Close

Contact Us

loading

Human Rights @ Harvard Law

Blog

Blog

October 24, 2014

School Underperformance Reflects Government Underperformance in South Africa

Posted by Elizabeth Loftus, JD '16

In the coming month, all across South Africa, over half a million students will be sitting down to take the National Senior Certificate exam. Some will be sitting at individual desks in state-of-the-art classrooms. But others will be sitting on cinder blocks and at shared desks in buildings that lack water, electricity, and toilets. Wherever they are, students will be taking the same high-stakes test, one that will determine their future. Students who pass will graduate from high school and gain access to higher education opportunities. Students who fail will not. The exam has a broader purpose, as well: the South African government uses pass rates to identify public schools that lag behind national performance standards. Institutions at which less than 60% of students pass the exam are designated “underperforming.” Underperformance trends in the South African school system reveal startling inequalities and show that the Department of Basic Education’s own underperformance in addressing this critical issue is inexcusable.

Following last year’s exam, 1,407 schools across South Africa qualified as underperforming. The poorest performing provinces were the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, which had pass rates 15%-20% lower than those in the majority of other provinces. Nearly half of the schools in the Eastern Cape failed to meet national performance standards. Shortcomings such as poor infrastructure, inadequate materials, overcrowding, and negligent management all suppress success in vulnerable schools. Not coincidentally, underperformance in the education system disproportionately affects learners in the poor, rural, historically black areas of the country.

Indeed, many of today’s challenges troublingly echo conditions of twenty-five years ago, when the legal framework for education existed to perpetuate racially separate and unequal education. Under the apartheid education system, black schools were designed to underperform in comparison to their white counterparts in order to keep black South Africans undereducated and capable of performing only unskilled, low-wage jobs. The measurable effects of this policy were severe: the government spent 10 times more on white schools than it did on black schools; while there were 18 white students per teacher, the ratio in black schools was 39 to 1; the standardized exam passage rate for blacks was less than one-half that of whites. It is shocking how little these figures have changed since the end of apartheid. In a visit to the Eastern Cape in 2013, community-based education NGOs found primary school classrooms with over 50 students and secondary school classes with over 100 students. Some schools have no electricity and lack desks, chairs, textbooks, and library facilities.

The persistent, systemic deficiency in school performance requires a coherent, national policy solution. But, rather than designing a coordinated response, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has largely overlooked underperformance as a problem in and of itself. National guidelines on improving school performance do not exist. At a more basic level, it is unclear that the DBE even fully appreciates the gravity of underperformance since it has failed to comply with monitoring, evaluation and remediation requirements outlined in the governing national legislation, the South African Schools Act (SASA). A recent example of the DBE’s inadequate approach is evident in the comparison of its 2013-2014 yearly action plan with its 2013-2014 year-end review. “Underperforming schools” appeared only twice in the action plan. The year-end review made only general references to underperforming schools, showing little follow-up on the action plan and providing almost no guidance for reform.

Luckily, groups like Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Center (EELC) have turned their attention to the cause and have committed their considerable social resources to drawing others’ attention, as well. In a far-reaching approach, EE and EELC have undertaken a variety of advocacy strategies in Parliament, the court system, communities, and schools. EE has organized policymaker visits to underperforming schools. In 2012, in response to students’ call for help, EE launched litigation to compel authorities to address the dire learning conditions at Moshesh Senior Secondary School in the Eastern Cape. Recently, EE and EELC produced a shadow report for the parliamentary oversight committee on education, pushing the government to hold the DBE accountable for its shortcomings. All of these steps are important in forcing the DBE to acknowledge the problem and meet its obligations, such as those enumerated in the SASA. Only by living up to its own standards can the DBE help schools live up to theirs.

Elizabeth Loftus, JD ‘16, is a student in the International Human Rights Clinic currently working on education-related issues in South Africa, in partnership with EELC. She has previously worked on projects related to South Africa as a member of the Harvard Law and International Development Society.

October 22, 2014

Failure to Prosecute Senior U.S. Government Officials for Torture Violates International Law

Posted by Peter Barnett, LLM '15, Morgan Davis, JD '15, and Deborah Popowski

In preparation for the UN Committee Against Torture’s review of the United States, the International Human Rights Clinic has joined fellow members of the group Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions in submitting a shadow report to the UN Committee. The report documents how the Obama administration is in clear violation of the law by shielding from criminal liability the senior government officials responsible for the post-9/11 US torture program.

It calls on the UN Committee to ask the United States specifically why it has not prosecuted President George Bush (who admitted in his memoir to authorizing the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed); former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo (author of an opinion that purported to legally authorize the waterboarding of a prisoner known as Abu Zubaydah); and former CIA contract psychologist Dr. James Mitchell (reported to have personally waterboarded the prisoner known as Abu Zubaydah).

The report also urges the UN Committee to renew its calls for criminal investigations and prosecution of officials at the highest levels of the chain of command.

More than 100 organizations and individuals across civil society have already signed on to the report. Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions will continue to gather signatures from individuals and organizations to submit to the UN Committee in Geneva; you can sign on here until November 3.

The fact that US officials designed, authorized and implemented an international torture program is beyond credible dispute. President Obama himself has acknowledged that the United States had “tortured some folks.” This torture included near-drowning (“waterboarding”), stress positions, and sleep deprivation. It caused many people intense suffering, including severe mental harm and, in some cases, led to death.

As far back as 2006, when the United States was last under review, the Committee was already urging it to “promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigate any responsibility of senior military and civilian officials authorizing, acquiescing or consenting, in any way, to acts of torture committed by their subordinates.”

In its August 2013 report to the UN Committee, the United States effectively ducked the question of senior-level accountability by providing vague and misleading information about investigations and prosecutions at lower levels of the chain of command.

However, on other occasions, the US government has justified its failure to prosecute brutal tactics by claiming reliance on fundamentally flawed legal advice from Justice Department lawyers. This excuse fails on all fronts. The prohibition against torture is absolute and allows for no such defense. As our report makes clear, the record strongly suggests that the torture began before the legal memos were even written, and that in fact these memos were written to justify a predetermined result – to provide legal cover for conduct that no reasonable human being (let alone a reasonable lawyer) could conclude was lawful.

Meanwhile, both the Bush and Obama administrations have blocked or refused to cooperate with criminal proceedings in foreign courts, and vigorously thwarted attempts at redress in civil courts—arguing, among other things, that detainees did not enjoy the right to be free from torture, and that government employees accused of torture had been acting within the scope of their employment.

The bottom line is no accountability for the US program of torture, no redress or justice for survivors, and an invitation for current and future administrations, in the U.S. and around the world, to torture with impunity.

We urge you to make your voices heard on this critical issue in advance of the Committee’s review on November 13 and 14. Add your signature to our report. Like our Facebook page. Follow the progress of the campaign on Twitter through the hashtag #EndTorture.

Read other shadow reports collected by the US Human Rights Network and submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture here.

 

The shadow report was co-authored by Prof. Ben Davis of the University of Toledo College of Law, psychologist Dr. Trudy Bond, human rights lawyer Curtis Doebbler, and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

October 06, 2014

Coverage of HRP’s 30th Anniversary Event (Video)

Posted by Cara Solomon

Thanks to all who came from near and far to participate in our 30th anniversary event. It was, in a word, tremendous. For those who missed it, you may be interested in Harvard Law School’s coverage, which includes videos of Harold Hongju Koh’s keynote speech; the first panel, on human rights advocacy across the generations; and the second panel, on the future of UN treaty bodies.

We’ve posted a full gallery of photos on our Flickr account (we’re under “humanrightsharvardlaw”). In the meantime, we’ll leave you with some below.

Henrypic2

Henry Steiner, Founder of the Human Rights Program, with Gerald Neuman, co-director of HRP, and Katherine Talbot, Program Associate

ClarandRaymond2

Clara Long, JD ’12, Researcher, US Program of Human Rights Watch, and Raymond Akongburo Atuguba, LL.M ’00, SJD ’04, Executive Secretary to the President of the Republic of Ghana, on a panel about human rights advocacy across the generations.

 Rangita de Silva de Alwis, SJD ’97, Director, Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, Women in Public Service Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and  James A. Goldston, JD ’87, Executive Director, Open Society Justice Initiative, on the human rights advocacy panel

Rangita de Silva de Alwis, SJD ’97, Director, Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, Women in Public Service Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and James A. Goldston, JD ’87, Executive Director, Open Society Justice Initiative, on the human rights advocacy panel

Hope Lewis, JD '86, Faculty Director, Global Legal Studies and Professor of Law at Northeastern University School of Law

Hope Lewis, JD ’86, Faculty Director, Global Legal Studies and Professor of Law at Northeastern University School of Law

Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University School of Law; Gerald Neuman, JD ’80, Director, Human Rights Program, and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, Harvard Law School; and Michael Ashley Stein, JD ’88, Executive Director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability, and Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School discuss the way forward for UN treaty bodies

Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University School of Law; Gerald Neuman, JD ’80, co-director, Human Rights Program, and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, Harvard Law School; and Michael Ashley Stein, JD ’88, Executive Director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability, and Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, discuss the way forward for UN treaty bodies

Clinical professor Tyler Giannini, co-director of the Human Rights Program and co-director of its International Human Rights Clinic, with Assistant Clinical professor Susan Farbstein, co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic

Clinical professor Tyler Giannini, co-director of the Human Rights Program and co-director of its International Human Rights Clinic, with Assistant Clinical professor Susan Farbstein, co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic

Group picture

Group picture for the hardy crowd at the end of the event, with instructions from Henry Steiner for everyone to close their eyes

October 03, 2014

Local Film Series Focuses on Human Rights

Posted by Cara Solomon

For the past few years, we’ve kept an eye on a promising addition to the local film scene: the DocYard, which screens documentaries primarily at the much-beloved Brattle Theater. This autumn, we’re pleased to report the series includes three human rights-focused films, including a showing of “Watchers of the Sky” that we’re co-sponsoring in early November.

eteamBut first up, this Monday, Oct. 6., is “E-Team,” which focuses on four members of the Emergencies Team, the “boots on the ground” division of Human Rights Watch. A panel discussion will follow with filmmaker Ross Kauffman and Carroll Bogert, Deputy Executive Director of External Relations at Human Rights Watch, moderated by Robb Moss, filmmaker and professor of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. The documentary starts at 7 p.m.

Next, on Oct. 20, the series features “Return to Homs,” which follows “the journey of two close friends whose lives had been upended by the battle raging in Syria….When the army cracks down and their beloved city of Homs becomes a bombed-out ghost town, watchers_these two peaceful protesters finally take up arms and transform into rebel insurgents.” After the screening, Robb Moss will ask questions of filmmaker Talal Derki via Skype.

Lastly, on Nov. 8, the Human Rights Program is co-sponsoring a showing of the award-winning film, “Watchers of the Sky,” which focuses on the life of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jew who created the word “genocide.” Following the screening, HLS Dean Martha Minow will participate in a discussion, along with the film’s director, Edet Belzberg, and HLS professors Alex Whiting and Sam Moyn.

Enjoy!

September 29, 2014

Tomorrow, Sept. 30: “Apartheid of the Ahmadis in Pakistan”

September 30, 2014

“Apartheid of the Ahmadis in Pakistan”

A Talk by Pakistani Jurist Mujeeb-ur-Rahman

 

12:00 – 1: 15 p.m.

Wasserstein 2019

Lunch will be served

 

HRP Poster-Mujeeb-ur-Rahmanv2Please join us for a discussion with renowned Pakistani jurist Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, who has been at the forefront of the struggle for religious liberty in Pakistan for five decades. Mr. Rahman has argued scores of human rights cases before the Pakistan Supreme Court, including Zaheeruddin v. State, which legitimized persecution of the Ahmadi Muslim minority by affirming the power of the state to legally define who may call him or herself a Muslim.

 

This event is being co-sponsored by HLS Advocates for Human Rights, Harvard Human Rights Journal, Harvard South Asian Law Students Association, and Ahmadiyya Muslim Lawyers Association USA

September 24, 2014

Tomorrow, Sept. 25: Film Screening and Panel Discussion of “After Tiller”

September 25, 2014

“After Tiller”

A Film Screening and Panel Discussion

5:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Kresge G1 Auditorium
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA

 

Please join the Harvard School of Public Health’s Women, Gender, and Health Interdisciplinary Concentration for an evening screening of the award-winning documentary “After Tiller,” which explores the topic of third-trimester abortions in the wake of the 2009 assassination of practitioner Dr. George Tiller that left behind only four doctors in the United States who perform this procedure. After the screening, HSPH will host a panel discussion.

The Human Rights Program is co-sponsoring this event, along with Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Reproductive Rights; Group on Reproductive Health and Rights; Harvard FAS Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality; IBIS Reproductive Health; Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology; and MIT Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies.

Please RSVP to whi@hsph.harvard.edu.

September 22, 2014

Tonight, Sept. 22: “Gaza, International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights”

September 22, 2014

“Gaza, International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights”

 

6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Wasserstein B010 Singer Classroom
Harvard Law School

 

Please join us for a panel discussion with Harvard faculty: Professor Duncan Kennedy, Harvard Law School; Professor Jennifer Leaning, Harvard School of Public Health; Naz Modirzadeh, Director, Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, Harvard Law School; and moderated by Bonnie Docherty, Senior Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School.

 

This event is being co-sponsored by the Middle East Initiative at the Kennedy School.

September 18, 2014

Tomorrow, Sept. 19: Human Rights Program 30th Anniversary Event

Posted by Cara Solomon

One by one, alumni are streaming in from around the world for the big day: our 30th anniversary event! Details below.

If you can’t make it, don’t worry: we’ll be live streaming it here and live tweeting under the hashtag #HRP30.

 

30th Anniversary of the Human Rights Program

HRP 30th Anniversary Poster2September 19, 2014

When: 12 p.m.

Where: Milstein East B and C

Please join us to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. The keynote speech will be given by Harold Hongju Koh, JD ’80, former Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State, and one of the country’s leading experts in public and private international law, national security law, and human rights.

RSVP: hrp@law.harvard.edu

12 p.m.  Lunch and Keynote Address

Keynote Speaker: Dean Harold Hongju Koh, JD ’80

 

1:15 – 3 p.m.
Panel I: Human Rights Advocacy Across the Generations

Panelists: Rangita de Silva de Alwis, SJD ’97, Director, Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, Women in Public Service Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Clara Long, JD ’12, Researcher, U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch; Raymond Akongburo Atuguba, LL.M ’00, SJD ’04, Executive Secretary to the President of the Republic of Ghana; James A. Goldston, JD ’87, Executive Director, Open Society Justice Initiative; Tyler Giannini, Director, Human Rights Program and Clinical Professor, Harvard Law School; Susan Farbstein, JD ’04, Director, International Human Rights Clinic and Assistant Clinical Professor, Harvard Law School.


3:15 – 5 p.m.
Panel II: The Next Stage for UN Treaty Bodies

Panelists: Felice Gaer, Director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, AJC; Michael Ashley Stein, JD ’88, Executive Director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability, and Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Gerald L. Neuman, JD ’80, Director, Human Rights Program, and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, Harvard Law School; Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University School of Law.


5:30 p.m.  Reception

September 17, 2014

Student Perspective: Supporting the Transnational Fight to Protect Workers’ Rights

Posted by Lily Axelrod, JD '15

One January afternoon in 2012, two hundred men and women gathered at the Captain Morgan Bar in the sunny, Mexican coastal town of Topolobampo, Sinaloa. Their spirits were strong; recruiters had arrived to sign up workers for temporary H-2 visas to the United States. In a region where unemployment is high and the minimum wage is less than $5 a day, the recruiters brought hope. Applicants handed over deposits of several hundred dollars, representing years of savings or serious debt.

Weeks went by, and then months, as recruiters promised the Sinaloans that the visas were “almost ready.” But there were no jobs, and no H-2 visas. By April, it became clear: hundreds of applicants had been defrauded.

Atzin Gordillo, at left, an organizer with ProDESC, gives a presentation to the workers of the Sinaloa Coalition about their rights under the H-2 visa program.

Atzin Gordillo, at left, an organizer with ProDESC, gives a presentation to the workers of the Sinaloa Coalition about their rights under the H-2 visa program.

This summer, I had the opportunity to support the Sinaloan workers as a fellow with Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC), a human rights organization based in Mexico City. Having lived in Mexico and studied social movements there, I was drawn to ProDESC’s model, which balances a broad international vision with a focus on meaningful participation and leadership from local, marginalized communities. I contributed this summer to the organization’s Transnational Justice for Migrant Workers project, which seeks to promote humane, legal migration by protecting migrant workers’ human rights.

My work focused specifically on the H-2 temporary worker visa program, one of the few avenues for Mexicans to work legally in the United States without advanced degrees or immediate family members with status. ProDESC has been tackling abuses related to the program since 2007. Due to fear of reporting and lack of oversight, it is impossible to know how many applicants were promised visas and never received them, but ProDESC believes the problem is widespread. Even when job offers are legitimate, workers often go into debt to pay illegal “recruitment fees,” and fear blacklisting or violent retaliation if they speak up about their rights.

For years, both the Mexican and American governments turned a blind eye to these abuses, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation, human trafficking, and forced labor. But ProDESC and the Sinaloan workers have been collaborating to change the status quo. In 2013, with support from ProDESC’s community organizers and attorneys, the workers formed a coalition and brought a groundbreaking collective criminal complaint against the fraudulent recruiter operating in Sinaloa. That coalition, in turn, strengthened ProDESC’s domestic and international policy advocacy to prevent abuse in the H-2 visa program overall.

Together, their activism captured the attention of both the Mexican government, which recently issued new regulations targeting recruiters, and the U.S. Departments of Labor and State, which have committed to cooperate with their Mexican counterparts and with NGOs to educate migrant workers about their rights. Read More

September 15, 2014

Student Perspective: Protecting Freedom of Expression, in Ethiopia and Beyond

Posted by Lindsay Church, JD '16

In July 2012, Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison. In June 2011, Reeyot Alemu was arrested and convicted to 14 years of imprisonment, reduced to five on appeal.

Their crimes? Practicing journalism in Ethiopia.

reeyot-AlemuNega and Alemu are award-winning journalists who shared the prestigious Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Award in 2012. For Nega, whose first child was born while he and his wife were in custody for treason , the arrest came days after publishing a column that criticized the Ethiopian government’s detainment of journalists as suspected terrorists. For Alemu, a former high school English teacher, the arrest came days after she critiqued the ruling political party in an independent newspaper later shut down by the government.

The basis for the charges against these journalists is Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which contains overly vague provisions that have been used by the government to silence its critics. Since the Proclamation was adopted, more than 30 journalists have been convicted on terrorism-related charges.

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of working on behalf of Nega and Alemu as a fellow with the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). The small London-based non-profit works directly with journalists and bloggers who have been prosecuted for exercising their protected right to freedom of expression. With the help of partner organizations, MLDI’s staff are currently working on 107 cases in 41 countries; the organization’s success rate in receiving favorable decisions hovers around 70 percent.

Courtesy: Amnesty International

Courtesy: Amnesty International

Because I studied journalism before coming to law school, I know the range of challenges American journalists face, from accessing information to protecting sources to the threat of civil liability. Still, it was always clear to me that the First Amendment by and large provides a greater amount of protection to journalists than any other national legal system. As my work at MLDI made clear this summer, freedom of expression is severely restricted in other countries—by censorship, regulations, state-operated monopolies, criminal liability, and physical threat, among others.

For example, on my very first day, I worked on a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concerning the case of Le Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger who was wrongfully prosecuted on trumped up charges of tax evasion. Throughout my internship, I also researched case law from regional courts on freedom of expression, helped with an amicus curiae submission before the High Court of South Africa in a case about criminal defamation, and worked on a case in defense of a blogger in Singapore who is being sued by Lee Hsien Loong, the country’s prime minister.

When Nani Jansen, MLDI’s legal director, filed a submission to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Nega and Alemu, I had the opportunity to do preparatory work for the submission. I also helped in the filing of submissions to international and regional courts on behalf of Nega and Alemu.

At this point, their chances for release are still unknown, but the situation remains dire. Read More