May 25, 2016

Class of 2016 Celebrates HRP’s Gabriela Gonzalez Follett with its Staff Appreciation Award

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:

Gabbie

In her speech, Gabriela Gonzalez Follett, described her mother, Nohra, as having wisdom, power and magic that others did not always see.

“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.

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May 20, 2016

Video Slideshow: “Women’s Voices Matter” in Myanmar

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.

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May 19, 2016

Alumni Perspective: Confronting the Complexity of Loss in Sri Lanka

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’.

ConftontingImageMy 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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May 12, 2016

Clinical Advocacy Fellow Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, Promoted to Clinical Instructor

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

Today, we in the International Human Rights Clinic are excited to announce that Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, has been promoted to clinical instructor at Harvard Law School.

I first met Anna when she was an LLM student in my disarmament seminar and a member of my cluster munition clinical team.  I knew right away she was someone special.  She stood out from her peers, impressing me with both her intellect and her character.  Four and a half years later, she continues to impress me on a daily basis.

Anna Crowe

Anna Crowe

Since Anna returned to the Clinic as a fellow in 2014, she has demonstrated a gift for teaching and a commitment to promoting human rights and international humanitarian law. She has trained clinical students in the skills of our field, earning their respect and inspiring them to perform at the highest levels.  She has published multiple reports in the areas of disarmament, privacy, and refugees, all of which have had real advocacy impact.  Outside of the Clinic, she has mentored members of HLS Advocates and collaborated with some of our visiting fellows.

Anna has also been a great friend and colleague to me and the rest of the Clinic.

I could go on and on about all that Anna has brought to our community, but suffice it to say, the Human Rights Program is thrilled that she will be around for the coming years.

Congratulations, Anna!

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April 27, 2016

Shining a Light on the Right to Privacy: Surveillance in Venezuela and Zimbabwe

 

Since the 2013 Snowden revelations, media and civil society groups have closely scrutinized U.S. surveillance and intelligence sector law and policy, generating wide-ranging domestic and international debates on privacy, security, and the limits of state power. Less scrutinized, however, are the surveillance and intelligence sector policies and practices of countries that wield little international influence, but whose governments exercise significant control over citizens’ ability to communicate privately and speak freely.

Two such countries, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, are the subject of reports the International Human Rights Clinic and its partners recently submitted to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The joint reports document serious challenges to the right to privacy in both countries, including inadequate legal and policy frameworks on surveillance and intelligence gathering that are compounded by the absence of a strong and independent judiciary. These reports will ultimately help the United Nations Human Rights Council evaluate the human rights situation in both countries through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The Clinic report on Venezuela, co-authored with Privacy International and Venezuelan non-profit Acceso Libre, notes a number of concerning developments since the country’s human rights situation was last assessed through the UPR in 2011: for example, the government has encouraged the emergence of “patriotas cooperantes” (cooperating patriots), anonymous informers who feed information to government officials about the activities of perceived government opponents. In a striking example of this practice, in February 2016 Reuters reported on the case of Rodolfo Gonzalez, who was arrested in April 2014 by intelligence agents and accused of masterminding protests against Venezuela’s President. The arrest was allegedly based on an audio recording provided by a cooperating patriot, in which Gonzalez discussed “destabilising actions” against the government. For nearly a year, Gonzalez was held in a facility operated by Venezuela’s major civilian intelligence agency while he waited for trial; he hanged himself in March 2015.

Similarly, in Zimbabwe, although the country’s new constitution (enacted in 2013) explicitly protects the right to privacy, the Clinic report, co-authored with Privacy International, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, and the Digital Society of Zimbabwe, finds this promise has not translated into protection for privacy in law or practice since Zimbabwe’s last review through the UPR in 2011. Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, presides over a notoriously partisan and secretive intelligence sector that is virtually unconstrained by law. Government officials have, in fact, boasted about the intelligence sector’s vast and unchecked surveillance capabilities: in 2014, a senior government Minister stated that the government “sees everything . . . No-one can hide from us in this country,” adding, “we will visit your bedrooms and expose what you will be doing.” Leaked documents released by Al Jazeera last year showed that Zimbabwe’s most significant intelligence agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation, developed a “joint action plan” in 2011 with a South African intelligence agency that included as one of its objectives “to monitor activities aimed at subverting [the] constitutional order,” a task that involved the “identification, profiling, and assessment of NGOs engaged in subversive activities.”

The Clinic reports also find that the laws governing communications surveillance in Venezuela and Zimbabwe fall short of international human rights standards articulated in the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, principles developed primarily by a coalition of civil society organizations, including Privacy International, in 2013. Additionally, the reports note the establishment of extensive databases containing personal information and a variety of other data collection activities that threaten the right to privacy in both countries. For example, both countries require cellphone companies to collect an array of personal information about their customers and the communications flowing through their networks, measures that are becoming commonplace across the globe, but which facilitate surveillance and undermine individuals’ ability to communicate anonymously.

In their reports, the Clinic and its partners offer a variety of recommendations, including, in both countries, to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and reform the legal frameworks governing surveillance and the intelligence sector. Venezuela and Zimbabwe will be reviewed through the UPR in Fall 2016.

Note: Fabiana Pardi Otamendi, LL.M ’16, Josiah Kollmeyer, JD ’17, Amanda MacFarlane, JD ’17, and MacKennan Graziano, JD ’17, worked on the reports in the Clinic in Fall 2015.

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April 25, 2016

Alumni Perspective: Tobacco Control is a Global Human Rights Imperative

Posted by Melinda Kuritzky, JD’13 and Nick Renzler, JD’12

When it comes to tobacco, twenty-first century America is very different from the smoke-filled haze that seemed to define much of the twentieth. In today’s United States, smoking rates are at an all-time low, teenagers are no longer confronted with positive messaging about smoking from the adults or advertisements around them, and “smoking sections” at restaurants are all but obsolete.

As millennials growing up in this era, and in this country, we thought the war against tobacco was won, thanks to the tireless efforts of activists, lawyers and public health experts who came before us.

Then we joined a team of lawyers led by Paul Reichler at Foley Hoag LLP seeking to defend Uruguay’s tobacco control regulations against claims brought by Philip Morris International, a multinational tobacco company. That’s when we realized tobacco companies were active as ever: they had simply shifted their marketing focus away from the U.S. and toward exporting the addiction elsewhere—primarily to low and middle-income countries.

To a certain extent, they have succeeded: tobacco consumption kills roughly six million people every year. It remains one of the biggest threats to global public health. But the public health community has fought back, most visibly with a 2003 global tobacco control treaty passed under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). The treaty encourages countries to enact tough new tobacco control measures to protect their citizens’ right to health—measures the tobacco industry has challenged at every turn, using international trade and investment law to sue governments that seek to limit their marketing power.

Such is the case with Uruguay, which historically has struggled with some of the highest smoking rates in South America. After it ratified the WHO treaty, Uruguay became one of the most progressive governments in the tobacco control arena, instituting a marketing ban on brand variants, a deceptive tool used by tobacco companies to falsely suggest that certain variants are less harmful than others. The government also required large, graphic warning labels on every package—80% of the front and back of the package.

True to form, Philip Morris hit back hard with a claim against the government, arguing that Uruguay’s ban on brand variants and its requirement of larger warning labels violated a 1991 treaty that provides certain protections for investments between Uruguay and Switzerland, where the company is headquartered. Philip Morris also claimed that, in cases related to tobacco control measures, Uruguay has denied the company justice in its domestic courts.

After a lengthy exchange of written pleadings and documents, Uruguay presented its oral arguments in this bellwether case last October during a two-week arbitral hearing. Responding to Philip Morris’ claims, we argued, among other points, that there is a human right to health, enshrined in instruments to which both Uruguay and Switzerland are party, and that Uruguay, as a sovereign State, has both the right and duty, in the exercise of its police powers, to protect public health by adoption of reasonable regulatory measures, like the ones challenged by Philip Morris.

From our perspective, the right to protect public health argument seemed uncontestable: tobacco is the only legal consumer product that kills half of its regular users when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer. Indeed, we asserted, it is Uruguay’s duty to enact bona fide, non-discriminatory measures to protect the public against these harms. Given the tobacco epidemic and its damage, it would be irresponsible for governments to do otherwise.

Moreover, because of Big Tobacco’s well-known tactics to obstruct meaningful and effective tobacco regulation (including pursuing the very case we are defending, and others like it), governments should take this right and duty seriously, enacting strong regulation that untangles the web of harm created by decades of tobacco industry deceit.

As Harold Hongju Koh, a member of our legal team, made clear in a recent Harvard Law School talk with his brother, Dr. Howard Kyongju Koh, tobacco control must be viewed as a public health and human rights imperative. Now it is up to the World Bank ICSID Tribunal, which is expected to release its decision in the Uruguay case later this year, to weigh in.

VIDEO BELOW: The Koh brothers’ talk, “Global Tobacco Control as a Public Health and Human Rights Imperative,” on April 4, 2016 at Harvard Law School. For an incisive take on the Uruguay case, and others like it, see comedian John Oliver’s segment on tobacco industry tactics using international trade and investment law that aired last year.

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April 21, 2016

TODAY: Screening and Discussion of “No Más Bebés”

April 21, 2016

“No Más Bebés”:

A Film Screening and Discussion with Renee Tajima-Peña

4:00- 7:00 p.m.
Wasserstein 1010

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required here.

13._22end_forced_sterilization22_-_1970s_protest_with_child_-_alva_helms_photographer_copy

Photo credit: Alva Helms

Please join us for a film screening and discussion of No Más Bebés, which tells the story of a landmark event in reproductive justice, when a small group of Mexican immigrant women sued county doctors, the state, and the U.S. government after they were pushed into sterilizations while giving birth at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s.

This screening will be followed by a discussion with Harvard University alumnus and Director, Renee Tajima-Peña. Professor Tajima-Peña is an Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker whose films on immigration, race and social issues include Who Killed Vincent Chin?My America…or Honk if You Love BuddhaLabor WomenThe New Americans, and Calavera Highway. She is currently the Director of the Center of EthnoCommunications at UCLA, where she is a professor and holds an endowed chair in Japanese American Studies.

This event was organized by the Asian American Studies Working Group and the Latina/o Studies Working Group in EMR, and co-sponsored by Observatory of the Instituto Cervantes, The Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and SexualityThe Latino Medical Student Association, and The Harvard Chan Women, Gender and Health Interdisciplinary Concentration

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April 20, 2016

TODAY, April 20: “Human Rights, UN Millennium Development Goals, and Federal Prosecutions in Brazil”

RaquelApril 20, 2016

“Human Rights, UN Millennium Development Goals,

and Federal Prosecutions in Brazil”

A talk by Raquel Ferreira Dodge, Subprosecutor-General of the Republic, Federal Prosecutor’s Office, Brazil

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

 

What if prosecutorial priorities were expressly oriented toward the promotion of human rights and development? Might that alter the typical targets of law enforcement? Please join us for a discussion with Raquel Ferreira Dodge, Subprosecutor-General of the Republic, Federal Prosecutor’s Office, Brazil, on the efforts of the Coordination and Review Chamber on Crime and Police Oversight of the Brazilian Federal Prosecutor’s Office (Ministério Público Federal) to link prosecutions more clearly to human rights promotion and the attainment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Organized by the Brazilian Studies Association at Harvard Law School, La Alianza, the Women’s Law Association, Students for Inclusion, and the Human Rights Program.

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April 15, 2016

Alumni Perspective: “Cleaning up the ‘dirty little secrets’ of research ethics”

Posted by Deval Desai, LLM '09

The following piece, co-authored with Rebecca Tapscott, reflects on a recent roundtable at the International Studies Association in Atlanta with four experts in conducting qualitative research in fragile contexts: clinical director Tyler Giannini; peace and conflict specialists Alain Lempereur and Mareike Schomerus, and development policy expert Alex Berg. The piece originally ran on April 11 on the World Bank’s blog.

For policymakers, fragility and conflict are one of the 21st century’s key development challenges. Fragility is by definition heterogeneous and contextual—which is why qualitative research is such a good tool to help us understand exactly why “there” is so messed up, and what we could or should do to fix it. And so, perhaps logically, we—primarily young, western, tertiary-educated men and women—are doing more and more research. The more research we do, the more professional we become, as we build a core set of skills (i.e. methodologies) to explain the complexity of “there”—its war, crisis, and corruption—to the policymakers who want to fix (i.e. govern) it.

But what if the simple act of doing such research is also an act of governance? What if, when we go there to ask people to tell us their stories, they understand that our questions about security, or health, or livelihoods are just a step in a chain that ends with recommendations for—or against—blue helmets, food aid, or regime change? What if our power to ask questions of research subjects is predicated upon the inflexible idea that “there” is deviant and must be fixed?

These are not new issues. But their context has changed, and thus so have the ways we must think about them. As research has intensified, the practice of doing research has professionalized. At the same time, its ethical norms have not. When it comes to ethics, we continue to vest power in the individual researcher and her sense of what is right: she decides how much to focus on researcher positionality; how much of her research she should bring back to her research subjects; how and when to use her research to speak truth to power. If she is stymied, she can rail against the individual policymakers who haven’t listened to her work, or she can critique them with a theoretical lament about global structures of knowledge and power. These trade-offs allow the researcher to remain simultaneously noble and unaccountable. They are sometimes described as “dirty little secrets”, a phrase which reflects their individual and back-stage nature.

However, as “we” become more professional, there is precedent to revise the terms of these questions. The language of individual choice and structural critique could be replaced by something more systemic, committing us to our role within a class of people who actively participate in processes that govern fragile states. What might this alternative look like?

A few weeks ago, we discussed these very questions in a roundtable at the International Studies Association in Atlanta, with four experts in conducting qualitative research in fragile contexts: peace and conflict specialists Alain Lempereur and Mareike Schomerus, development policy expert Alex Berg, and human rights lawyer, Tyler Giannini. All shared a sense that the relationship between research and politics is hard, and requires a researcher to be self-reflexive about his or her role in the exercise of power in fragile states without succumbing to navel-gazing inaction.

Alain, Mareike, and Alex highlighted many of the challenges inherent in the relationship between the policymaker and the qualitative researcher. They discussed how they’ve decided when to play the role of researcher, and when to don the policymaker’s hat; how to balance the need to tell important stories with the concomitant costs to the stories’ characters (for example, the sunk costs of participating in research, or in some circumstances, political or social costs incurred from associating with a western researcher); and negotiating whether, as a researcher, we are using our subjects—or they are using us.

Tyler presented another view. He told us about how the field of human rights has evolved over the past two decades:

“Human rights names and shames as its core methodology. There is a lot of qualitative storytelling, which has moved onto social media… Increasingly, there’s a call for data and evidence… But our methods [as lawyers] are [sometimes] constrained by [the legal profession’s ethical code]. Above all, we have to first work for the client; and second, we have to have a good faith complaint [for cases]. This is very different from “research mode”. [In a recent project] we had no [plausible] venue to bring a complaint. [Yet] we compiled 1,000 pages of affidavits. These are formal documents—it’s above and beyond taking notes from interviews—the standard is higher. 1,000 pages seemed like a lot, we thought it would make an impression. We wouldn’t have done that 20 years ago.”

Continue Reading…

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April 14, 2016

Myanmar: Investigate Use of Excessive Force Against Letpadan Protesters


Press release


Myanmar: Investigate Use of Excessive Force Against Letpadan Protesters

Hold perpetrators accountable, amend peaceful assembly law


(Yangon, April 14, 2016)—While welcoming the Government of Myanmar’s recent release of political prisoners, Fortify Rights and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic urged authorities today to open a formal investigation into the violent police crackdown against protesters in March 2015 in Letpadan.

The Letpadan protesters were among nearly 200 political prisoners that the recently elected Government of Myanmar—led by the National League for Democracy (NLD)—either pardoned or dropped charges against on April 8. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi announced on her second day in office a plan to free political prisoners, activists, and students in the weeks surrounding the Buddhist New Year holiday. According to human rights groups, more than 100 political prisoners remain behind bars.

“After spending more than a year in prison for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, the Letpadan protesters are finally free,” said Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Their courage and tenacity is an example to human rights defenders across the world. We commend the government for prioritizing their release and urge the authorities to take swift action to hold perpetrators accountable.”

In October 2015, Fortify Rights and the Clinic at Harvard Law School published an 81-page report documenting how Myanmar police officers punched, kicked, and beat unarmed protesters with batons on their heads, backs, and legs at Letpadan on March 10, 2015. Hundreds of photographs and dozens of videos from journalists and other witnesses show police officers beating unarmed protesters. Still, more than a year later, the authorities have failed to hold anyone responsible for the use of excessive force.

In January 2016, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), the Letpadan Justice Committee, and Justice Trust released a briefing paper detailing how Myanmar authorities repeatedly delayed the trials of students arrested at Letpadan and denied them access to adequate medical treatment while in prison.

In addition to investigating the abuses, Fortify Rights and the Clinic at Harvard Law School called for the government to hold police officers responsible for using excessive force against protesters. The government should investigate commanders and officials who gave orders to use excessive force or failed to take reasonable measures to prevent such conduct.

“Releasing these protesters and dropping the charges against them is a positive and historic step,” said Tyler Giannini, Director of the Clinic at Harvard Law School. “We look forward to the government upholding its promise to follow the rule of law by investigating and holding perpetrators to account.”

The October 2015 report makes clear that not all police officers at the scene in March 2015 participated in violence. Some police officers used riot shields or their own bodies to protect protesters from attack by other police officers, providing further evidence of the unjustified use of force by some officers. Fortify Rights and the Clinic urged the authorities to highlight commendable police action in any investigation.

The protests in Letpadan stemmed from the September 2014 passage of the National Education Law, which critics said failed to protect the right to form unions and failed to accommodate ethnic communities, among other alleged shortcomings. Protesters in Myanmar took to the streets in January 2015 and continued to march in various locations throughout the country over the next several months.

Many of the Letpadan protesters faced charges under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which requires prior authorization or consent for assemblies and provides penalties of fines and imprisonment for failure to comply, infringing on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Fortify Rights and the Clinic at Harvard Law School encourage the NLD Government to repeal or amend the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law to bring it in line with international standards and to prevent it from being used to target human rights defenders.

For more information, please contact:

Matthew Smith, Executive Director, Fortify Rights +1.202.503.8032,
matthew.smith@fortifyrights.org; Twitter: @matthewfsmith @FortifyRights, www.fortifyrights.org

Tyler Giannini, Director, Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic: +1-617-496-7368,
giannini@law.harvard.edu; Twitter: @HmnRghtsProgram

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