdiction: Help or Hindrance in the Prosecution of War Criminals?” October 25, 2018 

“International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on Crimes against Humanity,” January 2019 

“Sustainable Justice: Lessons from Twenty Years of Domestic War Crimes Prosecutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” February 4, 2019

“The Destruction of Culture: The War against Culture and the Battle to Save It,” February 20, 2019

“The Human Impact of Nuclear Weapons,” March 7, 2019

“Hell on Earth: Uncovering Atrocities in Syria’s Prisons,” March 27, 2019

Matt Wells JD' 09 pictured giving a talk on atrocity crimes in Myanmar at HLS.
Matt Wells JD ’09 gives a talk at HLS in April on atrocity crimes in Myanmar.

“Investigating Myanmar’s Atrocity Crimes: Human Rights Work Amid Conflict and Crisis,” April 5, 2019

Student Resources

Offered “Fieldcraft: Conducting Research on Armed Conflict and Mass Atrocities,” a two-part workshop by former Amnesty International researcher Nicolette Waldman, March 11 and April 1, 2019

Organized advising sessions with alumni Lillian Langford JD ’13, Chris Rogers JD ’09, and Matt Wells JD ’09, all of whom work in the area of armed conflict and civilian protection

Created a database of relevant organizations that could host interns or post-graduate fellows

Started to build a network of alumni working in the field

Humanitarian Disarmament: Publications, Events, and Messaging

Launched humanitariandisarmament.org website, October 2018

Published Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead, a summary of the ACCPI’s inaugural conference, October 2018

Hosted a strategy session for civil society leaders, New York, October 2018

Wrote and collected 18 civil society organization co-sponsors for a statement on humanitarian disarmament delivered at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, October 2018

Co-organized, with PAX, “Humanitarian Disarmament at the CCW: Examining Incendiary Weapons and Landmines through a Humanitarian Lens,” a side event at the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, Geneva, November 20, 2018

Co-organized, with the Geneva Disarmament Platform, a workshop for diplomats on humanitarian disarmament, Geneva, August 15, 2019

Published Humanitarian Disarmament, a brochure to introduce diplomats, campaigners, and others to the overarching concept, individual arms issues, and key resources, August 15, 2019

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September 10, 2019

HRP’s 2018-2019 Annual Report

A banner that shows pages from the annual report: including the cover image, a map of our global reach and impact, and pictures of students traveling on clinical trips.

We are delighted to present HRP’s 2018-2019 Annual Report. The report showcases the global reach and impact of the Human Rights Program in its 35th year. Previews have already run on the Harvard Law School website: profiles of Paras Shah JD ’19, Jenny B. Domino LLM ’18, and Anna Khalfaoui LLM ’17. In addition to celebrating these former students and fellows, the annual report explores how members of HRP contributed to a convention on crimes against humanity, innovated in clinical pedagogy, and advocated for LGBT rights. We thank all of the students, partners, and alumni who made last year so strong and look forward to engaging with our community and working on the most pressing issues in 2019-2020.

You can view our annual report in several different modes: a flipbook version, a color PDF, and a black-and-white PDF.

Read the introduction below, which highlights the words of the Human Rights Program and International Human Rights Clinic Co-Directors:


The Human Rights Program: Reflecting on 35 Years


Founded by Professor Emeritus Henry Steiner in 1984 as a center for human rights scholarship, Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program (HRP) enters its 35th year in 2019. Concurrently, the International Human Rights Clinic celebrates its 15th anniversary. HRP was founded as a place of reflection and engagement and a forum that brings academics and advocates together. Since 1984, HRP has only deepened its commitment to this endeavor. With this past year marking the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly, it is a particularly opportune time to take stock of human rights at Harvard Law School (HLS) and how the Program’s impact has reverberated beyond the university.

“The Universal Declaration set forth a vision of liberty and equality and social solidarity that has never been fully achieved; it continues to inspire people around the world as we strive to fulfill its mission,” said Gerald L. Neuman JD ’80, Co-Director of HRP and the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at HLS. “The Program has always been about critical involvement with human rights. In a time when human rights face extreme challenges globally, that means thinking more deeply about what changes are needed and  how we can contribute to the system, scholarship, and the world.”

Today, HRP comprises the Academic Program and the Clinic, which together bridge theory with practice and engage with pressing human rights issues around the world. As a center for critical thinking, the Academic Program organizes conferences and other events; publishes working papers and books; offers summer and post-graduate fellowships to launch students in human rights careers; and draws human rights advocates and academics from across the globe as part of the Visiting Fellows Program.

Over the past decade and a half, the Clinic has engaged more than 1,000 students in an analytical and reflective approach to human rights lawyering. While devoting itself to the training of future practitioners, the Clinic has promoted and protected human rights through scores of projects around the world. This work includes pushing for global equity in the realm of gender and sexuality, litigating landmark accountability cases, and helping to negotiate treaties that ban nuclear weapons and cluster munitions.

“The formal founding of the International Human Rights Clinic 15 years ago is really consequential; it recognizes the diversity of ways that people can contribute to the human rights movement,” said Susan H. Farbstein JD ’04, Co-Director of the Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law. While not all clinical students pursue careers in human rights, they often cite their clinical education as influential and formative. For many, clinics are the one place at HLS where they have the opportunity to engage in real-world preparation and see their efforts make an impact. “We’re training students in critical approaches to human rights practice, emphasizing cross-cultural sensitivity and how to be guided by the clients and communities we serve. We hope this leads to better, more effective human rights advocacy,” Farbstein said.

This year, HRP recognizes the anniversary of the Program, the Clinic, and the UDHR with both celebration and humility. After decades of training students and building a network of HRP fellows and partners, it is inspiring to step back and glimpse the network that we’ve built. “It’s not about one particular year but about the cumulative impact,” said Tyler R. Giannini, Co- Director of HRP and the Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law. “When we see the success of our students, alumni, partners, and fellows, it’s a testament to the power of this community.”

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September 5, 2019

Summer 2019 Highlights

Human rights work doesn’t stop for the summer. HRP staff, however, do take a moment to pause and regroup, taking the necessary time to recharge and plan before their project and teaching work picks up full steam in the Fall. Staff spent the summer on mountains, at the opera, and at the beach. We also developed new classes focused on women’s leadership and taught human rights and populism in Berlin.

Read on to see what we’ve all been up to this summer!



Following the release of Clinical Instructor Thomas Becker’s IHRC report “Femicide and Impunity in Bolivia” last year, the Bolivian government implemented a ten point emergency plan this summer to tackle the high rate of femicides in the country. In other news, after two months of climbing, Becker summited Mount Everest. With temperatures reaching as low as -40 degrees on the mountain, he thinks he is finally prepared for winter in Cambridge. Following Everest, Thomas’s work led him to a slightly warmer destination, the Sahara, where he spent several weeks meeting with human rights activists, women’s groups, and social movement leaders in refugee camps in Algeria. 

Anna Crowe accomplished an intra-Cambridge move in July and submitted a book chapter on a disarmament topic to be published later this year.

Marmots are strong advocates of humanitarian disarmament.

Bonnie Docherty spoke at the International Symposium for Peace in Hiroshima on the advantages of the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament and why Japan can and should join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (check out a transcript of her remarks here!) She also had meetings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with civil society advocates, student activists, and doctors who have treated the hibakusha who survived the atomic bombings. On her recent work trip to Geneva for killer robots meetings at the UN, she carved out a weekend for mountains and marmots. She visited the alpine peaks of Chamonix and met some furry friends in the hills above Montreux. Hiking buddy Elizabeth Minor of Article 36, longtime Clinic partner, even brought her tote bag from ACCPI’s humanitarian disarmament conference. 

Susan Farbstein developed new teaching modules on women’s leadership to pilot in the advanced Human Rights Careers Workshop this fall. She was lucky to work with one of the Clinic’s alumni, Salomé Gómez Upegui LLM ’18, as well as current SJD student Regina Larrea Maccise, to review and curate materials and build the sessions. She’s excited to see how the 3Ls will respond to what they’ve put together. She also spent a lot of time with her family, swimming, hiking, riding bikes, flying kites, building sand castles, and eating fried fish and ice cream across New England (and in Canada!).

After being on sabbatical Spring semester, Tyler Giannini went to Berlin to conduct a human rights simulation with Yee Htun. He also had the opportunity to visit members of the extended HRP family in the Netherlands and got to learn about their work at the ICC (Juan Calderson-Meza, former clinical fellow) and innovative work on business and human rights (Fola Adeleke, former clinical fellow; Deval Desai LLM ’08, SJD ’18, former research fellow; and Amelia Evans LLM ’11, former clinical instructor). With his family, Giannini also visited his roots in Ireland and in Lucca, northern Italy, for the first time, where they met long-lost cousins they never knew existed. 

Clinical Instructor Yee Htun completed a book chapter on populism in Thailand and Myanmar for an edited collection to be out next year from Cambridge University Press. She also taught a module entitled “Human Rights Under a Military Dictatorship: A Case Study on Myanmar/Burma” at the Lucerne Academy on Human Rights Implementation as well as presented at “Gender Matters: A Summer Workshop for Educators” organized by the Asia Center, the Center for African Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator, and the Religious Literacy Project of Harvard University.  In personal news, Htun is feeling a little lighter after donating 14 inches of her locks to Wigs for Kids.

Beatrice Lindstrom joined HRP as a Clinical Instructor at the end of August. Her summer was busy moving from New York and closing out nine years with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). She worked on responding to a deteriorating human rights situation in Haiti, including preparing a request for precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights for victims displaced by a brutal massacre in La Saline. She also published a chapter in the book Emerging Threats to Human Rights that came out in July. Before the move, Lindstrom got to spend some time with family on a lake in Maine.

Gerald Neuman presented his work on populism and human rights at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin in June, during a two-week stay at that social science research institute. While in Berlin he found something he has wanted for years at the Pergamon Museum – a working facsimile of a Babylonian cylinder seal. He will not be using it, however, for HRP correspondence.

New Clinical Instructor Aminta Ossom moved here from Geneva, finishing up her work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and joined the Clinic. Before she left, she had the opportunity to cross off some items from her Geneva bucket list, including spending a day on a “funky jazz and blues boat” at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July and enjoyed a sunrise concert from the aubes musicales (“musical dawns”) concert series on the shores of Lake Geneva before work, which is a Geneva summer tradition. 

We hope you all had relaxing and productive summers! We look forward to picking up threads of old projects and meeting some new faces this year.

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