February 10, 2017

Student Perspective: Documentation dilemmas for Syrian refugees living in Jordan

Posted by Katherine Gonzalez, JD '17

It may be difficult to believe that a simple piece of paper can carry so much weight. But for Syrian refugees living in host communities in Jordan, marriage certificates, birth certificates, and government-issued identity cards are essential to securing basic human rights.

Two Syrian schoolmates hold up their MoI cards. Credit: Norwegian Refugee Council/Lian Saifi

Two Syrian schoolmates hold up their MoI cards. Credit: Norwegian Refugee Council/Lian Saifi

Several months ago, I traveled with a team from the International Human Rights Clinic to interview dozens of Syrian refugee families about their experiences with obtaining these documents in Jordan. Like the vast majority of Syrian refugees in Jordan, these families lived outside of refugee camps, their legal status dependent on whether they had new government-issued identity cards, otherwise known as “MoI cards.” Without the cards, refugees lived in situations of legal uncertainty, without access to essential services, and at risk of arrest, detention, forced relocation to refugee camps, and possible refoulement.

The families we interviewed described a variety of experiences, but one theme was common throughout: lacking proper documentation can have cascading consequences for Syrians who already occupy a marginalized and vulnerable position.

For one Syrian mother, getting a new MoI card for her infant son, who was born in Jordan, seemed nearly impossible. In order to get the card, she needed proof of identity for her son, in the form of a birth certificate issued by Jordanian authorities. But she couldn’t get the birth certificate until she got a marriage certificate. And she couldn’t get the marriage certificate because the woman and her husband, who wed in Syria two years prior, could not provide sufficient proof that they had been married in Syria.

As is common practice in some parts of Syria, their marriage had been officiated outside the Shari’a court. Continue Reading…

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February 9, 2017

Student perspective: Reflections of a newcomer to the CCW Review Conference

Congratulations to Anna Khalfaoui, LLM ’17, who wrote the post below for the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. It was published February 8, 2017.

Reflections on the Review Conference as a Newcomer to CCW

The Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) was a great success for advocates of a ban on fully autonomous weapons. Held at the United Nations in Geneva in December 2016, the Conference was also an opportunity for me to discover and reflect on the processes and challenges of the CCW, to which I was a newcomer.

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 12.25.30 PMI became involved when I attended the Conference as part of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC).  I also contributed to a report that IHRC co-published with Human Rights Watch the week before the Review Conference. Making the Case: The Dangers of Killer Robots and the Need for a Preemptive Ban rebuts the major arguments against a prohibition on the development and use of fully autonomous weapons. These weapons, also known as killer robots and lethal autonomous weapons systems, would be able to select and engage targets without human intervention.

The Review Conference was a key step toward a ban because states parties agreed to formalise talks on killer robots by establishing a Group of Government Experts (GGE), which will meet for 10 days in 2017. This GGE creates the expectation of an outcome as past GGEs have led to negotiation of new or stronger CCW protocols. It provides a forum for states and experts to discuss the parameters of a possible protocol which hopefully will take the form of a ban. The Review Conference also showed that support a ban is gaining traction around the world. Argentina, Panama, Peru and Venezuela joined the call for the first time at the Conference, bringing to 19 the number of states in favour of a ban.

The establishment of a GGE was the news I eagerly waited for the entire week. Continue Reading…

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February 8, 2017

Tomorrow, Feb. 9: First screening in film series on women, rights, and activism in the Muslim world

Harvard Law School’s Islamic Legal Studies Program: Law and Social Change, with support from HRP, is pleased to announce its first film series, “Women, Rights, and Activism in the Muslim World.” Throughout this Spring semester, we will showcase films that highlight women’s struggles, conflicts, and triumphs across the region. The films cover a broad range of themes, including political and social activism, marriage, divorce, education, and sports.

Each screening will be followed by a discussion led by a guest who is either the filmmaker or an expert in the relevant theme. All screenings will start at 5:00 pm. Dinner will be provided for attendees.

Our first film is “Horma” (“Sanctity”), featuring Saudi director and actress Ahd Kamel. The film was shot in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and stars Kamel as Areej, a pregnant young Saudi widow, who battles social customs to protect her unborn child.

After the film, Kamel will join us via video conference for commentary and Q & A. In addition, we welcome Pascal Menoret, author of Joyriding in Riyadh and Professor of Modern Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, who joins us as discussant.

If you plan to attend this first event, please RSVP.

Other screenings in the series:

Speed Sisters” – February 23, 5:00 pm, Wasserstein 1023
What Tomorrow Brings” – March 9, 5:00 pm,  Wasserstein 1023
A Separation” – March 23, 5:00 pm, Wasserstein 1023
Private Revolutions: Young, Female, Egyptian” – April 13, 5:00 pm, Pound 101


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February 7, 2017

Evan Mawarire, of the #ThisFlag Movement, Should Be Immediately Released by the Government of Zimbabwe

Posted by Susan Farbstein

Update: Thankfully, since this post was published, Evan Mawarire has been released.

Back in November, I was pleased to moderate a conversation with pastor Evan Mawarire, the leader of the #ThisFlag movement, which in 2016 channeled citizens’ frustrations into large-scale protests against corruption, human rights abuse, and economic decline in Zimbabwe.  It was therefore deeply distressing to learn that he was arrested last Wednesday at Harare International Airport when he returned to the country.  He continues to be held at Harare Central Police Station.

Mawarire was initially charged with subverting a constitutionally-elected government and was expected to appear in court for a hearing and the opportunity to make bail.  However, additional charges of insulting the Zimbabwean flag and inciting violence were added in an apparent attempt to prolong his detention and suppress his cause.  He is expected back in court on February 17.  If the case proceeds to trial he could face 20 years in prison.

Mawarire was previously arrested for treason last July.  After thousands protested outside the courthouse, the charges were dismissed and he was released.  He left soon after for South Africa and, subsequently, the United States, fearing for his safety.

Zimbabwe’s criminal justice system should not be used to intimidate citizens who speak out against abuse or target activists who organize peaceful resistance.  Mawarire should be released and the charges against him dropped.


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February 6, 2017

Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, Former Senior Clinical Instructor, Becomes Scholar in Residence at NYU Law

Posted by Cara Solomon

As the spring semester gets underway at HRP, we’re already missing the fellowship and expertise of one of our colleagues: Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, JD ’08, Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, is now a Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law.


Former Senior Clinical Instructor Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, now a Scholar in Residence at NYU Law

Simply put, this is a big loss for us. Fernando is an expert on criminal justice in Brazil, which has one of the world’s worst records on mass incarceration. His clinical work went wide and deep; his teams used strategies ranging from litigation to fact-finding to negotiating with government officials to launching media campaigns.

Beyond the rigor and innovation that was the hallmark of Fernando’s work, there was another distinguishing factor: it was always collaborative. Throughout his seven years at the Clinic, he worked closely with local partners whom he considered not just colleagues but mentors: Justiça Global, Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões, Pastoral Carcerária, and Comissão Justiça e Paz. He also nurtured relationships with prisoners’ families, corrections officials, and members of the media.

Most importantly, as described in the Harvard Law Bulletin last year, Fernando treated people who were incarcerated the way he treated everyone else: with kindness.

At NYU, Fernando will explore the link between state violence and corruption, a link he first documented with Justiça Global in the high-profile, book-length report, “São Paulo under Extortion: Corruption, Organized Crime, and Institutional Violence in May 2006.” That joint report, the culmination of a five-year investigation, explored the role of corruption in a series of coordinated uprisings in detention centers and attacks on police and public buildings that left 43 state officials and hundreds of civilians dead. The report also documented the wave of reprisal attacks by police, including extrajudicial killings of people they suspected of having arrest records—in many cases profiling victims’ youth, skin color, tattoos and presence on the streets of a poor neighborhood at night.

During his time in the Clinic, Fernando tackled a range of criminal justice issues in Brazil. His clinical team contributed comparative and international law research to a workshop that culminated with federal prosecutors filing the first-ever criminal charges for dictatorship-era human rights crimes. A case he argued before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court) led to an investigation into juvenile justice system abuses, one which ultimately brought down an alleged corruption ring at the highest levels of state government.

He spent the great majority of his time, though, addressing rampant over-incarceration and abuse in prisons. Continue Reading…

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February 2, 2017

AUDIO: Book talk by Prof. Phillippe Sands, on origins of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’

Last week, we were fortunate enough to host Prof. Phillippe Sands, QC, who gave a riveting talk about his award-winning book, “East West Street:  On the Origins of ‘Genocide’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity.'” The book uses personal narratives to explore the creation and development of world-changing legal concepts that came about as a result of the unprecedented atrocities of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Audio of the talk below:




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January 26, 2017

Tomorrow, Jan. 27: Post-Graduate Fellowship Information Session

January 27, 2017

Informational Session on Post-Graduate Fellowships

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 4059

Please join us for an informational session on post-graduate fellowships in human rights. We will discuss the application process for the Satter Human Rights Fellowship and the Henigson Human Rights Fellowship, both of which have deadlines in March. Faculty and staff from the Human Rights Program and OPIA will be present to workshop your fellowship project and placement ideas.

This event is sponsored by the Human Rights Program. Pizza will be served.

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January 24, 2017

Tomorrow, Jan. 25: A book talk by Prof. Phillippe Sands, QC, on the origins of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

“East West Street: On the Origins of ‘Genocide’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity'”

A book talk by Phillippe Sands, QC,
Founding member of Matrix Chambers;
Professor of Law, University College London

5:00- 7:00 p.m.
Harvard Law School

Join us for a talk with Professor Philippe Sands, Q.C., about his award-winning book, “East West Street: On the Origins of ‘Genocide’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity’”. The book looks at the personal and intellectual evolution of the two men who developed the concepts of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” and their efforts to have these legal concepts form the centerpiece for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. Professor Sands is a highly regarded expert in international law who has appeared before many international courts.

This event is being co-sponsored by the Criminal Justice Policy Program. Food will be served.


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December 21, 2016

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Critiques ‘Over-Incarceration’ and Prison Building in Brazil

Posted by Fernando Ribeiro Delgado

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Critiques “Over-Incarceration” and Prison Building in Brazil

Landmark Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex Rulings Also Innovate on Rights of LGBT Prisoners; Prisoners with Disabilities; and Anti-Corruption Measures


Sounding the alarm on mass incarceration, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently ordered officials in Brazil to adopt an emergency plan to reduce overcrowding at the abusive Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex in Recife, Pernambuco. Noting that it “shared the concern expressed by several Brazilian authorities…with respect to the tendency toward ‘over-incarceration’ [‘super encarceramento’] witnessed over the past decade throughout the country, and with particular intensity in Pernambuco,” the Court also demanded other measures that can promote decarceration. These include the hiring of public defenders and the listing of the legal grounds for the detention of each prisoner at the Complex.

Currently, the Complex holds some 7,000 men in space designated for less than 2,000. The Court gave the state 90 days to comply, with Brazil’s federal prosecutor’s office (Ministério Público Federal – MPF) tapped to monitor implementation.

The ruling marks a major advance for the civil society petitioning coalition comprised of the Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões – SEMPRI, Pastoral Carcerária, Justiça Global, and the International Human Rights Clinic. For years, the coalition has urged authorities to redress overcrowding through decarceration measures. Brazil today has the world’s fourth largest prison population, with over 600,000 detained. In its resolution, the Court warned that “until the tendency [toward over-incarceration] is reversed,” state policies promoting prison construction “will not be sufficient” to deal with the problem.

There is growing recognition in Brazil that its turn toward mass incarceration is unwise and unsustainable. Earlier this year the head of Brazil’s federal penitentiary department (Departamento Penitenciário Federal – DEPEN) declared, “incarceration does not reduce criminality.” Over the past 25 years, the country has seen a 575 percent increase in the prison population.

The Court’s decision also innovated on other legal issues. Pointing to a wave of sexual violence and other abuses against LGBT persons at the prison Complex, the Court ordered the state to “adopt specific measures to protect the personal integrity and life of groups in situations of vulnerability.” Other novel points of the decision include measures protecting the rights of prisoners with disabilities and a demand for evidence demonstrating the existence of judicial oversight of the prison. Continue Reading…

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December 20, 2016

VIDEO from recent events: Free speech cases in African courts; The legacy of the Armenian Genocide; The #ThisFlag movement in Zimbabwe

Posted by Emily Nagisa Keehn

In November, the Human Rights Program held a number of events with global thought leaders on pressing human rights concerns, spanning freedom of expression, women’s rights under Islamic law, human rights in Latin America, and the movement for human rights in Zimbabwe. Below, we offer brief recaps of the events and links to videos and presentations.

On November 3rd, Nani Jansen Reventlow, fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, spoke about litigating free speech cases in the African regional courts. Reventlow was previously the head of the Media Legal Defence Initiative’s global litigation practice, and led litigation that resulted in the first freedom of expression judgments at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the East African Court of Justice. She described the pathways and challenges to litigation in the African regional courts, and the promise that these courts hold for issuing progressive rulings for freedom of expression and human rights. Her talk can be seen at the bottom of this post.


Saudi blogger and activist Hala Aldosari discussing women’s rights in the laws of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states.

On November 10, Malaysian activist and Muslim feminist Zainah Anwar spoke to clinical students via Skype on the topic of women’s rights activism in Muslim contexts and her work currently leading the Musawah global movement for equality in the Muslim family. We also hosted a book talk that day by Alexis Demirdjian, trial lawyer with the International Criminal Court and author of “The Armenian Genocide Legacy.” Demirdjian discussed law and the Armenian Genocide, including judicial explanations and legal remedies, in a talk moderated by Harvard Law School Professor Alex Whiting. Watch the video below.

On November 15th, Saudi blogger and activist Hala Aldosari discussed women’s rights in the laws of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, focusing on women’s legal capacity in the law and the latest developments in the personal status laws of these countries.  She also spoke briefly about her own activism experience, pushing for the Saudi Women-2-Drive campaign and the Campaign to End Male Guardianship in Saudi Arabia. Her talk was co-sponsored by HRP and the Islamic Legal Studies Program: Law and Social Change.

James Cavallaro, President, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

James Cavallaro, President, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

On November 16th, HRP welcomed back our former colleague, James Cavallaro, now President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, where he is the Founding Director of the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Stanford Human Rights Center. Cavallaro, the former Executive Director of HRP, discussed the future of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, examining the recent funding crisis which threatened the institutional stability and reach of the Commission. He also considered potential consequences of shifting U.S. policy under the new administration for human rights in Latin America.

Lastly, on November 21st, HRP and the Harvard African Law Association hosted Evan Mawarire of the #ThisFlag movement. He discussed the historic protests that swept across Zimbabwe, calling for an end to government repression and desperately needed economic reform. Mawarire reflected on the personal challenges he faced once he found himself leading this movement, including being detained and charged with “attempting to overthrow the government,” and his later escape to the U.S. You can listen to his revealing talk below.

Thanks to all of our speakers in recent weeks- and the entire semester- for providing critical insight into pressing issues in the human rights community.

Follow along with slides from Reventlow’s talk.



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