Blog: Alumni

November 16, 2017

Clinic Partner Releases New Business and Human Rights Tool

MSI Integrity, a non-profit organization that the International Human Rights Clinic helped to incubate, has released a comprehensive tool to evaluate multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs), which are voluntary efforts that bring together industry, civil society, and governments to fill governance gaps.

The MSI Evaluation Tool was developed collaboratively by MSI Integrity and the Clinic through a five-year process of extensive research, practical pilot-testing, and global consultation with the public and experts on MSIs. It provides a framework to evaluate multi-stakeholder initiatives and the effectiveness of their institutional design, structure, and operational procedures. The tool began as a clinical project, and was carried forward by Amelia Evans, LLM ’11, who went on to found the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity, or MSI Integrity.

Read more on MSI Integrity’s website.

Share By Email


May 26, 2017

Thank you, Class of 2017! Plus, pictures from our Commencement Party


Dear Class of 2017,


And you did it not just with intelligence, but with heart, which makes it all the better. So today, we send you off with two things: Gratitude, for all that you brought to our community, and hope, that you work with humility and heart to strengthen all the other communities you make your home.

We also want to send a special shout out to Mana Azarmi, who won the Outstanding Clinical Student Award from the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA). Our very own Kenna Graziano, Lan Mei, and Loren Voss won the Dean’s Award for Community Leadership. And to the many clinical students who gave more than 1,000 hours of pro bono work during their time at HLS: Sarah Abraham, Mana Azarmi, Roi Bachmutsky, Torrance Castellano, Laura Dismore, Roni Druks, Kenna Graziano, Kelsey Jost-Creegan, Alice Kim, Lan Mei, Michael Perloff, Silvia Ruiz, Leora Smith, Marin Tollefson, Daniel Traficonte, and Danielle Young.

And now, for scenes from our annual commencement party with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and the Food Law and Policy Clinic, with big thanks to Jordana, Gabbie and Katherine for organizing!


Share By Email


September 30, 2016

Alumni Perspective: “The Significance of the al-Mahdi Case and the War Crime of Destruction of Cultural Heritage”

Posted by Cara Solomon

Great work here by Danae Paterson, JD ’16, who co-authored this piece on a historic prosecution that goes right to the heart of cultural identity. The International Criminal Court has since sentenced Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a member of a jihadist group, to nine years in prison for his role in demolishing historic Muslim shrines in Timbuktu, Mali.

The piece, which Danae co-authored with Dr. Paul Williams, co-founder of the Public International Law & Policy Group, was originally published on The Huffington Post under the headline: “Tear it all down: The significance of the al-Mahdi case and the war crime of destruction of cultural heritage.” Danae is currently working as a Law Fellow with Public International Law & Policy Group’s Syria negotiations team.


“The best way to tear someone down is to tear down their culture, tear down everything that is important to them” – Witness MLI-OTP-P-0431 for the Prosecution,Prosecutor v. Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi

In 2012, at least ten revered religious monuments were destroyed in Timbuktu, Mali. The violation of these sacrosanct markers of culture and collective identity by al-Qaeda-backed extremists, dealt a painful and shocking injury to Mali’s Muslim community. For nearly everyone in the community, these UNESCO-designated mausoleums physically embodied Timbuktu’s historic identity as a prominent center of Islamic learning in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Continue Reading…


Share By Email


July 1, 2016

Moving On: Deborah Popowski to Be Executive Director of NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice

Today we have the mixed blessing of announcing that one of our favorite people is moving on: Deborah Popowski, JD ’08, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, is bringing her considerable talents to New York University (NYU) School of Law as Executive Director of its Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.


Photo credit: Kris Snibbe

It comes as no surprise to us that she was chosen for this leadership role. For the past seven years, Deborah has proven herself to be a visionary inside the International Human Rights Clinic, carving out a critical niche for U.S.-based work. In her time here, she led clinical projects on issues ranging from protest and assembly rights to the right to heal for U.S. service members and Iraqis. She also created a clinical seminar, “Human Rights Advocacy and the United States,” with the Human Rights Program’s former executive director, Clinical Professor Jim Cavallaro.

In particular, Deborah distinguished herself in recent years as a national leader in the grassroots movement to hold U.S. health professionals accountable for torture in the national security sphere. Her approach was both innovative and in-depth: through professional misconduct complaints, legislative advocacy, media outreach and academic conferences, she worked with clients to highlight the actions of psychologists at Guantánamo. Continue Reading…

May 27, 2016

Thank you, Class of 2016! Plus, pictures from our Commencement Party


Dear Class of 2016,


Katie King, receiving the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. Photo credit: Martha Stewart.

Katie King, receiving the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. Photo credit: Martha Stewart.

Secondly, we want to send a special congratulations to Katie King, whose tireless work with our partners in South Africa on the right to education earned her the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. And to the many clinical students who gave more than 1,000 hours of pro bono work during their time at HLS: Chike Achebe, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, Lauren Blodgett, Daniel Carpenter-Gold, Mira Chernick, Carson Cook, Rebecca Donaldson, Michelle Ha, Anna E. Joseph, Brian Closterboer, Liz Loftus, Lindsay Mullett, Courtney D. Paterson, Brittany Reid, Ariel Simms, Peter Stavros, Matt Thiman, Jillian Wagman, Noorulain Zafar, and Ye H. Zhang.

Lastly, if we missed you at yesterday’s commencement party, here’s what we would have told you: Thank you. Continue Reading…

Share By Email


May 19, 2016

Alumni Perspective: Confronting the Complexity of Loss in Sri Lanka

Posted by Gehan Gunatilleke, LLM '10

Seven years ago on this day, the civil war in Sri Lanka came to a brutal end. Since then, a national conversation on transitional justice has gathered momentum, with the current government expected to fulfill its international commitments to establish mechanisms on truth, justice and reparations. As it does so, it will be confronted with a recurring claim advanced by certain actors within the state. Their claim is that the ‘Sri Lankan approach’ to transitional justice is based on ‘forgiving’ and ‘forgetting’.

ConftontingImageMy own experience as a lawyer and researcher in Sri Lanka has prompted me to reflect on this claim. These reflections inspired “Confronting the Complexity of Loss”, an introspective study that tests this claim by examining the views and opinions of 45 victims and survivors of human rights atrocities from across the ethnic and religious divide. In some ways, its conclusion—that Sri Lankans often differ on fundamental questions of truth seeking, memorialization and accountability—makes intuitive sense.

Imagine, for example, a family around a dinner table grieving the death of a loved one in a DUI incident. We would not expect them to cope in the identical manner. We would not expect them to uniformly forgive the offender, nor unanimously demand his punishment. Some disagreement around that table would hardly surprise us. If we can conceive of a single family producing such diverse views, should we then reduce Sri Lankan victims and survivors to a single narrative?

I started asking these questions early on in my career when I represented victims in cases involving torture, detention and custodial death in Sri Lanka. In one particular case in 2008, I represented the wife of a man who died in the custody of the police. She wanted to know the truth about what happened to her husband. Despite police intimidation and her own family’s discouragement, she sought justice in the form of a declaration that her husband’s fundamental rights had been violated. Her resolute demand for truth and justice left a lasting impression on me, and influenced my understanding of Sri Lankan attitudes to truth and justice.

A year later, as a student in the International Human Rights Clinic, I focused mainly on the rights of detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. That work challenged me once again to reflect on the diversity of victim and survivor narratives. Continue Reading…


Share By Email


April 25, 2016

Alumni Perspective: Tobacco Control is a Global Human Rights Imperative

Posted by Melinda Kuritzky, JD’13 and Nick Renzler, JD’12

When it comes to tobacco, twenty-first century America is very different from the smoke-filled haze that seemed to define much of the twentieth. In today’s United States, smoking rates are at an all-time low, teenagers are no longer confronted with positive messaging about smoking from the adults or advertisements around them, and “smoking sections” at restaurants are all but obsolete.

As millennials growing up in this era, and in this country, we thought the war against tobacco was won, thanks to the tireless efforts of activists, lawyers and public health experts who came before us.

Then we joined a team of lawyers led by Paul Reichler at Foley Hoag LLP seeking to defend Uruguay’s tobacco control regulations against claims brought by Philip Morris International, a multinational tobacco company. That’s when we realized tobacco companies were active as ever: they had simply shifted their marketing focus away from the U.S. and toward exporting the addiction elsewhere—primarily to low and middle-income countries.

To a certain extent, they have succeeded: tobacco consumption kills roughly six million people every year. It remains one of the biggest threats to global public health. But the public health community has fought back, most visibly with a 2003 global tobacco control treaty passed under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). The treaty encourages countries to enact tough new tobacco control measures to protect their citizens’ right to health—measures the tobacco industry has challenged at every turn, using international trade and investment law to sue governments that seek to limit their marketing power.

Such is the case with Uruguay, which historically has struggled with some of the highest smoking rates in South America. After it ratified the WHO treaty, Uruguay became one of the most progressive governments in the tobacco control arena, instituting a marketing ban on brand variants, a deceptive tool used by tobacco companies to falsely suggest that certain variants are less harmful than others. The government also required large, graphic warning labels on every package—80% of the front and back of the package.

True to form, Philip Morris hit back hard with a claim against the government, arguing that Uruguay’s ban on brand variants and its requirement of larger warning labels violated a 1991 treaty that provides certain protections for investments between Uruguay and Switzerland, where the company is headquartered. Philip Morris also claimed that, in cases related to tobacco control measures, Uruguay has denied the company justice in its domestic courts.

After a lengthy exchange of written pleadings and documents, Uruguay presented its oral arguments in this bellwether case last October during a two-week arbitral hearing. Responding to Philip Morris’ claims, we argued, among other points, that there is a human right to health, enshrined in instruments to which both Uruguay and Switzerland are party, and that Uruguay, as a sovereign State, has both the right and duty, in the exercise of its police powers, to protect public health by adoption of reasonable regulatory measures, like the ones challenged by Philip Morris.

From our perspective, the right to protect public health argument seemed uncontestable: tobacco is the only legal consumer product that kills half of its regular users when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer. Indeed, we asserted, it is Uruguay’s duty to enact bona fide, non-discriminatory measures to protect the public against these harms. Given the tobacco epidemic and its damage, it would be irresponsible for governments to do otherwise.

Moreover, because of Big Tobacco’s well-known tactics to obstruct meaningful and effective tobacco regulation (including pursuing the very case we are defending, and others like it), governments should take this right and duty seriously, enacting strong regulation that untangles the web of harm created by decades of tobacco industry deceit.

As Harold Hongju Koh, a member of our legal team, made clear in a recent Harvard Law School talk with his brother, Dr. Howard Kyongju Koh, tobacco control must be viewed as a public health and human rights imperative. Now it is up to the World Bank ICSID Tribunal, which is expected to release its decision in the Uruguay case later this year, to weigh in.

VIDEO BELOW: The Koh brothers’ talk, “Global Tobacco Control as a Public Health and Human Rights Imperative,” on April 4, 2016 at Harvard Law School. For an incisive take on the Uruguay case, and others like it, see comedian John Oliver’s segment on tobacco industry tactics using international trade and investment law that aired last year.


Share By Email


April 15, 2016

Alumni Perspective: “Cleaning up the ‘dirty little secrets’ of research ethics”

Posted by Deval Desai, LLM '09

The following piece, co-authored with Rebecca Tapscott, reflects on a recent roundtable at the International Studies Association in Atlanta with four experts in conducting qualitative research in fragile contexts: clinical director Tyler Giannini; peace and conflict specialists Alain Lempereur and Mareike Schomerus, and development policy expert Alex Berg. The piece originally ran on April 11 on the World Bank’s blog.

For policymakers, fragility and conflict are one of the 21st century’s key development challenges. Fragility is by definition heterogeneous and contextual—which is why qualitative research is such a good tool to help us understand exactly why “there” is so messed up, and what we could or should do to fix it. And so, perhaps logically, we—primarily young, western, tertiary-educated men and women—are doing more and more research. The more research we do, the more professional we become, as we build a core set of skills (i.e. methodologies) to explain the complexity of “there”—its war, crisis, and corruption—to the policymakers who want to fix (i.e. govern) it.

But what if the simple act of doing such research is also an act of governance? What if, when we go there to ask people to tell us their stories, they understand that our questions about security, or health, or livelihoods are just a step in a chain that ends with recommendations for—or against—blue helmets, food aid, or regime change? What if our power to ask questions of research subjects is predicated upon the inflexible idea that “there” is deviant and must be fixed?

These are not new issues. But their context has changed, and thus so have the ways we must think about them. As research has intensified, the practice of doing research has professionalized. At the same time, its ethical norms have not. When it comes to ethics, we continue to vest power in the individual researcher and her sense of what is right: she decides how much to focus on researcher positionality; how much of her research she should bring back to her research subjects; how and when to use her research to speak truth to power. If she is stymied, she can rail against the individual policymakers who haven’t listened to her work, or she can critique them with a theoretical lament about global structures of knowledge and power. These trade-offs allow the researcher to remain simultaneously noble and unaccountable. They are sometimes described as “dirty little secrets”, a phrase which reflects their individual and back-stage nature.

However, as “we” become more professional, there is precedent to revise the terms of these questions. The language of individual choice and structural critique could be replaced by something more systemic, committing us to our role within a class of people who actively participate in processes that govern fragile states. What might this alternative look like?

A few weeks ago, we discussed these very questions in a roundtable at the International Studies Association in Atlanta, with four experts in conducting qualitative research in fragile contexts: peace and conflict specialists Alain Lempereur and Mareike Schomerus, development policy expert Alex Berg, and human rights lawyer, Tyler Giannini. All shared a sense that the relationship between research and politics is hard, and requires a researcher to be self-reflexive about his or her role in the exercise of power in fragile states without succumbing to navel-gazing inaction.

Alain, Mareike, and Alex highlighted many of the challenges inherent in the relationship between the policymaker and the qualitative researcher. They discussed how they’ve decided when to play the role of researcher, and when to don the policymaker’s hat; how to balance the need to tell important stories with the concomitant costs to the stories’ characters (for example, the sunk costs of participating in research, or in some circumstances, political or social costs incurred from associating with a western researcher); and negotiating whether, as a researcher, we are using our subjects—or they are using us.

Tyler presented another view. He told us about how the field of human rights has evolved over the past two decades:

“Human rights names and shames as its core methodology. There is a lot of qualitative storytelling, which has moved onto social media… Increasingly, there’s a call for data and evidence… But our methods [as lawyers] are [sometimes] constrained by [the legal profession’s ethical code]. Above all, we have to first work for the client; and second, we have to have a good faith complaint [for cases]. This is very different from “research mode”. [In a recent project] we had no [plausible] venue to bring a complaint. [Yet] we compiled 1,000 pages of affidavits. These are formal documents—it’s above and beyond taking notes from interviews—the standard is higher. 1,000 pages seemed like a lot, we thought it would make an impression. We wouldn’t have done that 20 years ago.”

Continue Reading…


Share By Email


June 3, 2015

Thank You, Class of 2015 (Plus, a Few Pictures)!

Dear Graduates,


Secondly, if we missed each other during commencement, here is what we wanted to say: thank you. Thank you for the hard work and heart you put into your time with the International Human Rights Clinic. We are better for it.

Finally, we wanted to send our sincere appreciation to the students who made public service a focus of their time here. A grand total of 15 Clinic graduates performed more than 1,000 hours of community service: Kathryn Boulton, Kathleen Borschow, Afton Cissell, Avery Halfon, Julianne Hill, Brian Kelly, Akhila Kolisetty, Brein Millea, Elizabeth Nehring, Oded Oren, Francesca Procaccini, Kacie Rupp, Caroline Sacerdote, Melissa Shube, and Katie Soltis.

Terrific work, Class of 2015. We wish you all the good luck that life has to give.































Share By Email


May 12, 2015

From Bosnia to Somalia: Classifying “Involvement” in Armed Conflict

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

The laws governing armed conflict may seem simple on the surface. Soldiers can be targeted; civilians cannot. But the line between these groups is blurry and can have life-and-death implications.

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, civilians can be intentionally killed if they “directly participate in hostilities.” But what does direct participation mean? What if a civilian feeds combatants, drives members of an armed group, provides equipment or intelligence, or takes up arms to protect family members? Does it matter if involvement was voluntary or forced? Do such actions mean the civilian can be lawfully targeted?

CIVICCoverA new 84-page report, to which the International Human Rights Clinic contributed a case study, takes a fresh look at this contentious issue. The People’s Perspectives: Civilian Involvement in Armed Conflict, released Tuesday by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), documents the experiences of people in four former or current conflict zones: Bosnia, Libya, Gaza, and Somalia. It does not seek to come up with a conclusive definition of direct participation in hostilities. Instead, it aims to inform the debate among military commanders, lawyers, academics, and other experts by adding the voices of those who have lived through war.

The report finds that civilians become involved in conflict in a number of ways, ranging from fighting to providing logistical support to membership in civil defense forces or political parties. While sometimes voluntary, their involvement is often motivated by threats from armed groups or the need to survive. The people CIVIC interviewed had varied understandings of who is a civilian and who is a combatant and found it difficult to delineate the difference. They agreed, however, that the legal status that derives from involvement can not only determine whether civilians are targeted but also affect their lives long after a conflict ends.

On a 2013 field mission to Bosnia, Boehland looks at a memorial to those who died during the war.

On a 2013 field mission to Bosnia, Boehland looks at a memorial to those who died during the war.

In 2013, I led a four-person team, including Lara Berlin, JD ’14, Luca Urech, Fletcher ’13, and Nicolette Boehland, JD ’13, on a field mission to Bosnia, where we documented people’s experiences during the war. Later, as a post-graduate fellow at CIVIC, Boehland conducted investigations in three other conflict zones and served as lead author of the final report.

Testimony from those who lived through the Bosnia war of 1992-1995 highlighted the challenge of classifying involvement in a conflict. Some Bosnians told the Clinic’s research team that everyone during the armed conflict was a soldier, while others contended they were all civilians. A 40-year-old gardener from Srebrenica said, “The line between soldiers and civilians in war is invisible. . . . There is almost no line, no distinction.”

Residents of Sarajevo, for example, frequently fought on the front lines on certain days, but took off their uniforms and returned to their families on others. A woman who had lived through the city’s siege captured the confusion about the nature of these people’s involvement: “Many killed [during the conflict] were actually civilians, but I don’t know how to distinguish them. If my uncle is on duty, he’s one thing, but when he’s in line for bread, what is he?”

The stories of Bosnians and others in this report illustrate the modes, motivations, and complexities of people’s involvement in armed conflict. Experts and policymakers would do well to heed these realities as they continue their deliberations about the meaning of direct participation in hostilities.


NOTE: Boehland last week also released a report for Amnesty International, for which she now works, entitled “Death Everywhere”: War Crimes and Human Rights Abuses in Aleppo, Syria. The report documents that Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups have bombarded homes and civilian areas, detained and tortured residents, and created appalling living conditions. Boehland’s recent publications on civilian protection exemplify the work the Clinic hopes its graduates will take on and represents the best of human rights advocacy.