October 2, 2018
New Book: Human Rights, Democracy, and Legitimacy in a World of Disorder, Edited by Gerald L. Neuman and Silja Voeneky
Gerald L. Neuman, HRP Co-Director and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law and Silja Voeneky, Co-Director of the Institute for Public Law and Professor of Public International Law, Comparative Law and Ethics of Law at the University of Freiburg and former Visiting Fellow at HRP, have published a new edited volume, Human Rights, Democracy, and Legitimacy in a World of Disorder (Cambridge University Press). The book examines how and why the concepts of human rights, democracy, and legitimacy matter in the conditions of international disorder brought about by the 21st century.
Building from an interdisciplinary symposium organized by Professor Voeneky for HRP in 2016, authors’ perspectives draw from philosophy, history, and legal theory. Their contributions explore the role of human rights, democracy, and legitimacy in addressing such problems as economic inequality, access to health care, mass migration, and the catastrophic risks posed by new technologies.
“Which conceptions of rights can help us find legitimate solutions to the new challenges that social and technological change are raising? That is the urgent question that we gathered to debate,” said Neuman.
Professor Neuman authored a chapter on “Human Rights, Treaties, and International Legitimacy,” and HRP Co-Director and Clinical Professor of Law Tyler R. Giannini contributed a chapter on, “Political Legitimacy and Private Governance of Human Rights: Community-Business Social Contracts and Constitutional Moments,” which examines how to maximize human rights protection in situations where a functioning State is largely absent.
Additional contributions come from notable academics, such as Samuel Moyn, Professor of Law and History at Yale University; I. Glenn Cohen, James A. Attwood and Leslie Williams Professor of Law at HLS; Matthias Risse, Professor of Public Policy and Philosophy at the Harvard Kennedy School; and Iris Goldner Lang, Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and UNESCO Chair on Free Movement of People, Migration and Inter-cultural Dialogue at the University of Zagreb Faculty of Law.
September 26, 2018
International Human Rights Clinic Students Contribute Research
Human Rights Watch released a brief on Tuesday documenting illegal imprisonment and serious abuses by Yemen’s Houthi rebel forces against detainees in their custody. The brief uses investigative and legal research conducted by students of the International Human Rights Clinic on Houthi practices of hostage-taking and torture, and documents dozens of cases in which Houthis held people unlawfully and profited from their detention since 2014. It also calls on the United Nations Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen to investigate and identify those responsible for abuses.
“The Houthis have added profiteering to their long list of abuses and offenses against the people under their control in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than treat detainees humanely, some Houthi officials are exploiting their power to turn a profit through detention, torture, and murder.”
International Human Rights Clinic students who contributed to this research include Zeineb Bouraoui, LLM ’18, Danesha Grady (Berkeley) ’JD 18, Tarek Zeidan, HKS MPA ’18, and Canem Ozyildirim, JD ’18.
Read the full brief here: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/25/yemen-houthi-hostage-taking.
September 25, 2018
Posted by Dana Walters
Each year, the Human Rights Program organizes dozens of events examining critical issues in human rights. These range from talks with activists addressing pressing developments to gatherings with academics engaging in deep scholarship.
So far this semester, we hosted Professor Flávia Piovesan, a commissioner for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, who spoke about the impact of and challenges currently facing the Inter-American human rights system. Dr. Piovesan’s talk is one of the first in a series of HRP-hosted events this fall honoring and celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We also hosted a panel as part of Celebration65, the 65th anniversary of the first women graduates of Harvard Law School, where Clinic alumni and instructors spoke at length about gender justice in human rights clinical training. Continue Reading…
September 24, 2018
Sept. 24, 2018
A Talk by Professor Flávia Piovesan
12:00- 1:00 p.m.
Join the Human Rights Program (HRP) for a lunch discussion with Professor Flávia Piovesan, commissioner for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on the impact of and challenges currently facing the Inter-American human rights system. Dr. Piovesan is a professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights at the Catholic University of São Paulo. She also teaches at the University of Buenos Aires and at the Academy on Human Rights at the American University Washington College of Law. Previously, she was a member of the UN High Level Task Force on the implementation of the right to development (2009-2012), and was Special Secretary for Human Rights in Brazil and President of the National Commission for the Eradication of Forced Labor (2016-2017). The talk will be moderated by Professor Gerald L. Neuman, HRP Co-Director and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International and Comparative Law.
Co-sponsored by HLS Advocates for Human Rights and the Harvard Human Rights Journal. Lunch will be served.
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