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December 17, 2014

Clinic and Partners Call on Myanmar Officials to Drop Charges against Father Complaining of Rights Violations

Posted by Matthew Bugher, Global Justice Fellow

In a letter to Myanmar’s President Thein Sein on December 8, the International Human Rights Clinic and five leading international human rights organizations called for criminal charges to be immediately and unconditionally dropped against Shayam Brang Shawng, a resident of Kachin State in northern Myanmar. Brang Shawng is accused of making “false charges” in a complaint to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission about the alleged killing of his 14-year-old daughter, Ja Seng Ing, by Myanmar Army soldiers. A Myanmar Army officer initiated the case against Brang Shawng, and the action appears to be retaliatory in nature. The Myanmar government has not responded to a letter, reposted below, which the Clinic and its partners published today.

 

December 08, 2014

President Thein Sein
President’s Office
Nay Pyi Taw
Republic of the Union of Myanmar

Re: Prosecution of Shayam Brang Shawng

Dear President Thein Sein,

We write to you to express our concerns about the criminal prosecution of Shayam Brang Shawng (hereinafter Brang Shawng), an ethnic Kachin resident of Sut Ngai Yang village, Hpakant Township, Kachin State, who has been charged under Article 211 of the Myanmar Penal Code.

Brang Shawng is accused of making “false charges” against the Myanmar Army in a letter he sent to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) on October 1, 2012. In the letter, Brang Shawng alleged that Myanmar Army soldiers from Infantry Battalion (IB) 389 shot and killed his 14-year-old daughter, Ja Seng Ing, in Sut Ngai Yang village on September 13, 2012.

The criminal prosecution of Brang Shawng appears to be in retaliation for the complaint to the MNHRC and runs contrary to Myanmar’s obligations under domestic and international law. The case also calls into question the ability of the MNHRC and other state institutions to protect persons filing complaints with the commission. We therefore request that you take action to ensure that the charges against Brang Shawng are immediately and unconditionally dropped and that similar cases do not occur in the future.

Death of Ja Seng Ing and prosecution of Brang Shawng

On December 6, 2014, the Truth Finding Committee of Ja Seng Ing’s Death (the Committee)—an independent group of ten civil society organizations from Kachin State—published a 42-page report concerning the death of Ja Seng Ing. The Committee conducted interviews with 16 individuals who had knowledge relevant to Ja Seng Ing’s death. The report includes numerous accounts indicating that Myanmar Army soldiers shot and killed Ja Seng Ing in Sut Ngai Yang village on September 13, 2012.

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December 17, 2014

Pernambuco State Bans Strip Searches of Visitors to Detention Centers

Posted by Fernando Ribeiro Delgado

For decades, human rights advocates have sought an end to the humiliating state practice of strip searching prison visitors in Pernambuco, Brazil, the state housing the notorious Aníbal Bruno Prison Complex. Yesterday, responding to the Aníbal order of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and to a growing national movement against the degrading searches, the Secretariat of Development and Human Rights at last banned the procedures through Administrative Order 258/2014. The order classifies as “humiliating, inhuman or degrading,” all searches that involve “total or partial nudity; any conduct that entails the introduction of objects into the bodily cavities of the persons searches; the use of dogs or sniffer animals, even if they are trained for that end;” and/or “manual contact with the intimate parts of the person being searched.”

Administrative Order 258/2014 in the Pernambuco Official Gazette of the Executive Branch, December 16, 2014, p.3.

Administrative Order 258/2014 in the Pernambuco Official Gazette of the Executive Branch, December 16, 2014, p.3.

The prohibition should benefit an estimated 30,000 families, applying to all detention centers in the state. Until recently, Pernambuco subjected nearly all prison visitors—often including children, elderly persons, and persons with disabilities—to invasive, degrading searches involving nudity and manual inspection of intimate body parts. Women and girls were most frequently subjected to the practice.

The ban is a milestone in decades of local struggle by the Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões (Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons) and the Pastoral Carcerária (Catholic Prison Ministry), among others. The civil society coalition which successfully sought an Inter-American Court order (para. 20) prohibiting humiliating searches includes those two groups as well as Justiça Global (Global Justice) and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

A judge in Recife, Pernambuco, had issued a temporary ban on humiliating searches in Greater Recife this past April, two months after the civil society coalition sought the inter-American order. Yesterday’s prohibition on humiliating searches is more expansive, containing no temporal limit and applying to all Pernambuco prisons. It provides for searches to be done “preserving the honor and dignity of the human person,” and calls for the use of metal detectors and other measures to replace the old procedures. According to 2012 data from São Paulo, only 0.02% of 3.5 million humiliating searches yielded drugs or cell phones.

In September 2014, a resolution of the National Council on Crime and Penitentiary Policy recommended a ban on humiliating searches across Brazil. However, Bill 7764/2014, abolishing humiliating searches of prison visitors nationwide, is still pending in Congress.

 

December 10, 2014

Urgent Need to Promote Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in Zimbabwe

PRESS RELEASE

 

On Human Rights Day, Urgent Need to Promote Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution Presents Opportunities and Challenges

 

10 December 2014, Harare, Zimbabwe—Zimbabwe’s Constitution offers new opportunities to promote the economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) of all Zimbabweans, said Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (the Clinic) today.

ESCR are a fundamental component of international human rights law, and essential to the economic and political development of a nation. As a briefing paper released today by ZLHR and the Clinic explains, inclusion of some such rights—the rights to work, food, housing, the highest attainable standard of health, education, and culture—in the 2013 Constitution represents a major milestone in Zimbabwe’s history, and offers a source of hope for the country’s population.

“Economic, social, and cultural rights are indispensable to our families, our communities, and our political system,” said Irene Petras, Executive Director of ZLHR. “For the first time, the 2013 Constitution provides us with a legal framework to fight for the realisation of rights, thereby promoting the wellbeing of all Zimbabweans.”

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December 05, 2014

Prosecutors Move to Reduce Incarceration at Aníbal Bruno Prison

Earlier this week, prosecutors took the extraordinary step of filing for judicial measures to decarcerate, reduce overcrowding, and ensure adequate healthcare at the notorious Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil. The request for interdição parcial (partial interdiction) of the pre-trial center cites Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights precautionary and provisional measures, respectively, as key motivators. The civil society coalition responsible for seeking and litigating these inter-American protective measures since 2011 is comprised of the Pastoral Carcerária (Catholic Prison Ministry), the Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões (Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons), Justiça Global (Global Justice), and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

Today's Diário de Pernambuco reports on prosecutors' Aníbal Bruno filing

Today’s Diário de Pernambuco reports on prosecutors’ Aníbal Bruno filing

Aníbal Bruno is one of the largest prisons in Latin America, and among the most abusive; it detains nearly 7,000 men in space officially designated for roughly 2,000. According to the prosecutors, “[t]he situation of overpopulation and overcrowding [at Aníbal Bruno Prison] runs counter to the model contemplated in the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José, Costa Rica) adopted 11/22/1969 and which Brazil ratified by means of Decree n. 678, with force of law in our State since 11/25/1992.”

Prosecutors requested 11 measures. Among them are limits on new entries to Aníbal Bruno Prison and transfers of qualifying prisoners out to halfway detention facilities (regime semiaberto), house arrest, or electronic monitoring. Prosecutors further asked for a daily computerized accounting of healthcare needs and treatment dates, as well as judicial review of any inability to schedule or receive medical attention. The filing also requests monthly monitoring meetings involving a host of institutions.

“We welcome the partial interdiction request as an important step in the right direction, though it falls well short of what is required, given that Aníbal Bruno Prison is fully, not partially, unfit for human habitation,” said Clinical Instructor Fernando Ribeiro Delgado.

The Pernambuco Prosecutor’s Office (Ministério Público) previously relied on the work of the civil society coalition in a 2012 inquiry into abuse at the prison. The Office noted then that, “if it were not for the courage and determination of [coalition] members, nothing that was here collected, such as hard-hitting evidence of practices of torture and ill-treatment, whether physical or psychological, would exist.”

Judge Luiz Gomes da Rocha Neto, responsible for evaluating the partial interdiction request, said he would make a statement in response today.

UPDATE: The judge confirmed receipt of the filing on December 5 and stated that the government would be given a short window to reply before he makes his decision. He also announced a future judicial inspection of Aníbal Bruno in light of the prosecutors’ request.

November 19, 2014

Tomorrow: “The Nazis Next Door” with NYT Reporter Eric Lichtblau

Eric Lichtblau_The Nazis Next Door_PosterNovember 20, 2014

“The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men”

 

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 3016

 

Please join us for a talk by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, whose new book explores how thousands of Nazis — from concentration camp guards to high-level officers in the Third Reich — came to the United States after World War II and quietly settled into new lives. Lichtblau’s research uncovered new evidence of how these self-styled war “refugees,” with the help and protection from the U.S. government, were put to work as spies, scientists and engineers.

November 17, 2014

TONIGHT: “The Inter-American Human Rights System: Contributions and Challenges”

HRP Poster-Inter-American Human Rights_GNNovember 17, 2014

“The Inter-American Human Rights System: Contributions and Challenges”

A talk by Professor Dinah L. Shelton

5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

WCC 1010

Please join us for a talk by Dinah L. Shelton, Professor of International Law, George Washington University, and past president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Professor Shelton served on the Commission from 2010 to 2014, a period marked by controversy within the OAS about the Commission’s powers, and struggle over institutional reform. She is a leading expert on international law, human rights law, and international environmental law.

November 13, 2014

U.S. Dodges Questions on Senior-Level Prosecutions at CAT Review

Posted by Deborah Popowski, Morgan Davis, JD '15, Pete Barnett, LLM '15, Lauren Blodgett, JD '16, Darren Bartlette, JD '16

Just a few hours ago, the U.N. Committee Against Torture concluded its formal review of the United States. As members of Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions, our clinical team has been in Geneva all week advocating for senior-level prosecutions of those responsible for the U.S. program of torture of detainees post-9/11.

Here’s our group’s statement:

In its response to the Committee’s questioning, the U.S. government failed to answer whether the Durham investigation looked up the chain of command at those who authorized, ordered, and justified the torture. The government did not address how any such investigation could have failed for lack of evidence when former President George W. Bush and other senior officials have acknowledged authorizing torture, including waterboarding, in public statements. The elephant in the room is the legal architecture that senior officials and lawyers put in place to shield themselves from criminal responsibility for torture in the first place. The Committee’s clear concern with U.S. failures of accountability is another important sign that “get out of court free” cards will not last forever.

Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions is a group composed of concerned U.S. citizens, residents, and students—scholars, legal and health care professionals, and law students—who have sought for years to use what modest levers we have to end the U.S. program of torture put in place post-9/11, to obtain justice and redress for those harmed, and to seek accountability for those responsible. We were joined in our shadow report by nearly 300 supporting organizations and individuals from across civil society.

Read the shadow report we submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture

Read our briefer, “Dismantling the Legal Architecture of Impunity: A Necessary Step Towards Torture Accountability in the United States”

 

November 13, 2014

Dismantling the Legal Architecture of Impunity: A Necessary Step Towards Torture Accountability in the U.S.

As the UN Committee Against Torture continues its review of the United States today, the Clinic and its partners in Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions have released the following briefer, with possible questions and suggested recommendations for the Committee.

 

Dismantling the Legal Architecture of Impunity:
A Necessary Step Towards Torture Accountability in the United States

 

Today, the prospect of prosecuting senior officials for torture is considered politically unimaginable in the United States. Our job is to make it imaginable. The Committee Against Torture, in its role as treaty monitor, is uniquely placed to help in this effort by making clear that torture authorizing leaders cannot declare themselves to be above the law.

A Head of State Authorized Torture.

U.S. civilian and military leaders, including former head of state, President George W. Bush, created a program of torture breathtaking in scope, drawing in the people and governments of at least 54 other nations—including Denmark, Georgia, Italy, and Morocco.

The Program Relied on Legal Architecture to Shield Torturers from Liability.

The fear of prosecution was pervasive among both senior-level officials and those responsible for implementing the torture program. To address this, political leaders worked with lawyers and doctors to create a sophisticated system of legal cover aimed at shielding people at all levels from criminal responsibility for authorizing or committing acts of torture.

The Golden Shield: Lawyers and Doctors in Collusion

Government lawyers authored legal opinions that distorted beyond recognition the laws against torture to produce the result desired by those at the top: a legal stamp of approval on waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, forced nudity, and other techniques clearly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture.

Medical professionals were brought in to calibrate the suffering of prisoners, and more importantly, to inoculate the torture program authors and actors from liability. The lawyers argued that the doctors’ mere presence would prove the lack of intent required to constitute torture. The system in turn would then allow the doctors to invoke the lawyers’ guidance in their own defense.

According to a former Justice Department attorney, the CIA called these memos the Golden Shield.

Retroactive Immunity: Congress

The executive branch worked with Congress to erect the second pillar of this legal architecture of impunity: the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which retroactively redefined war crimes so as to impede the prosecution of those responsible for them.

The United States Continues to Legitimize Impunity.

Although President Obama withdrew the Bush-era legal advice in 2009, his administration has legitimized this legal architecture of impunity:

- by declining to prosecute anyone who acted within the confines of what the lawyers purportedly authorized—despite President Obama’s recent admission that these constituted techniques that “any fair-minded person would believe were torture” and

- by failing to prosecute and thereby effectively immunizing those responsible for authorizing and enabling manifestly illegal acts of torture.

The result is impunity for torture on a global scale and a massive derogation from the absolute prohibition on torture. It was recognized as early as Nuremberg that such legal maneuvering cannot excuse torture and other war crimes.

SUGGESTED RECOMMENDATIONS:

The Committee is concerned that despite significant evidence that senior civilian and military officials authorized torture, the State party appears not to have impartially investigated those acts. The Committee is further concerned that the State party is setting a dangerous precedent by shielding from investigation and prosecution officials who authorized torture and officials who issued legal advice that justified torture. In the Committee’s view, this amounts to the State party recognizing a defense to torture that is inconsistent with the absolute prohibition in Article 2. The Committee is also concerned that the State party has shielded officials from liability through jurisdiction-stripping mechanisms such as the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

The State party should promptly and impartially investigate senior officials for their authorization of acts amounting to torture without regard to whether those acts fell within the scope of legal advice, consistent with the absolute prohibition on torture. The State party should also investigate the responsibility of lawyers who gave legal pretexts for manifestly illegal conduct. Finally, the State party should stop using mechanisms to actively shield liability for these crimes, and revoke any statutes, such as the MCA, that prevent torture victims and survivors from obtaining redress.

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS:

1. Does the State party rely on Justice Department legal advice as a basis for not investigating the criminal responsibility of the senior-level officials who authorized acts of torture, including waterboarding? If so, how does the State party reconcile this position with the absolute nature of the prohibition against torture in Article 2 of the Convention?

2. Does the State party rely on the Military Commissions Act of 2006 as a basis for not investigating the criminal responsibility of the senior-level officials who authorized acts of torture, including waterboarding? If so, how does the State party reconcile this position with the absolute nature of the prohibition against torture in Article 2 of the Convention?

3. Does the United States consider there to be obstacles under U.S. law to prosecuting a former president under the federal extraterritorial torture statute (18 USC § 2430A)?

Read the shadow report submitted by Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions

CONTACT: Deborah Popowski, Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Clinic, dpopowski@law.harvard.edu

November 12, 2014

Update from Geneva: UN Committee Against Torture’s Review of the United States

Posted by Cara Solomon

Earlier today in Geneva, in advance of the UN Committee Against Torture’s formal review of the United States, Morgan Davis, JD ’15, spoke to the U.S. delegation, pointing to its lack of engagement with the issue of senior-level accountability for post-9/11 torture. She spoke on behalf of Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions, a civil society group that includes the International Human Rights Clinic, drawing from the group’s prepared comments, reprinted below.

Morgan

Morgan Davis, JD ’15, addressed the U.S. delegation on behalf of Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions, a civil society group that includes the Clinic.

“To truly move forward, we have to start by being honest,” she said. “The decision to shield senior-level government officials is not about law or justice; it’s about politics.”

The Committee will have the chance to raise this question with the U.S. government at tomorrow’s formal review.

Full text of the group’s prepared comments below:

 

My name is Morgan Davis, and I am a student at Harvard Law School. I will be speaking on behalf of the group “Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions,” a group of legal and health professionals and scholars in the United States. We are supported by 291 organizations and individuals who have joined our call for accountability for senior-level civilian and military officials for their central role in the post-9/11 torture program.

For years, these officials—including George Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, and former State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger—have lived with impunity for their role in authorizing and enabling acts that President Obama has publicly called torture.

The Convention Against Torture requires states to investigate and prosecute crimes of torture, including up the chain of command. This is not a hollow aspirational principle; accountability for unconscionable crimes is a basic tenet of justice and rule of law.

Just this summer, President Obama told a gathering of young international leaders, “a country without the rule of law will not succeed.”

It doesn’t serve the rule of law to court martial lower-level service members while those that authorized and justified brutal tactics including near-drowning, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity have enjoyed impunity.

Nor does it serve the rule of law to shield senior officials on the basis that they “acted within the scope” of a legal standard justifying conduct that the US government has unequivocally called torture.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder justified this shielding by saying that “we must look forward, not backward.” No competent defense attorney would make such an argument in court. To truly move forward, we have to start by being honest. The decision to shield senior-level government officials is not about law or justice; it’s about politics.

By placing some powerful individuals above the law in the service of political expediency, we make a mockery of our national values and set a dangerous precedent for future generations in countries around the world.

At the last civil society consultation in D.C., the government representatives in the room ignored our demand for answers and gave us canned talking points that dodged any real acknowledgement of this problem that has left thousands of human beings without redress and tainted the reputation of the United States throughout the world.

We can only hope that this week, when confronted by the Committee Against Torture, you will have the courage to give real answers, accept real responsibility, and take some real steps towards accountability, thereby upholding the universal protection against torture that all human beings deserve.

November 11, 2014

Clinic Report: Incendiary Weapons Threaten Civilians in Ukraine, Syria

 PRESS RELEASE

Ukraine, Syria: Incendiary Weapons Threaten Civilians
Stronger International Law Needed for Weapons That Burn

 

(Geneva, November 11, 2014) – Evidence of the use of incendiary weapons in Ukraine and Syria highlights the need for stricter law to govern these weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.

The 16-page report, “Incendiary Weapons: Recent Use and Growing Opposition,” details incendiary weapon attacks in Ukraine and Syria and illustrates the increasing stigma against the weapons. Incendiary weapons can cause excruciatingly painful thermal and respiratory burns. Victims who survive often suffer long-term physical and psychological damage due to extensive scarring and disfigurement.

A misfired Grad 9M22S rocket equipped with a 9N510 incendiary warhead found near Ilovaisk, Ukraine on October 12, 2014. ©2014 Human Rights Watch/Mark Hiznay

A misfired Grad 9M22S rocket equipped with a 9N510 incendiary warhead found near Ilovaisk, Ukraine on October 12, 2014. ©2014 Human Rights Watch/Mark Hiznay

“Weapons that cause terrible burns and disfigure survivors have been used against towns in both Syria and Ukraine,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior Arms researcher at Human Rights Watch and lead author of the report. “The recent attacks with incendiary weapons show it’s past time for nations to reassess and strengthen international law on these cruel weapons,” said Docherty, who is also a lecturer in the Harvard clinic.

The report is being distributed at the annual meeting of countries that are party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which is being held at the United Nations in Geneva from November 10-14, 2014. Protocol III of the treaty bans certain use of incendiary weapons, but its loopholes and inconsistencies have not been addressed since the law was created more than 30 years ago.

Human Rights Watch researchers will present the report’s findings at a CCW side event at 2 p.m. on November 12 in Room XXIV at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Human Rights Watch documented attacks with incendiary Grad rockets on two towns in Ukraine, although the organization was unable to confirm the party responsible. In Syria in 2014, government forces have continued their use of incendiary weapons and have also dropped indiscriminate barrel bombs containing incendiary components.

All countries and especially CCW states parties should condemn such use of incendiary weapons and express support for revisiting and amending the protocol, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic said. Read More