November 7, 2017

Student Perspective: Fighting for Human Rights with HLS Advocates

Posted by Thaya Uthayophas, JD ’18

This piece first appeared on the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs blog

I came to Harvard Law School because I wanted to make a difference. As an international student from Thailand, however, I wasn’t originally sure how that would manifest. Should I make a lot of money in corporate law to help my family? Should I become part of legal academia, thinking of new philosophical frameworks that could change the way we think about the world? Or should I be an activist for my people back home in an effort to finally establish a permanent constitution and democratic Thailand?

Group photo of HLS Advocates for Human Rights, including co-president Thaya Uthayophas JD ’18, fourth from the left in the front row.

These are all big dreams. And they are all valid in their own ways. As I’ve come to learn through working with Student Practice Organizations and the clinical programs, however, our dreams can be difficult to put into practice. But therein also lies the magic:  that no one’s dream can stand alone. What ultimately inspires me to pursue the dream of becoming a human rights lawyer is not so much the size of my dream or the grandeur of my narrative, but the people, the events, and the projects — the fact that we’re all doing it together as part of something larger, fighting for a seemingly impossible and ever-changing set of ideals that is human rights. And I learned all this by being part of the Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights.

The day-to-day work of an individual Advocates member (and any lawyer, really) borders more or less on the mundane. While it was exciting to see my own project draw fruition with our letter to the UN special rapporteurs on a human rights violation connected to a gold mine in Thailand, I think focusing on the victories misses the point. In order to get the UN letter drafted, my individual team members had to first learn about UN systems, read up on the many violations connected with the mine, and research individual special rapporteurs and the best ways to approach them. Then we had to come together and compile all this information in an accessible form for our partner organization Fortify Rights. It was all very time-consuming, and, at times, it felt like we had to trust our client to know what best to do with the information we provided them. The fact of the matter, however, was that we did trust them — this non-governmental organization more than 8000 miles away. We trusted that their work would eventually help local villagers who suffered from cyanide poisoning and violent attacks because we trusted them as part of the human rights movement, fighting together for a better world.

For this Fall term, Advocates leaves the same kinds of trust to organizations fighting for land rights in Liberia, advocating for waste pickers in Latin America, documenting human rights violations of asylum-seeking children in Israel, empowering mining-affected communities in Guinea, countering violent extremism in Tanzania, and holding people accountable for war crimes in Iraq. Our project leaders and members similarly know that it’s not about each of us making individual difference but all of us making differences as a team, and beyond. And it’s not just the project people who are cognizant of this fact. Our events team, for instance, has created a Human Rights Training Seriesknowing that many students lack understanding about the fundamental building blocks of a different facet of international human rights. Our directors of organizing and direct action constantly seek out opportunities with other organizations on campus to make an impact on the ground.

As for me, as co-President, I’m little more than a facilitator, making sure things go along and confidentiality forms are filled out. It’s a good job. At the very least, I get to write and talk about all the wonderful things Advocates is doing as part of something larger that is human rights.

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November 6, 2017

Statement from more than 35 Harvard Law School student groups on racially charged incident last week

Posted by The International Human Rights Clinic

In a statement released today, more than 35 student groups at Harvard Law School responded to a racially charged incident on campus last week. In solidarity, we reprint their statement below about what appears to have been a coordinated campaign:

Dear Community,

On the evening of October 31, stickers with the words, “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE,” were posted around the entrance of WCC. Similar stickers appeared around Cambridge and other parts of the United States and Canada. According to an online forum, the stickers were intended to convey a “harmless” message that would leave “the media & leftists frothing at the mouth” and turn public opinion against them.

We condemn this attempt to divide us along the lines of race and politics. Instead, we have come together as law student groups representing individuals of many backgrounds and identities. We emphatically assert that we remain committed to maintaining a community where we respect and embrace our differences.

The stickers’ message may seem innocuous, but it ignores a national history replete with discrimination against underrepresented groups and implies that promoting equality threatens white people. Equality is not a zero-sum game.

Coming together today, the undersigned organizations affirm our belief that “it’s okay” to be whoever you are and to aspire to grow into whoever you want to become. We welcome people to our community irrespective of background or identity.

With love and support,

Advocates for Education
American Constitution Society
Asian Pacific American Law Students Association
Canadian Law Students Association
Food Law Society
Harvard African Law Association
Harvard Black Law Students Association
Harvard Defenders
Harvard Immigration Project
Harvard International JD Students Society
Harvard Italian Law Association
Harvard National Lawyers Guild
Harvard Negotiation Law Review
Harvard Women’s Law Association
HLS Advocates for Human Rights
HLS China Law Association
HLS Homelessness Coalition
HLS Justice for Palestine
HLS Urbanists
Human Rights and Business Law Student Association
In Vino Veritas
Jewish Law Students Association
La Alianza
Law and Behavioral Science Student Association
Law and International Development Society
Mexican Law Students Association
Middle East Law Students Association
National Security Law Association
Native American Law Students Association
Queer Trans People of Color
Reparatory Justice Initiative
South Asian Law Students Association
Student Mental Health Association
Tenant Advocacy Project
West Coast Law Students Association

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October 31, 2017

Tomorrow, Nov. 1: Conversation with Dr. Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A conversation with Dr. Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
Austin 111

Please join us for a talk by Dr. Agnès Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who will discuss her recent report on a gender-sensitive approach to the topic of arbitrary killings. In addition to Dr. Callamard’s mandate from the United Nations, she is the director of Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression initiative. Previously, she was the Executive Director of Article 19, the founder of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership, and the Chef de Cabinet for the Secretary General of Amnesty International.

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October 30, 2017

Tomorrow, Oct. 30: A conversation with Dr. Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Conversation with Dr. Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 2009

Please join us for a conversation with Dr. Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, who will discuss the Rohingya crisis and more broadly, the country’s transition to democratic rule. Dr. Lee will share her insights on key challenges facing Myanmar, including the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities. She will also offer her recommendations for consolidating peace in Myanmar and creating a culture of human rights.


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October 26, 2017

Staff Reflection: Remembering Someone I Never Knew

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

Carl Thorne-Thomsen with high school friend Linda Jones Docherty, mother of the author. Photo from the 1964 Lake Forest High School yearbook, courtesy of Linda Docherty.

Although I never met Carl Thorne-Thomsen, I’ve known about him for as long as I can remember.

I distinctly recall driving down the road to my grandparents’ home in Lake Forest, IL, as my mother told me about her close high school friend who had died in Vietnam. Carl had opposed the war, she explained, but he felt it was unjust for him to be sheltered from the draft while others with less privilege were sent to fight in Southeast Asia. In a quiet act of protest, he withdrew from Harvard College during his junior year and was drafted in April 1967. Two months after arriving in Vietnam, and 50 years ago this week, he was killed in combat.

Although I was in elementary school at the time of this conversation, Carl’s decision to live—and die—by his principles made a vivid impression on me. Decades later, having spent most of my career on issues of armed conflict, I still find myself compelled. The 50th anniversary of his death motivated me to track down more information through archives and interviews and to write a Vita for Harvard Magazine’s September/October issue.

Thorne-Thomsen (fourth from the left) with his crew teammates. Photo courtesy of Harvard University Archives.

Carl’s story demonstrates the power of an individual to have a lasting impact. Virtually everyone I interviewed used the word “special” to describe him. Crew teammates and fellow soldiers alike cited the strength of character Carl showed in standing up against the inequity of the draft. On the battlefield, his bravery as a radio operator saved lives. Several Harvard classmates said they had sought out Carl’s name on the Vietnam Wall, and for decades, his commanding officer carried with him a letter Carl’s mother sent after she received the news of his death. An unexpected reward of doing my story was to share with his still grieving family how others remembered him.

My own admiration for Carl has only grown as I have done more research and talked with people who knew him personally. He made sacrifices for his principles yet did so in private way. Many of his classmates and comrades-in-arms did not know until recently how a Harvard student ended up as an enlisted man in Vietnam. Carl hated injustice, and whether on campus or in a combat zone, he treated everyone with the same respect. In the end, he left a legacy of courage and character that remains an inspiration.

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October 25, 2017

This Week: HRP Participates in “HLS in the World” Bicentennial Celebration

This week Harvard Law School celebrates its bicentennial with a two-day event, “HLS in the World.” For those who are registered and planning to attend, the Human Rights Program hopes to see you at the two events we are hosting, both on Friday, Oct. 27. Details below.


How Does International Human Rights Law Make a Difference in the World?

9:00 – 10:30 am

At this panel discussion, experts with a range of experiences and perspectives will discuss whether and how international human rights law has real-world effects on preventing and redressing human rights abuses. The panel will include HLS graduates with experience in government, international organizations, advocacy, and academia, as well as a political scientist who studies the question empirically.

Gerald L. Neuman, Co-Director of HRP and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, will moderate the discussion. Panelists include: Harold Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law, Yale Law School; Viviana Krsticevic, LLM ‘93, Executive Director, Center for Justice and International Law; Makau Mutua, LLM ‘85, SJD ’87, Distinguished Professor; Floyd H. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar, University at Buffalo, School of Law; Tyler Giannini, Co-Director of HRP and the International Human Rights Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law; and Kathryn Sikkink, Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.


Conversations with the Human Rights Program

12:30 – 1:30 pm

Jarvis Field, the Hub


This is a lunchtime meet and greet with HRP’s faculty, staff, fellows, and students.  In a casual setting, we will share some of the exciting work our Academic Program and International Human Rights Clinic are doing to tackle pressing human rights challenges while working with students in a pedagogically innovative environment. Come learn about our work in Myanmar, efforts to ban nuclear weapons, litigation to hold human rights abusers accountable in the United States, and an upcoming conference about how populist movements are affecting human rights.

To learn more, please visit the website for “HLS in the World” here.


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October 17, 2017

Tomorrow, Oct. 18: “In Search of a Better World”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

“In Search of a Better World”

A book talk by Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law, McGill University

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 3019

Please join us for a book talk by Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, a member of the International Court of Arbitration, and a former UN prosecutor at The Hague. In his book, “In Search of a Better World,” he argues that deceptive utopias, political cynicism, and public apathy have given rise to major human rights abuses: from the religious persecution of Iranian Bahá’ís that shaped his personal life, to the horrors of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, the genocide in Rwanda, and the rise of contemporary phenomena such as the Islamic State. Payam also argues for an empathy based approach to human rights that gives primacy to the experience of survivors and acknowledges our inextricable interdependence as a global society.


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October 16, 2017

Tomorrow, Oct. 17: Paving the Way for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017

“Humanization of Arms Control: Paving the Way for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons”

A book talk by Daniel Rietiker, Senior Lawyer, European Court of Human Rights

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 3007

Lunch will be served




Please join us for a talk with Daniel Rietiker to discuss his recent book, “Humanization of Arms Control: Paving the Way for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” in which he argues for putting human beings, rather than state security, at the center of disarmament law. After laying out the history of this approach in previous treaties, he will examine how it has played out in the negotiations and text of the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Dr. Rietiker, a former Visiting Fellow with the Human Rights Program, is a senior lawyer at the European Court of Human Rights, an adjunct professor of public international law at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), and a member of adjunct faculty at Suffolk University Law School.

This event is part of the International Human Rights Clinic’s work on armed conflict and civilian protection.

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October 13, 2017

UPDATED: New Information Conflicts with Syrian Human Rights Filmmaker’s Reported Assassination Attempt

UPDATE:  Since we posted this statement, new information has come to light which appears to contradict the widely reported story that Muhammad Bayazid was stabbed in an assassination attempt. More on that in The Guardian and the BBC

The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School is shocked and saddened by news of the reported assassination attempt on Syrian filmmaker Muhammad Bayazid, whom we hosted – along with his wife and partner in filmmaking, Samah Safi Bayazid – only days earlier for a discussion with our students. They were here in conjunction with a co-sponsored screening of two of their award-winning short films, “Fireplace” and “Orshena.” Bayazid was stabbed in the chest in Turkey on Tuesday night, as he sought funds for his new film project detailing Assad regime’s abuses at notorious Tadmur prison.

“When we chose this life we knew what it meant, because we aren’t from places like America where we can express our opinions,” Samah Safi Bayazid told the Guardian Newspaper. “It’s very hard if you’re an Arab to fight against oppression, your life is always in danger. He was stabbed and I nearly had a stroke just because we wanted to do a film on human rights.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with Muhammad, Samah, and their family and we wish him a speedy recovery.  We would also like to express our support of his work in exposing human rights violations and shedding light on the devastating humanitarian cost of the Syrian crisis, and urge a full and proper investigation of this incident.

The attempt on Muhammad Bayazid’s life was the latest in a series of attacks that took place in Turkey targeting outspoken supporters of the Syrian opposition.  Last month, prominent Syrian opposition activist Orouba Barakat and her journalist daughter Hala Barakat were stabbed to death in Istanbul.  Other victims in the past two years include Syrian journalists and anti-Isis activists Naji Jarf and Zaher Al-Shurqat.

For more details on the incident, read this article in The Guardian or this piece on the BBC.


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October 12, 2017

Today, Oct. 12: A Conversation with Sana Mustafa, Syrian Refugee and Refugee Rights Activist

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“Putting a Face on the Numbers”

A talk by Sana Mustafa, Syrian Refugee and Refugee Rights Activist

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 2004

Please join us for a talk by Sana Mustafa, a Syrian refugee and advocate for refugee rights who will share her story of growing up in Syria, revolting against the Assad regime, fleeing the horrors of war, and starting a new life in the US. She will also speak about her new path as an activist and advocate for the rights of Syrian refugees worldwide. A refugee since 2013, Mustafa is now a consultant to various US and international institutions on designing engagement projects related to refugee integration and protecting the rights of victims of the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

This event is being sponsored by the Islamic Legal Studies Program: Law and Social Change, Criminal Justice Program, and the Human Rights Program. Vegan lunch will be served.


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