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July 1, 2016
Moving On: Deborah Popowski to Be Executive Director of NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
Today we have the mixed blessing of announcing that one of our favorite people is moving on: Deborah Popowski, JD ’08, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, is bringing her considerable talents to New York University (NYU) School of Law as Executive Director of its Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.
It comes as no surprise to us that she was chosen for this leadership role. For the past seven years, Deborah has proven herself to be a visionary inside the International Human Rights Clinic, carving out a critical niche for U.S.-based work. In her time here, she led clinical projects on issues ranging from protest and assembly rights to the right to heal for U.S. service members and Iraqis. She also created a clinical seminar, “Human Rights Advocacy and the United States,” with the Human Rights Program’s former executive director, Clinical Professor Jim Cavallaro.
In particular, Deborah distinguished herself in recent years as a national leader in the grassroots movement to hold U.S. health professionals accountable for torture in the national security sphere. Her approach was both innovative and in-depth: through professional misconduct complaints, legislative advocacy, media outreach and academic conferences, she worked with clients to highlight the actions of psychologists at Guantánamo.
That work helped build pressure and momentum for the American Psychological Association’s historic resolution last August to ban psychologists from national security interrogations. It was a moment many thought would never come.
Deborah’s commitment to human rights also focused inward, on the community at the Law School. Most recently, she became a strong ally to the Reclaim Harvard Law movement. She did it publicly, participating in campus protests, co-leading fireside chats in Belinda Hall, and engaging the clinical community in discussions about how to think critically about its role in student movements. She also supported the movement personally, through the strong relationships that she nurtured with its leaders, particularly students and staff of color.
Indeed, Deborah has always considered relationships to be a critical part of her work; for years, she was an advisor to Harvard Law Students Advocates for Human Rights, the student practice organization which she once co-led. In her role as advisor, she mentored dozens of students closely as they pursued initiatives of their own.
We will miss Deborah’s powerful voice here at the Program and the Clinic. Still, we are excited to see her take on this leadership role at NYU. It requires the kind of vision, creativity, inclusiveness, and drive that has always been the hallmark of Deborah’s work as a human rights advocate. She will be a gift to their community, just as she has been to ours.
June 29, 2016
Statement on the end of the In re South African Apartheid Litigation
June 29, 2016
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a major corporate accountability case, Ntsebeza, et al., v. Ford Motor Co., et al., that represented the last opportunity for South Africans to achieve justice in U.S. courts for apartheid-era crimes. The U.S. corporations – Ford and IBM – were alleged to have purposefully facilitated violations of international law by enabling the denationalization and violent suppression, including extrajudicial killings, of black South Africans living under the apartheid regime. What began fourteen years ago as litigation against dozens of multinational corporations has effectively ended without ever even entering discovery.
We are deeply disappointed for our clients and the communities who suffered as a direct result of corporate complicity in violence and oppression. We are also extremely concerned about the reluctance of U.S. courts to take on powerful corporate actors that have involved themselves in human rights abuses abroad.
The U.S.-based legal team for the Ntsebeza plaintiffs was led by Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP and includes Judith Brown Chomsky of the Law Offices of Judith Brown Chomsky, and Diane Sammons and Jay Rice of Nagel Rice LLP as well as Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein from the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. The South African-based legal team for the Ntsebeza plaintiffs was led by Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza and includes attorneys John Ngcebetsha, Gugulethu Madlanga, and Medi Mokuena, and Advocate Michael Osborne. The Ntsebeza case was part of broader litigation known as the In re South African Apartheid Litigation, which included the companion case, Balintulo, et al., v. Ford Motor Co., et al. (formerly known as the Khulumani case).
June 20, 2016
Posted by Bonnie Docherty
This piece originally appeared in The Conversation on June 16, 2016
New technology could lead humans to relinquish control over decisions to use lethal force. As artificial intelligence advances, the possibility that machines could independently select and fire on targets is fast approaching. Fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” are quickly moving from the realm of science fiction toward reality.
These weapons, which could operate on land, in the air or at sea, threaten to revolutionize armed conflict and law enforcement in alarming ways. Proponents say these killer robots are necessary because modern combat moves so quickly, and because having robots do the fighting would keep soldiers and police officers out of harm’s way. But the threats to humanity would outweigh any military or law enforcement benefits.
Removing humans from the targeting decision would create a dangerous world. Machines would make life-and-death determinations outside of human control. The risk of disproportionate harm or erroneous targeting of civilians would increase. No person could be held responsible.
Given the moral, legal and accountability risks of fully autonomous weapons, preempting their development, production and use cannot wait. The best way to handle this threat is an international, legally binding ban on weapons that lack meaningful human control.
Preserving empathy and judgment
At least 20 countries have expressed in U.N. meetings the belief that humans should dictate the selection and engagement of targets. Many of them have echoed arguments laid out in a new report, of which I was the lead author. The report was released in April by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, two organizations that have been campaigning for a ban on fully autonomous weapons.
Retaining human control over weapons is a moral imperative. Because they possess empathy, people can feel the emotional weight of harming another individual. Their respect for human dignity can – and should – serve as a check on killing.
Robots, by contrast, lack real emotions, including compassion. In addition, inanimate machines could not truly understand the value of any human life they chose to take. Allowing them to determine when to use force would undermine human dignity.
Human control also promotes compliance with international law, which is designed to protect civilians and soldiers alike. For example, the laws of war prohibit disproportionate attacks in which expected civilian harm outweighs anticipated military advantage. Humans can apply their judgment, based on past experience and moral considerations, and make case-by-case determinations about proportionality.
It would be almost impossible, however, to replicate that judgment in fully autonomous weapons, and they could not be preprogrammed to handle all scenarios. As a result, these weapons would be unable to act as “reasonable commanders,” the traditional legal standard for handling complex and unforeseeable situations.
In addition, the loss of human control would threaten a target’s right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life. Upholding this fundamental human right is an obligation during law enforcement as well as military operations. Judgment calls are required to assess the necessity of an attack, and humans are better positioned than machines to make them.
Keeping a human in the loop on decisions to use force further ensures that accountability for unlawful acts is possible. Under international criminal law, a human operator would in most cases escape liability for the harm caused by a weapon that acted independently. Unless he or she intentionally used a fully autonomous weapon to commit a crime, it would be unfair and legally problematic to hold the operator responsible for the actions of a robot that the operator could neither prevent nor punish.
There are additional obstacles to finding programmers and manufacturers of fully autonomous weapons liable under civil law, in which a victim files a lawsuit against an alleged wrongdoer. The United States, for example, establishes immunity for most weapons manufacturers. It also has high standards for proving a product was defective in a way that would make a manufacturer legally responsible. In any case, victims from other countries would likely lack the access and money to sue a foreign entity. The gap in accountability would weaken deterrence of unlawful acts and leave victims unsatisfied that someone was punished for their suffering.
An opportunity to seize
At a U.N. meeting in Geneva in April, 94 countries recommended beginning formal discussions about “lethal autonomous weapons systems.” The talks would consider whether these systems should be restricted under the Convention on Conventional Weapons, a disarmament treaty that has regulated or banned several other types of weapons, including incendiary weapons and blinding lasers. The nations that have joined the treaty will meet in December for a review conference to set their agenda for future work. It is crucial that the members agree to start a formal process on lethal autonomous weapons systems in 2017.
Disarmament law provides precedent for requiring human control over weapons. For example, the international community adopted the widely accepted treaties banning biological weapons, chemical weapons and landmines in large part because of humans’ inability to exercise adequate control over their effects. Countries should now prohibit fully autonomous weapons, which would pose an equal or greater humanitarian risk.
At the December review conference, countries that have joined the Convention on Conventional Weapons should take concrete steps toward that goal. They should initiate negotiations of a new international agreement to address fully autonomous weapons, moving beyond general expressions of concern to specific action. They should set aside enough time in 2017 – at least several weeks – for substantive deliberations.
While the process of creating international law is notoriously slow, countries can move quickly to address the threats of fully autonomous weapons. They should seize the opportunity presented by the review conference because the alternative is unacceptable: Allowing technology to outpace diplomacy would produce dire and unparalleled humanitarian consequences.
June 17, 2016
Human Rights Case Against Former Bolivian President for Role in 2003 Massacre Cleared to Move Forward
Court of Appeals Rejects Defendants’ Attempt to Have Case Dismissed
Miami, FL –More than 12 years after government-planned massacres in Bolivia killed 58 unarmed civilians, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday rejected an effort to scuttle a lawsuit against the former President of Bolivia and his Minister of Defense, both of whom are currently living in the United States. Instead, the appellate court sent the case back to the district court with a mandate to proceed to discovery.
In Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzain, the families of eight Bolivians killed in the massacres filed suit against the former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and his former Bolivian defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, charging they ordered extrajudicial killings. The lawsuit alleges that, months in advance of the violence, the two defendants devised a plan to kill thousands of civilians, and that they intentionally used deadly force against political protests in an effort to quash political opposition. In addition to the deaths, more than 400 civilians were injured when security forces fired on unarmed civilians.
In today’s unanimous decision, the appeals court held that a federal statute, the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), permits plaintiffs to sue in U.S. court for extrajudicial killing after they have exhausted the remedies available in their home country. The court rejected the defendants’ arguments that it should dismiss the case because the plaintiffs received some compensation and humanitarian assistance in Bolivia. The decision sets an important legal precedent because no federal appellate court had previously considered the defendants’ argument on exhaustion of remedies abroad.
Since the case was filed in U.S. courts in 2007, seven former Bolivian officials, including high-ranking military leaders and members of the Cabinet, have been convicted in Bolivia for their participation in the massacres. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, however, have lived in the United States since 2003, when they fled Bolivia in response to widespread protests against their brutal policies and the killings.
“The United States should not be a safe haven for human rights abusers,” said Beth Stephens, a cooperating attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents the plaintiffs. “That’s all the more true when the facts show that the defendants intentionally used deadly force against unarmed civilians in an attempt to block political protests.”
Among the plaintiffs is Etelvina Ramos Mamani, whose eight-year old daughter Marlene died in her arms after Marlene was targeted by a military sharpshooter as the child stood by a window inside their home. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín had given orders to treat Marlene’s town and the civilians in it as a military target.
The family members are represented by a team of lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, and the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP. Lawyers from the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) are cooperating attorneys.
June 9, 2016
Today marks the grim five-year anniversary of the resumption of armed conflict in Myanmar’s Kachin State. This conflict, between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army, has displaced more than 100,000 civilians. Organizations at the local and international level have also documented severe human rights violations perpetrated by the Myanmar military, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and sexual violence and forced labor.
The International Human Rights Clinic today joins 129 other organizations in calling for peace, justice and accountability in Kachin State.
“Joint Statement: Five Years of War- A Call for Peace, Justice and Accountability in Kachin State”
(June 9, 2016)— Although much of the world has expressed excitement over Myanmar’s political transition, communities throughout Kachin and northern Shan states have been living with severe human rights abuses and displacement for the last five years.
Since 2011, renewed armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has displaced more than 100,000 civilians. In the conduct of the war, the Myanmar military has perpetrated severe human rights violations. International and community-based organizations have documented extrajudicial killings, torture, forced labor, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention, attacks on civilians and non-military targets, and pillaging of property. These abuses have been perpetrated with near-complete impunity. Some of the abuses may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law.
Forced into dozens of displacement camps, entire communities have lost their homes, livelihoods, and belongings. Displaced populations continue to face avoidable deprivations in humanitarian aid. The Myanmar government and military have denied humanitarian organizations unfettered access to displaced populations, and funding for Kachin-led aid groups has been insufficient to meet the needs of displaced communities. Unnecessarily delaying travel authorizations to the displacement camps in government controlled areas and entirely restricting access to KIA- controlled areas for humanitarian actors has led to severe consequences for people in need of support.
Displaced families lack adequate food, healthcare, education, water and sanitation, and shelter. Some displaced families now eat one meal per day due to irregular delivery of food rations. Preventable illnesses have resulted in needless death. The dearth of funding for schools and teachers is depriving children of adequate education, stunting the development of an entire generation. As the rainy season approaches once again, war-affected displaced populations are still struggling to live in unsafe conditions in which they have no protection against wind and rain. Today, there is no meaningful prospect for displaced communities to return home safely or rebuild their lives with dignity. Continue Reading…
June 3, 2016
Posted by Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein
Last week, the International Human Rights Clinic and co-counsel filed our reply brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, responding to Ford and IBM’s opposition to the petition for a writ of certiorari in the in re South African Apartheid Litigation. The reply brief points out the clear circuit splits that require the Supreme Court’s attention, flatly rejecting Defendants’ claim to the contrary.
The petition, which was filed in February, asks the Supreme Court to resolve the splits among the circuits over the standard for aiding and abetting liability under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”); the question of when claims “touch and concern” the United States; and the availability of corporate liability under the ATS. The reply notes how “IBM and Ford do not seriously dispute the existence of these conflicts.” Despite Defendants’ attempts to argue otherwise, the reply brief makes clear that the Second Circuit, in a series of decisions culminating in the Apartheid litigation opinion, has adopted “the most restrictive rules governing ATS liability.” These rules conflict with Supreme Court decisions, other circuits’ rulings, and basic principles of international law. The Supreme Court needs to take up these essential and timely issues, which are the most important ones facing current and future ATS litigation.
May 27, 2016
Dear Class of 2016,
First of all: CONGRATULATIONS! YOU MADE IT!
Secondly, we want to send a special congratulations to Katie King, whose tireless work with our partners in South Africa on the right to education earned her the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. And to the many clinical students who gave more than 1,000 hours of pro bono work during their time at HLS: Chike Achebe, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, Lauren Blodgett, Daniel Carpenter-Gold, Mira Chernick, Carson Cook, Rebecca Donaldson, Michelle Ha, Anna E. Joseph, Brian Closterboer, Liz Loftus, Lindsay Mullett, Courtney D. Paterson, Brittany Reid, Ariel Simms, Peter Stavros, Matt Thiman, Jillian Wagman, Noorulain Zafar, and Ye H. Zhang.
Lastly, if we missed you at yesterday’s commencement party, here’s what we would have told you: Thank you. Thank you for bringing not just your intelligence into our community, but your curiosity, your openness, and your kindness as well. The heart part is really important to us, and your class had it in spades.
So this is our wish for you, Class of 2016: wherever you choose to go in this world, and whatever you choose to do, may you find good luck and love. And as often as possible, may you give as much as you get.
And now, for scenes from our annual commencement party with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and the Food Law and Policy Clinic, with big thanks to Lucy, Gabbie and Katherine for organizing!
May 25, 2016
Today at Class Day, we had the great honor of watching our colleague Gabriela Gonzalez Follett rise before the Class of 2016 and accept the Suzanne Richardson Staff Appreciation Award. It was a beautiful sight to see, second only to the sound of her voice as she gave a speech that moved many in the audience to tears.
The Suzanne Richardson Staff Award is given each year to a member of the staff who demonstrates commitment to the student experience and concern for students’ lives and work at the Law School. The Class of 2016 selected Gabriela (Gabbie) as the recipient of this year’s award for her work “around the clock to make sure that students are having an optimally enriching educational experience at HLS.”
We’ll bring you the video of Gabbie’s speech on Friday, but wanted to leave you with her powerful words for now. Thank you, Gabbie, on behalf of the Human Rights Program, for making our world stronger, kinder, and infusing it with hope.
Full text of Gabbie’s speech below:
“Imagine: Imagine a small notebook, about the size of your hand. Now imagine yourself clenching the book, the edges frayed from your sweaty palms. You sit in a crowded train, close your eyes, and try to memorize the words scribbled in that small notebook that you clench. They are your code. The third language you are learning. Erudite, pedagogy, macrocosm, amend- if you memorize words like these, no one will find out you are an other. If you study how other people say them, these words will protect you from being perceived as irrelevant, not worthy, like you don’t belong.
Cariña, (sweetheart), you tell yourself, calmate, (breathe). And you take comfort in the sweet melody of Eryka Badu ringing in your ears.
This was my routine, every morning, when I first took a job as a program assistant at Harvard Law School. That small book that you all imagined in your hand was my survival kit at the time, my guide to Harvard Law School.
I grew up just across the river from this law school, in Dorchester, but it was a world away. As a girl, it was a wonderful world, with street Double Dutch, Sunday church gatherings, and scavenging for change with my twin to buy blue slushies at Tedeschi. But over time, I learned to avoid questions that would unveil my upbringing. People tend to shift uncomfortably when you tell them you grew up in Dorchester, a neighborhood some only know for the media’s coverage of its crime.
When I’d tell people what my mom did for a living, there was often an awkward silence that would loom until they’d switch to a topic like the weather. You know when you’re in a clothing store, and you’re finished trying things on, and you hand the clothes you don’t want to the employee working there? That employee was my mom at the Macy’s bra section in Downtown Crossing. I was proud that my mother had that job—that she had found the courage and motivation to apply for work that wasn’t so exhausting. That she no longer had to get down on her knees on the night shift to scrub the floor at Boston Medical Center.
As her daughter, I saw her power, wisdom, and magic every day, but when I would mention my mother’s job to others outside Dorchester, they responded as if I had admitted something embarrassing. Over time, I became timid and silent. It felt as though the way the world saw my mother was perhaps how Harvard Law School saw me – unintelligent by its standard, someone who did not know the right words.
And so, when I was hired at the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, I bought a small black book and began to fill it with words.
And then I got caught. A student in this audience today, someone from my hometown neighborhood, heard me using some of those words and asked me: Why are you talking like that? And it got me thinking: Why do I feel ashamed of where I came from? Why do I give these words the power to define my voice? I knew my voice was strong and true; I’d used it in the college admissions process to advocate for students of color from the Bronx. I’d used it to campaign for gender justice at the Women’s Center at the University of Vermont. And I’d used it to speak out here in Boston against the Olympic Games coming to Dorchester and further gentrifying my neighborhood.
But at Harvard Law School, that voice was gone. And I didn’t know how to get it back.
Until one day, when the HLS community had gathered to talk about systemic racism, and another student graduating today, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, stood up to talk. All semester, she’d seen beyond the recommendation letters I was filing and the events I was organizing to ask my opinions on current events and racial justice. She’d encouraged me to post on Socratic Shortcomings, a blog created by students of color to share stories about identity and diversity at HLS. She showed me that my voice mattered. Now there she was, standing up in front of several hundred of her peers and teachers, advocating for staff to be included in discussions and decision-making about how to improve HLS for people of color.
At that moment, I set aside all my fear about showing my true self and stood up to speak without using any of the words in my book. I haven’t looked back since. So I want to take time out to thank those two students right now for inspiring me to use my own voice, and my own words, for what I feel is right.
In Reclaim Harvard Law, the school-wide movement committed to racial justice, I found my people. In that space, I didn’t have to take out my little black book. I brought my true voice. So did everyone else. It was an organic, improvised kind of learning. We read articles, watched plays, heard poetry, and discussed how to apply radical theories to our daily lives. It was beautiful.
It started with struggle, and the struggle continues—but at the heart of it all, it is about love and community, for people on campus now and in years to come.
The magical Maya Angelou once said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Thank you, Class of 2016—and most specifically, Reclaim Harvard Law—for making me feel like I mattered, beyond my job description. Thank you for challenging me to let go of the assumption I’d made about you all—that you were privileged people who would define my worth by how many of the words I knew (and pronounce correctly) in my little black book.
Those assumptions had been in place for years. And you managed to dismantle them in the space of a semester. If you can do that in a semester, think of what you can do by listening to, and valuing, the voices of everyone around you—the people who don’t know the words in the book. The people who have different kinds of knowledge, knowledge that comes from immigrating from Bogotá to Boston, working the night shift to support four children, and raising those children to stand up on a stage at Harvard Law School and speak in their own true voice. My mother and I never thought that knowledge would be valued. Thank you, Class of 2016, for saying with this award that it is.
May 20, 2016
Posted by Cara Solomon and Tyler Giannini
The International Human Rights Clinic had the great honor last month of hosting a three-day workshop in Yangon for some of the leading women advocates in Myanmar- all of them pioneers in their various fields, and all of them pushing for change. The training, facilitated by The Op-Ed Project, focused on voice and messaging in the media’s opinion sections, where women’s bylines are too rarely found.
The title of the workshop: “Write to Change the World.”
Below, some images from those three days, with thanks and appreciation for what these women have done to strengthen the world already, and what they will surely do in the decades to come.
May 19, 2016
Posted by Gehan Gunatilleke, LLM '10
Seven years ago on this day, the civil war in Sri Lanka came to a brutal end. Since then, a national conversation on transitional justice has gathered momentum, with the current government expected to fulfill its international commitments to establish mechanisms on truth, justice and reparations. As it does so, it will be confronted with a recurring claim advanced by certain actors within the state. Their claim is that the ‘Sri Lankan approach’ to transitional justice is based on ‘forgiving’ and ‘forgetting’.
My own experience as a lawyer and researcher in Sri Lanka has prompted me to reflect on this claim. These reflections inspired “Confronting the Complexity of Loss”, an introspective study that tests this claim by examining the views and opinions of 45 victims and survivors of human rights atrocities from across the ethnic and religious divide. In some ways, its conclusion—that Sri Lankans often differ on fundamental questions of truth seeking, memorialization and accountability—makes intuitive sense.
Imagine, for example, a family around a dinner table grieving the death of a loved one in a DUI incident. We would not expect them to cope in the identical manner. We would not expect them to uniformly forgive the offender, nor unanimously demand his punishment. Some disagreement around that table would hardly surprise us. If we can conceive of a single family producing such diverse views, should we then reduce Sri Lankan victims and survivors to a single narrative?
I started asking these questions early on in my career when I represented victims in cases involving torture, detention and custodial death in Sri Lanka. In one particular case in 2008, I represented the wife of a man who died in the custody of the police. She wanted to know the truth about what happened to her husband. Despite police intimidation and her own family’s discouragement, she sought justice in the form of a declaration that her husband’s fundamental rights had been violated. Her resolute demand for truth and justice left a lasting impression on me, and influenced my understanding of Sri Lankan attitudes to truth and justice.
A year later, as a student in the International Human Rights Clinic, I focused mainly on the rights of detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. That work challenged me once again to reflect on the diversity of victim and survivor narratives. Continue Reading…
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