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September 13, 2018
Clinic Releases Joint Briefing Papers on Refugee Freedom of Movement and Business Documentation in Kakuma, Kenya
Posted by Anna Crowe
The International Human Rights Clinic and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Kenya released two briefing papers today highlighting the importance of freedom of movement and business documentation for refugees living in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp and the associated Kalobeyei settlement. Kakuma and Kalobeyei are home to close to 186,000 refugees, and Kakuma camp itself is one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
Under Kenyan law, all refugees are required to live in and remain within designated refugee camps – to leave a camp without permission is a criminal offence. “Supporting Kakuma’s Refugees: The Importance of Freedom of Movement” explores the ways in which movement restrictions affect the lives and livelihoods of Kakuma’s refugees and limit their opportunities to participate in the local economy and Kenyan society. It seeks to encourage local and national actors to consider alternatives to Kenya’s current encampment policy and rethink existing practices around the temporary movement regime in place in the camps, which refugees described as opaque, arbitrary, and unpredictable.
Formal work and employment opportunities are largely inaccessible to Kakuma’s refugees, and most rely on humanitarian assistance as their primary form of support. Nonetheless, Kakuma has a thriving informal economy and a sizeable number of refugees run informal businesses there, providing goods and services to other refugees, as well as the local community. “Supporting Kakuma’s Refugee Traders: The Importance of Business Documentation in an Informal Economy” focuses on refugees running businesses in the camp and their experiences obtaining mandatory local government-issued business permits. It aims to contribute to ongoing discussions on how to ensure that business permit practices help refugees to safely run businesses and support refugees to exercise their right to work.
The briefing papers are part of a longer-term collaboration with NRC, which in 2017 included examining the documentation challenges refugees living in Nairobi face. Clinic students Haroula Gkotsi JD’19, Niku Jafarnia JD’19, Alexandra Jumper JD‘18, Daniel Levine-Spound JD’19, Julius Mitchell JD’19, and Sara Oh JD’19 worked on the briefing papers, including through desk research and fieldwork.
September 11, 2018
Emily Nagisa Keehn Co-Authors Case Study on Reducing Overcrowding in South African Detention Facility
Emily Nagisa Keehn, Associate Director of the Academic Program, has recently co-authored an article with Ariane Nevin from Sonke Gender Justice on human rights advocacy to reduce overcrowding in South African incarceration facilities and its relationship to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other health outcomes. Part of a research series under the Evidence for HIV Prevention in Southern Africa (EHPSA) initiative, the case study focuses on advocacy and impact litigation directed at Pollsmoor Remand Detention Facility, one of South Africa’s most notoriously crowded and inhumane detention facilities and where Nelson Mandela was previously incarcerated and developed tuberculosis. Keehn and Nevin place the attempt to reduce overcrowding within the broader landscape of criminal justice reform in South Africa.
Pollsmoor Remand houses people awaiting trial and sentencing; it has experienced acute overcrowding since the early 2000s, with its occupancy spiking over 300% capacity. As the coauthors state:
“In 2015, after years of lobbying to reduce overcrowding and in the face of inertia on the part of policymakers and legislators, civil society escalated its advocacy and mounted a constitutional challenge in the Western Cape High Court with the case, Sonke Gender Justice v. the Government of South Africa.
In 2016, the judge ruled against the government and made a historic order to reduce occupancy to 150% of its capacity over a six-month period. By February 2017, the Department of Correctional Services…had already taken steps to reduce overcrowding at the facility from 252% to 174%…This case study describes the complex change process that enabled this reform and the contributions of different forms of advocacy by key actors.”
This paper is part of the series Included! How change happened for key populations for HIV prevention, commissioned by EHPSA to Sonke Gender Justice. EHPSA is a multi-country research initiative that examines HIV prevention in incarcerated populations, adolescents, and men who have sex with men. The full series of nine case studies and a discussion paper is available on the EHPSA website.
September 10, 2018
12:00- 1:00 p.m.
Join us for pizza and an overview of the Human Rights Program and how you can get involved! We’ll give you information on our International Human Rights Clinic; summer funding for human rights internships; post-graduate fellowships; events and conferences; and the larger human rights community at Harvard Law School. Then it’s your turn: mix and mingle with instructors from the Clinic, Visiting Fellows from the Academic Program, as well as representatives from student groups focused on human rights, such as HLS Advocates for Human Rights.
September 7, 2018
TODAY: Facebook Live Q&A on Myanmar with Professor Tyler Giannini, Lecturer Yee Htun, and Paras Shah, JD’19
Drop by our Facebook today at 2:30 pm EDT for a Facebook Live Q&A with HRP and IHRC Co-Director and Clinical Professor of Law Tyler Giannini and Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor Yee Htun. Clinical student Paras Shah, JD’19, will interview Giannini and Htun on the recent international conversation around Myanmar, focusing on the International Criminal Court ruling yesterday on its jurisdiction over the Rohingya deportations from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
Learn more about the Clinic’s previous work on Myanmar here.
September 7, 2018
With the semester start, we’d like to extend the warmest welcome to our new staff! We have four new members of the International Human Rights Clinic. Read below to learn more about them and make sure you swing by to introduce yourself.
Thomas Becker is a Clinical Instructor at the Human Rights Program. He is an attorney and activist who has spent most of the past decade working on human rights issues in Bolivia. As a student at Harvard Law School, he was the driving force behind launching Mamani v. Sanchez de Lozada, a lawsuit against Bolivia’s former president and defense minister for their role in the massacre of indigenous peasants. After graduating, he moved to Bolivia, where he has worked with the survivors for over a decade. This spring, Becker and his co-counsel obtained a $10 million jury verdict for family members of those killed in “Black October,” marking the first time a living ex-president has been held accountable in a U.S. court for human rights violations. The verdict was overturned by a federal judge and is currently being appealed in the Eleventh Circuit of Appeals. Becker’s human rights work has included investigating torture and disappearance of Adavasis in India, documenting war crimes in Lebanon, and serving as a nonviolent bodyguard for the Zapatista guerrillas in Chiapas, Mexico. When he is not practicing law, Becker is an award-winning musician and songwriter who has recorded with Grammy-winning producers and toured throughout the world as a drummer and guitarist.
Amelia Evans is an international human rights lawyer and an expert on business and human rights. She co-founded MSI Integrity in 2012 and continues to spearhead its development. Amelia has investigated and reported on business and human rights-related issues in a number of countries, most particularly in the Central African and Asia-Pacific regions. Previously, she was the Global Human Rights Fellow at Harvard Law School and was a clinical supervisor at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. She also clerked at the New Zealand Court of Appeal, and worked at the Crown Law Office in New Zealand and the Victoria Government Solicitor’s Office in Australia. Amelia obtained her LL.M. from Harvard Law School, and LL.B. (Hons.) and B.C.A. (Economics and Finance) from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Amelia also works on nonfiction / documentary film projects.
Emma Golding is the Program Assistant for the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. Prior to joining the Clinic, she worked in research administration at Boston Children’s Hospital. She has also spent time as an editorial assistant, faculty assistant, legal secretary, bartender, waitress, hostess, busser, catering manager, circus performer, au pair, natural history & ecology educator, and Audubon Society counselor. She holds a B.A. in Journalism & Political Science from UMass Amherst.
Kelsey is the Program Coordinator for the International Human Rights Clinic. Prior to joining HRP, she worked in the Dean’s Office at Harvard Law School. She holds a B.A. in International Studies and Spanish Language from Emmanuel College in Boston, MA. From 2014-2015 she lived in Athens, Greece while completing a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship Grant. She is currently finishing her master’s in International Relations through Harvard Extension School, and returns to Crete, Greece, each summer to assist with Emmanuel College’s Eastern Mediterranean Security Studies Program.
August 21, 2018
Killer Robots Fail Key Moral, Legal Test
Principles and Public Conscience Call for Preemptive Ban
(Geneva, August 21, 2018) – Basic humanity and the public conscience support a ban on fully autonomous weapons, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Countries participating in an upcoming international meeting on such “killer robots” should agree to negotiate a prohibition on the weapons systems’ development, production, and use.
The 46-page report, “Heed the Call: A Moral and Legal Imperative to Ban Killer Robots,” finds that fully autonomous weapons would violate what is known as the Martens Clause. This long-standing provision of international humanitarian law requires emerging technologies to be judged by the “principles of humanity” and the “dictates of public conscience” when they are not already covered by other treaty provisions.
“Permitting the development and use of killer robots would undermine established moral and legal standards,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at the Clinic. “Countries should work together to preemptively ban these weapons systems before they proliferate around the world.”
The 1995 preemptive ban on blinding lasers, which was motivated in large part by concerns under the Martens Clause, provides precedent for prohibiting fully autonomous weapons as they come closer to becoming reality.
The report was co-published with Human Rights Watch, for which Docherty is a senior arms researcher. Human Rights Watch co-founded and serves as coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.
More than 70 governments will convene at the United Nations in Geneva from August 27 to 31, 2018, for their sixth meeting since 2014 on the challenges raised by fully autonomous weapons, also called lethal autonomous weapons systems. The talks under the Convention on Conventional Weapons, a major disarmament treaty, were formalized in 2017, but they are not yet directed toward a specific goal.
The Clinic and Human Rights Watch urge states party to the convention to agree to begin negotiations in 2019 for a new treaty that would require meaningful human control over weapons systems and the use of force. Fully autonomous weapons would select and engage targets without meaningful human control.
To date, 26 countries have explicitly supported a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons. Thousands of scientists and artificial intelligence experts, more than 20 Nobel Peace Laureates, and more than 160 religious leaders and organizations of various denominations have also demanded a ban. In June, Google released a set of ethical principles that includes a pledge not to develop artificial intelligence for use in weapons.
At the Convention on Conventional Weapons meetings, almost all countries have called for retaining some form of human control over the use of force. The emerging consensus for preserving meaningful human control, which is effectively equivalent to a ban on weapons that lack such control, reflects the widespread opposition to fully autonomous weapons.
The Clinic and Human Rights Watch assessed fully autonomous weapons under the core elements of the Martens Clause. The clause, which appears in the Geneva Conventions and is referenced by several disarmament treaties, is triggered by the absence of specific international treaty provisions on a topic. It sets a moral baseline for judging emerging weapons.
The groups found that fully autonomous weapons would undermine the principles of humanity, because they would be unable to apply either compassion or nuanced legal and ethical judgment to decisions to use lethal force. Without these human qualities, the weapons would face significant obstacles in ensuring the humane treatment of others and showing respect for human life and dignity.
Fully autonomous weapons would also run contrary to the dictates of public conscience. Governments, experts, and the broader public have widely condemned the loss of human control over the use of force.
Partial measures, such as regulations or political declarations short of a legally binding prohibition, would fail to eliminate the many dangers posed by fully autonomous weapons. In addition to violating the Martens Clause, the weapons raise other legal, accountability, security, and technological concerns.
In previous publications, the Clinic and Human Rights Watch have elaborated on the challenges that fully autonomous weapons would present for compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law, analyzed the gap in accountability for the unlawful harm caused by such weapons, and responded to critics of a preemptive ban.
The 26 countries that have called for the ban are: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China (use only), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, the Holy See, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the State of Palestine, Uganda, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which began in 2013, is a coalition of 75 nongovernmental organizations in 32 countries that is working to preemptively ban the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. Docherty will present the report at a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots briefing for CCW delegates scheduled on August 28 at the United Nations in Geneva.
“The groundswell of opposition among scientists, faith leaders, tech companies, nongovernmental groups, and ordinary citizens shows that the public understands that killer robots cross a moral threshold,” Docherty said. “Their concerns, shared by many governments, deserve an immediate response.”
“Heed the Call: A Moral and Legal Imperative to Ban Killer Robots” is available at:
For more Human Rights Watch and International Human Rights Clinic reporting on killer robots, please visit:
For more information on the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, please visit:
For op-eds of the report by Bonnie Docherty, please visit:
Ban ‘Killer Robots’ to Protect Fundamental Moral and Legal Principles, The Conversation
Why We Need a Pre-Emptive Ban on ‘Killer Robots,’ The Huffington Post
For an overview of HRW and IHRC publications on killer robots, please visit:
Reviewing the Record: Reports on Killer Robots
July 13, 2018
During the 2018-2019 academic year, the Human Rights Program will welcome five exemplary human rights practitioners and scholars to Harvard Law School for a semester or year of study on a diverse slate of research topics. Learn more about the visiting fellowship here and see below for details on the incoming cohort.
Dr. Tony Ellis (New Zealand)
Dr Tony Ellis is a New Zealand Human Rights Barrister in Blackstone Chambers. His approach is comparative and international. He holds a doctor of juridical science from La Trobe, an M.Phil from University of Essex, an LL.M. from Victoria University, and an LL.B. from Monash University. Dr. Ellis was President of the New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties for over eight years.
He is the first New Zealand lawyer to have won cases before the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies. His current caseload includes murder appeals, public law cases, and cases where his clients are intellectually disabled. He is currently working on cases involving a death in custody, an extradition to China for homicide, and a torture case involving ECT treatments. In addition, he has a variety of cases pending before the UN Human Rights Committee and UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as a judicial independence case before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
At HRP, his research will focus on the arbitrary detention of the intellectually disabled within an international scope.
Jong Chul Kim (Republic of Korea)
Jong Chul Kim is the founder and program director for the public interest lawyers’ organization, Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL) in Seoul. He holds an LL.M. from Korea Graduate University and an LL.B. from Korea University and obtained his Certificate in Law at the Judicial Research and Training Institute.
His work focuses on the rights of vulnerable migrants in Korea, including refugees, victims of human trafficking, and migrant detainees. He also specializes in business and human rights, and monitors human rights abuses committed by Korean companies overseas. He has conducted field investigations of human rights violations by Korean corporations in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Vietnam. Most recently, with the International Organization on Migration, he conducted field research on the forced labor of Southeast Asian fishermen in Korean fishing vessels. In 2011-2012, he served as chair of the human rights department for the Korean Bar Association. In 2016, the Korean Bar Association awarded Kim with the prize for “Best Public Interest Lawyer.” In 2018, Kim received the Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award from the U.S. State Department.
At HRP, Kim will research the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies’ jurisprudence on the topics of business and human rights and migration, and the extent to which their decisions are implemented.
Sabrina Mahtani (Zambia / U.K.)
Sabrina Mahtani is the OPIA / HRP Wasserstein Fellow for the 2018-2019 year. She is a human rights lawyer from Zambia and the U.K. with over fourteen years’ experience working in the human rights field. She specializes on the rights of women in the criminal justice system in Africa and has prepared cases before domestic, regional, and international courts. Mahtani holds a B.A. in Law and History from University College London and an LL.M. from New York University.
Since 2014, she has worked as a researcher at Amnesty International, leading the organization’s research and advocacy work on Anglophone West Africa. She is currently working on the transitional justice and accountability process. Mahtani is also the founder of the award winning NGO, AdvocAid, which provides access to justice, education, and empowerment for women involved in the criminal justice system in Sierra Leone. She has previously worked at the Special Court for Sierra Leone and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Mahtani was awarded the Amnesty International Gender Defender award, a Vital Voices Lead Fellowship, and the Trainee Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award at the Law Society Junior Lawyers Awards.
At HRP, Mahtani will research African jurisprudence on legal defenses for women who have killed their domestic abusers after prolonged periods of abuse.
Alpha Sesay (Sierra Leone)
Alpha Sesay is an Advocacy Officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), where he works on promoting human rights and the rule of law in Africa. He holds an LL.B. from the University of Sierra Leone and an LL.M from the University of Notre Dame Law School.
Sesay presently co-leads OSJI’s project on strengthening regional human rights mechanisms and focuses on improving implementation processes for decisions of human rights bodies in Africa. Previously, Sesay worked in The Hague as a Legal Officer for OSJI’s International Justice Program, where he monitored the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Sesay has also previously worked with the Special Court for Sierra Leone, is founding president of the Fourah Bay College Human Rights Clinic, and is founding Executive Director of the Sierra Leone Court Monitoring Program. He has worked and consulted with the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, International Center for Transitional Justice and with Human Rights Watch.
At HRP, he will research challenges to and mechanisms to increase the successful implementation of decisions of human rights bodies in Africa.
Dr. Ralph Wilde (U.K.)
Dr. Ralph Wilde is a Reader at University College London’s Faculty of Laws. He holds a Ph.D. and an LL.M. from Cambridge University, a Diploma in European Human Rights Law from the European University Institute, and a B.Sc. from the London School of Economics.
Dr. Wilde is currently engaged in an interdisciplinary research project on the extraterritorial application of international human rights law. His book International Territorial Administration: How Trusteeship and the Civilizing Mission Never Went Away (OUP 2008) was awarded the Certificate of Merit (book prize) of the American Society of International Law in 2009. He previously served on the executive bodies of the American and European Societies of International Law and the International Law Association.
At HRP, Dr. Wilde will work on his monograph on the nature and scope of international human rights law, to be published as part of the Oxford University Press ‘Elements of International Law’ series.
July 3, 2018
Posted by Dana Walters
Debbie Frempong’s time at the International Human Rights Clinic was short – she was here for just 10 months – but during that time she made her mark on the Clinic through her kindness, empathy, and humor.
Debbie, the Clinic assistant, and I, the Program assistant, started our positions at the Law School just a week apart from each other. Throughout her time here, our desks faced one another, and I always knew I could peek over my computer and see her there. We shared laughter with each other just as often as we shared work. I’ll miss her, as we all will, but I’m excited to see what she does next.
Having joined us from the Harvard Divinity School where she received a Masters in Religion, Politics, and Ethics, Debbie is departing the Clinic to further her graduate work at Brown University. There, she’s pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology, specifically researching identity formation among Ghanaian Christian women using postcolonial theory and a transnational racialized framework. There’s no doubt that Debbie’s work will be invaluable to the field, but more so, she’ll be an asset to any future students she encounters in what will be a remarkable academic career. As a critical and passionate thinker, she’s the kind of teacher we’d all be lucky to have.
At the Clinic, Debbie was the sounding board for so many student concerns. She always treated students and visitors with compassion and respect, even when she was knee-deep in organizing classes, events, and conferences. She cared deeply about social justice: an important factor in all of the Clinic’s hiring decisions. At work and outside of it, she was a natural community builder. Having grown up in Ghana and come to the U.S. for school, she volunteered her spare time with an organization that made sure other African expats and immigrants felt welcome in the Boston area.
A few months into her tenure, we discovered something else about Debbie: she’s a virtuoso singer. As her videos became increasingly popular, singing seemed to be but one way of building bridges in the easy way she does. Her powerful voice — in singing, writing, and speaking up for injustice — , her keen listening skills, and her attention to making sure others were heard are but some of the ways Debbie has contributed so much to the Clinic and to our lives. The good news is she’ll be only a short train ride away. That, or a YouTube click.
June 29, 2018
The International Human Rights Clinic, which is part of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, is inviting applications for a Clinical Instructor. The Clinic offers second and third year students, as well as LLM students, the opportunity to work on a variety of timely and complex human rights issues in partnership with clients, civil society organizations, and affected communities around the world, including in the United States. Through supervised practice and intense mentorship, clinical students develop a range of skills necessary to become thoughtful, critical, creative, strategic, and effective human rights advocates.
The Clinical Instructor will be a legally-trained practitioner with at least five years of demonstrated experience in, and commitment to, human rights, including experience training, teaching, or mentoring law students. S/he will join a vibrant community of human rights practitioners and scholars at Harvard Law School. The Clinical Instructor will design, oversee, and execute clinical projects, and supervise and manage student teams. Clinical projects deploy a variety of strategies and methodologies and may include fact-finding investigations and advocacy efforts, human rights reporting, legislative drafting, litigation in national and international fora, media advocacy, policy initiatives, coalition building, and negotiating treaty provisions. Over the course of the term appointment, the Clinical Instructor may also have an opportunity to be appointed a Lecturer on Law and to develop and teach clinical seminars.
The position is expected to begin in early / mid- 2019 and extend through June 2021.
For the full job ad and to apply, please go through the Harvard Jobs Portal.
June 25, 2018
Clinic’s Parliamentary Submission Urges Marshall Islands to Reap Benefits of Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty
Posted by Bonnie Docherty
The Marshall Islands (RMI), which still suffers from the catastrophic effects of 67 U.S. nuclear tests, has much to gain by joining the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
If it became a state party, the RMI would be entitled to new sources of assistance to address the ongoing human and environmental harm caused by nuclear testing. The RMI would also advance the cause of nuclear disarmament, which the country has historically supported, and become a leader among Pacific and affected states.
While some Marshallese are concerned about the TPNW’s ramifications for the Compact of Free Association between the RMI and the United States, the Compact should not be seen as an insurmountable legal obstacle to joining a treaty that would benefit the Marshallese people and their environment.
The RMI’s parliament (Nitjela) has the power to decide whether to sign and ratify the TPNW. Its Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade is currently considering Resolution 46, which would approve those steps. In July 2017, the RMI joined 121 other countries in voting to adopt the TPNW at the United Nations.
In a submission made to the parliamentary committee this week, the Clinic encourages the Nitijela to approve Resolution 46, and the country to sign and ratify the TPNW. The submission details the advantages of joining the treaty for the RMI and shows how the TPNW can be understood as legally compatible with the Compact. The Clinic has also released a more in-depth analysis of the relationship between the TPNW and the Compact.
The TPNW’s provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation, for which the Clinic advocated actively during the treaty’s negotiations, provide the RMI humanitarian incentives become a party. The treaty mandates a range of assistance for affected individuals, including medical care, psychological support, measures to ensure socioeconomic inclusion, and human rights protections. The treaty also requires measures to reduce environmental contamination and exposure to radioactive materials.
The TPNW spreads responsibility for victim assistance and environmental remediation across the countries that are party to the treaty. Affected countries, such as the RMI, bear the responsibility to lead these efforts, but other states parties in a position to do so are required to help them meet their obligations.
While the Compact grants the U.S. “full authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to” the RMI, the Clinic’s analysis finds that the RMI’s obligations under the TPNW and the Compact are not per se contradictory. It emphasizes that the Compact requires the U.S. to “accord due respect” to the RMI’s foreign affairs authority and responsibility for its people’s well-being. If the U.S. sought to block the RMI’s ratification of the TPNW or withhold aid in response, it would be failing to honor its commitment in the Compact to respect the RMI’s sovereign right to act in the interests of its people.
In March 2018, the Clinic visited the RMI to discuss the TPNW with government officials, civil society members, and individuals affected by testing. The Clinic based its conclusions and recommendations on those conversations and a close analysis of the TPNW and the Compact.
In addition to requiring victim assistance and environmental remediation, the TPNW includes comprehensive prohibitions on activities involving nuclear weapons. The TPNW has been signed by 59 countries and ratified by 10. It will enter into force when 50 countries complete their ratification.
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