Blog: Criminal Justice

November 15, 2016

Wednesday, Nov. 16: “The Future of the Inter-American System”


jimfinalNovember 16, 2016

“The Future of the Inter-American System”

12:00- 1:00 p.m.

Pound 102


Please join us for a discussion with James Cavallaro, 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 was formerly the Executive Director of the Human Rights Program and Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School. He is also the founder of the Global Justice Center, a leading Brazilian human rights NGO.

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October 27, 2016

Tomorrow, Oct. 28: “Criminal Justice Reform in Pakistan”

criminal-justice-reform-in-pakistan-a-case-study-1October 28, 2016

Criminal Justice Reform in Pakistan: A Case Study

2:00 – 1:00 p.m.
Hauser 102

Please join us for a lunchtime discussion with Professor Osama Siddique, Henry J. Steiner Visiting Professor in Human Rights, on the human rights implications of criminal justice system reform in Pakistan. In most developing countries, criminal justice reform is driven by internationally-funded efforts, which often cut out critical local actors. In Pakistan, members of the justice sector are engaged in complex and meaningful dialogue that has influenced the process and content of criminal justice reform to more sustainable effect. Professor Siddique examines Pakistan’s cutting-edge effort and considers what lessons can be drawn from it for other countries.

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September 14, 2016

Tomorrow, Sept. 15: “U.S. Law and Policy on Transitional Justice”

zachary-kaufman-1-1September 15, 2016

“U.S. Law and Policy on Transitional Justice”

A book talk by Zachary D. Kaufman

12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
WCC 3016
Harvard Law School

Please join us for a discussion with Zachary D. Kaufman about his new book, United States Law and Policy on Transitional Justice: Principles, Politics, and Pragmatics (Oxford University Press, 2016), which explores the U.S. government’s support for, or opposition to, certain transitional justice institutions. Dr. Kaufman, a senior fellow at the Kennedy School, presents an overview of possible responses to atrocities (such as war crimes tribunals), then evaluates why and how the U.S. has pursued particular transitional justice options since World War II.


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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…

April 20, 2016

TODAY, April 20: “Human Rights, UN Millennium Development Goals, and Federal Prosecutions in Brazil”

RaquelApril 20, 2016

“Human Rights, UN Millennium Development Goals,

and Federal Prosecutions in Brazil”

A talk by Raquel Ferreira Dodge, Subprosecutor-General of the Republic, Federal Prosecutor’s Office, Brazil

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 3016


What if prosecutorial priorities were expressly oriented toward the promotion of human rights and development? Might that alter the typical targets of law enforcement? Please join us for a discussion with Raquel Ferreira Dodge, Subprosecutor-General of the Republic, Federal Prosecutor’s Office, Brazil, on the efforts of the Coordination and Review Chamber on Crime and Police Oversight of the Brazilian Federal Prosecutor’s Office (Ministério Público Federal) to link prosecutions more clearly to human rights promotion and the attainment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Organized by the Brazilian Studies Association at Harvard Law School, La Alianza, the Women’s Law Association, Students for Inclusion, and the Human Rights Program.

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April 7, 2016

Fernando Ribeiro Delgado recognized by students for integrating critical race theory into classroom

Posted by Keaton Allen-Gessesse, JD '16

Yesterday, it was my great honor to present Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, my former clinical instructor, with the Shatter the Ceiling Award for Excellence in Integrating Critical Race Theory into the Curriculum. The annual award, given by Students for Inclusion and the Shattered Ceiling Committee of the Harvard Women’s Law Association, is based on feedback from a student survey. Below are the comments I prepared for the ceremony, followed by the complete list of faculty honorees:

“The first time I thought ‘there may actually be a place for students like me here’ was during my 2L year in the International Human Rights Clinic.  Deborah and Tyler’s human rights seminar was intellectually engaging in ways I had never experienced at HLS and I was sure none of my other classes could compare. But my developing clinical education with Fernando was not just comparable; it was the ultimate practical supplement.

Fernando hugs Keaton as she presents him with the award.

Fernando hugs Keaton as she presents him with the award. Photo credit: Anna Joseph, JD ’16

Team meetings were my oasis amid an exorbitant education generally void of critical analysis. Our clinical project – using human rights law to advocate for a moratorium on private prison expansion in Brazil – facilitated an evolution of my social and legal imagination. As expected, we learned international case law and how to compose persuasive legal arguments.  More importantly, Fernando encouraged us to embrace our curiosity and creativity as we investigated the laws’ capacity to maintain or dismantle oppressive regimes.

Fernando takes a similar approach to his teaching in the classroom, as illustrated by the following quote from a current student:

‘The central premise of critical race theory in the legal context is how the law is used as a tool in maintaining white supremacy and how we can transform the relationship between the law and racial power. In our institution, we see a curriculum that fails to view the law through this lens with almost no emphasis on critical race theory. But its central premise is taken up by Fernando in his Human Rights and Criminal Justice class. Fernando examines how the prison industrial complex, from Brazil to Baltimore, is used as a tool to oppress communities of color and encourages his students to think critically about how the law is used to disenfranchise minority communities.  His students appreciate his carefully curated readings, which aside from breaking with Harvard Law tradition in being short, collect voices which are typically not heard within our school, including works by Angela Davis on prisons, Michelle Alexander on mass incarceration as the new Jim Crow, and Makau Matua on how our system of international human rights preserves an international legal order of white colonialism.

Fernando is a living example and inspiration of how we can use our power as human rights advocates to elevate the voices of marginalized causes and groups and to never forget that this is not about us but about liberation. For so many of us disillusioned by humanity, Fernando’s class is a sanctuary in which we as imperfect advocates can fight for racial justice in a system where we don’t even know what that means or looks like.’

I thought Fernando was one of the best-kept secrets at HLS, but this award demonstrates that it was foolish to think that I alone recognized his magic.  If anything, I am now discovering the significant community of students he has inspired and transformed throughout the years.

Fernando, I am so very honored to present you with this award. Without that formative semester in the Clinic and in your seminar, I would never have been able to envision a better legal system, nor a better Harvard Law School.  So I thank you deeply – more than I can adequately articulate – for modeling the type of human rights advocate that I, and so many others in this room, aspire to be. ”

Continue Reading…

February 17, 2016

Update: Long-Awaited Progress on Apartheid-Era Prosecution

Posted by Susan Farbstein

Last week in South Africa, there was an important—and surprising—development related to the 1983 torture and murder of Nokuthula Simelane.  I previously wrote about the case as an egregious example of the lack of accountability for apartheid-era crimes, as well as the apparent political obstruction that effectively blocked the investigation and prosecution of nearly 300 post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) cases.

But perhaps the tide is turning.  On February 8th, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced that it will charge four former apartheid security policemen with Simelane’s kidnapping and murder.  This represents the first prosecution of apartheid-era perpetrators since a 2007 plea agreement with five senior police officers, among them Adriaan Vlock, who served as Minister of Law and Order.

Former TRC Chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the breakthrough as a “most significant and historic decision,” but also questioned why the NPA delayed for decades and proceeded only after Simelane’s family launched a High Court case to compel the NPA into action.  The NPA has said that it is moving ahead now because of the strength of the evidence and merits of the case, which create reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution.

The four former members of the Soweto Special Branch—Willem Helm Johannes Coetzee, Anton Pretorius, Frederick Barnard Mong, and Msebenzi Radebe—are due to appear in court on February 26th.  Although three of the accused applied to and received amnesty from the TRC for Simelane’s abduction, none applied for her murder.  Because of this failure to make a full disclosure, the case was referred to the NPA and now appears set to proceed.

November 13, 2015

Threat of Extrajudicial Executions Looms in Bangladesh

Posted by Susan Farbstein

Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, faces the imminent threat of execution next week despite being convicted and sentenced through a deeply flawed process.  Our partners at Akin Gump are working with Chowdhury’s family to call attention to his case, in the hopes that increased international scrutiny might lead to a different outcome.

Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, faces the imminent threat of execution next week.

Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, faces the imminent threat of execution next week.

Chowdhury was tried and convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh, a body established by the ruling Awami League to prosecute those accused of committing international crimes during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.  A variety of international human rights organizations and experts have roundly criticized the ICT, which began operating in 2010, for failing to uphold basic fair trial and due process standards.

For example, Human Rights Watch has characterized the trials as “deeply problematic, riddled with questions about the independence and impartiality of the judges and fairness of the process.”  The International Commission of Jurists has identified “serious procedure flaws at all stages: pre-trial release has been routinely and arbitrarily denied; witnesses have been abducted and intimidated; there have been credible allegations of collusion between the Government, prosecutors and judges.”  In an exhaustive study commissioned by the International Forum for Democracy and Human Rights, Geoffrey Robinson also documented a range of procedural concerns related to treatment of alibi evidence, burden of proof, use of judicial notice, time and facilities to prepare the defense, hearsay evidence, and capacity of the judges.  And the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions and on the independence of judges and lawyers have spoken out against multiple irregularities, including complaints from defense witness and lawyers about “an atmosphere of hostility, intimidation and harassment.”

Chowdhury’s case brings these general concerns into stark focus, as his trial suffered from numerous flaws that violated fundamental due process standards.  For example, the tribunal denied Chowdhury’s defense team the opportunity to submit exonerating evidence to show that he was not present in Bangladesh at the time of his alleged crimes.  The ICT did not allow multiple defense eyewitnesses to testify and failed to consider affidavits from other key witnesses, including a former U.S. Ambassador and a former Pakistani Prime Minister.  The Bangladesh Supreme Court recently rendered a decision refusing to admit this substantial evidence; Chowdhury’s final review hearing is scheduled for November 17th.

Both Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have rightly warned that, “given serious concerns about the fairness of trials conducted before the Tribunal, the Government of Bangladesh should not implement death penalty sentences.”  Perpetrators of international crimes should be held accountable for their heinous acts.  But prosecutions—like Chowdhury’s—that fail to meet international fair trial standards cannot deliver the justice that survivors and victims deserve, and only serve to undermine the rule of law.

For more information, please click here.

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September 28, 2015

Coalizão demanda investigação federal em audiência na OEA sobre violência, corrupção no Complexo Prisional Aníbal Bruno (Curado)



Coalizão demanda investigação federal em audiência na OEA sobre violência, corrupção no Complexo Prisional Aníbal Bruno (Curado)


Lista de mais de 500 vítimas será apresentada à Corte IDH

28 de setembro de 2015, San José, Costa Rica – O Estado brasileiro aparecerá hoje perante a Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos para prestar esclarecimentos sobre o alto número de violações de direitos humanos dentro do Complexo Prisional Aníbal Bruno (renomeado Complexo do Curado), que vem se agravando desde que a Corte determinou a imposição de medidas provisórias em maio de 2014. A coalizão de entidades de direitos humanos que levaram o caso à OEA demanda uma investigação penal federal sobre violência e corrupção no local, tendo preparado novas evidências – incluindo fotografias, vídeos e uma lista com mais de 500 vítimas de morte e/ou violência.  Ontem, as falhas do Estado no Complexo geraram mais vítimas durante um tumulto, com Ricardo Alves, residente próximo ao presídio, morrendo de “bala perdida” e dois presos sendo baleados.

O Aníbal Bruno é um retrato emblemático das muitas aflições que assolam os sistemas prisionais latino-americanos. O notório presídio é representativo de uma convergência de fatores que frequentemente caminham juntos, como violência, tortura, acesso à saúde deficiente, superencarceramento e denúncias de corrupção, todos registrados em um mesmo local. Desde os estágios iniciais do caso, a coalizão de organizações que monitoram o presídio tem constantemente sustentado que o Estado falhou ao não abordar de maneira apropriada e efetiva tais problemas, trazendo à luz extensiva documentação dos abusos cometidos.

Durante a audiência, que será transmitida ao vivo no site da Corte às 14hs, horário de Brasília, a coalizão irá disponibilizar fotos, vídeos e outras provas apresentadas no website

A Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos começou a monitorar o Complexo Aníbal Bruno em 2011. Duante quatro anos, a coalizão catalogou violações à dignidade humana dos presos, funcionários e visitantes do Complexo. Um preso, por exemplo, relatou em fevereiro de 2015 que, em função da superlotação, dormia amarrado às barras que revestem a cela, por meio de uma rede improvisada. O encarceramento de mais de 7 mil indivíduos em um espaço com capacidade para menos de 1,9 mil pessoas é reflexo não somente da situação calamitosa do sistema prisional pernambucano, que possui uma das piores taxas de encarceramento no Brasil, mas também de uma realidade prisional nacional que historicamente encarcera violando direitos.

A coalização de organizações de direitos humanos responsáveis pelo caso compreende a Pastoral Carcerária, o Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões – SEMPRI, a Justiça Global e a Clínica Internacional de Direitos Humanos da Faculdade de Direito de Harvard.

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September 22, 2015

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Summons Brazil to Answer for Violence at Aníbal Bruno Prison


Inter-American Court of Human Rights Summons Brazil to Answer for Wave of Violence and Deaths at Aníbal Bruno Prison (Curado Complex)

Brazilian state will be “in the dock” before the Organization of American States (OAS) body at the end of September

September 22, 2015 – After three major riots and at least sixteen deaths (including one police officer killed and one prisoner quartered) within the last year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has taken the rare step of summoning the Brazilian state to a public hearing at the end of the month to answer for recurring violations at the Aníbal Bruno Prison Complex (renamed Curado Complex), one of the largest prisons in Latin America.

Nota 1222 para publicarThe Court has ordered the Brazilian state to protect the life and integrity of prisoners, staff, and visitors of the notorious prison since May 2014, when it analyzed hundreds of complaints of abuse presented by a coalition of human rights organizations.  At the hearing—set to take place on September 28 and be broadcast live from Costa Rica at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Court website ( the coalition will present new evidence demonstrating the continuation of grave abuses at the Complex, including decapitations, gang rapes, beatings, and knife attacks.

Aníbal Bruno Prison has been under international scrutiny since August 2011, when the facility started being monitored by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  Since then, the coalition has documented chronic abuses, such as the presence of the so-called chaveiros: prisoners who effectively carry out official functions in the cellblocks, and are granted the authority to maintain order and discipline in the facility, often through the use of violence.  A window onto the crisis of the Brazilian prison system, Aníbal Bruno incarcerates more than 7000 men in space designated for fewer than 1900, with an insufficient number of officers to adequately ensure security.  The State has also been negligent regarding the conditions of human security pertaining to state agents.

The coalition of human rights groups responsible for the case is comprised of the Catholic Prison Ministry (Pastoral Carcerária), Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons (Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões – SEMPRI), Global Justice (Justiça Global), and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

In February of this year, the coalition released the filings from the international case online in order to bring attention to the situation of the Aníbal Bruno Prison Complexo.  For more information, please visit:



Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos Exige Explicações ao Brasil sobre Onda de Violência e Mortes no Presídio Aníbal Bruno (Complexo do Curado)

Estado Brasileiro estará “no banco do réus” no final de setembro perante órgão da Organização dos Estados Americanos (OEA)


22 de Setembro de 2015 – Após três rebeliões e ao menos 16 (dezesseis) óbitos (incluindo um policial morto e um preso esquartejado) no último ano, a Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos tem tomado a rara iniciativa de convocar o Estado brasileiro a uma audiência pública no final do mês para responder sobre as violações reiteradas no Complexo Prisional Aníbal Bruno (renomeado Complexo do Curado), um dos maiores presídios da América Latina. Continue Reading…

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