Blog: Human Rights and the Environment

March 24, 2013

Finding Momentum: Human Rights and the Environment

Posted by Tyler Giannini

Earlier this month, the recently appointed UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox, presented his preliminary report to the Human Rights Council. For those of us who have worked in the field of human rights and the environment since the early 1990s, the fact that this report is even being presented to the Council is a major advance.

In the early 1990s, the mention of a link between human rights and the environment raised eyebrows in many circles. Today, that’s no longer the case. Instead, the international community and the Independent Expert have moved on to other questions, such as: what is the precise legal relationship between human rights and the environment? In his comments before the Human Rights Council, Knox described an urgent need for such clarification, saying it was necessary “for States and others to better understand what those obligations require and ensure that they are fully met, at every level from the local to the global.”

Within the arena of human rights and the environment, we have seen specific issues gain major traction over the past two decades. Take the right to water. A recent seminar organized with Prof. Mathias Risse of Harvard Kennedy School and Sharmila Murthy of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy shows just how many disciplines (law, philosophy, urban planning, geography, engineering, public health and economics) today think about the right to water. We designed the seminar to provoke debate and discussion around four themes: nature of the rights to water and sanitation; content of the human rights to water and sanitation; strategies for accountability; and community perspective and bottom-up critique of human rights. It did just that. Our final report from the seminar shows just how far the discourse around human and the environment has come.

March 20, 2013

Iraqi Civilians and U.S. Veterans Come Together to Demand the Right to Heal

Posted by Cara Solomon, Deborah Popowski and Stella Kim, JD '13

Yesterday, on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we joined our coalition partners in the launch of the Right to Heal initiative, a collaboration between Iraq Veterans Against the War  (IVAW), the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), as well as other supporting organizations. One by one, standing in front of the White House, members of IVAW and OWFI delivered the message that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not over for them.

On the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Joyce Wagner, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, gives testimony in front of the White House. Drake Logan, a member of the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, stands beside her.

On the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Joyce Wagner, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, gives testimony about the oppression of women on both sides of the conflict. Drake Logan, a member of the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, stands beside her.

The organizations, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, announced that they would file a petition for a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, calling for U.S. accountability for the human cost of these wars. In testimonies that were both moving and motivating, speakers on both sides of the U.S.-led conflict in Iraq described the toll that a decade of war had taken on their communities, including the loss of thousands of lives; devastating trauma and injury with shamefully inadequate or non-existent medical care; a legacy of health and environmental poisoning due to toxic munitions and burn pits; gender-based violence as a weapon and byproduct of war; and a generation of orphans and displaced people.

Joyce Wagner, a longtime member of IVAW, spoke about the violence the war had unleashed on women, and specifically, about her experience with Military Sexual Trauma. We thank her for allowing us to reprint her comments below:

In recent years, the United Nations has taken a strong stance against gender-based violence, calling it a “pandemic” that concerns not only women, but every single person on the planet.

Worldwide, it is estimated that one in five women will be raped in her lifetime. In the US military, it is estimated that one in three women will be raped during her time in service. I am the one in three. Continue Reading…

March 11, 2013

SAVE THE DATE: Special Event to Mark the 10th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq

March 26, 2013

“For Us, The Wars Aren’t Over: The Right to Heal Initiative”

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Wasserstein 2012

Food will be served

Ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Human Rights Program and organizations from across the Harvard and Boston communities mark the anniversary with speakers from two groups still living with the consequences of the last decade of U.S.-led wars: Iraqis and U.S. veterans and service members.  Members of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and Iraq Veterans Against the War will speak about the costs of war they share.  Together with attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Harvard Law School, they will discuss the Right to Heal Initiative, the partnership they have formed to fight for redress.

Speakers:

Yanar Mohammed, President, Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
Ms. Mohammed is the founder of OWFI, a nongovernmental organization that promotes women’s rights and interests in Iraq.  She will speak about OWFI’s work in an Iraqi town near a U.S. military base that has seen dramatic increases in the incidence of birth defects, cancers, and other severe health ailments.

Matt Howard, Member, Iraq Veterans Against the War
Mr. Howard served two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps.  He will discuss the costs of war for U.S. service members and veterans, particularly the obstacles that prevent too many from receiving proper medical and mental health care.  IVAW and its subcommittee, Afghan Veterans Against the War, have advocated for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and for reparations to Iraqis for the costs of war.

Pamela Spees, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights

Ms. Spees will discuss CCR’s role as a support player in the Right to Heal’s collaborative project to ensure the U.S. takes concrete steps for health care, accountability, and reparations.

Moderator: Deborah Alejandra Popowski, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School

This event is being co-sponsored by: HLS Advocates for Human Rights, Harvard National Security and Law Association, Islamic Society of Boston, National Lawyers Guild (Mass. Chapter), Veterans for Peace (Ch. 9, Smedley D. Butler Brigade), BC Law Holocaust/Human Rights Project, HKS Human Rights Professional Interest Council, HLS American Constitution Society, HLS Democrats, HLS Human Rights Journal, Harvard International Law Journal, HLS Muslim Law Students Association, Harvard Women’s Law Association, HSPH Muslim Student Group, MIT Amnesty International, MIT Center for International Studies, MIT Muslim Student Association, Northeastern Univ. Arab Student Association, Human Rights Caucus at Northeastern Univ. School of Law, Tufts Univ. New Initiative for Middle East Peace, Tufts Univ. Fletcher School Human Rights Project

March 7, 2013

Tomorrow: Clinicians Moderate Panels on Human Rights and the Environment; Syrian Refugees

Posted by Cara Solomon

For those of you in need of an end-of-the-week intellectual treat, tomorrow our clinicians are stepping in to moderate discussions on some of the most pressing issues of the day:

Tyler, our Clinic’s co-director, will moderate a panel at the International Law Journal Symposium on Addressing Environmental, Human Rights and Development Issues in International Investment Arbitration.” That panel, which runs from 4:15- 5:30 p.m. in Wasserstein 204, will feature Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Professor of International Law at the University of Geneva; Joost Pauwelyn, Nomura Visiting Professor of International Financial Systems at Harvard Law School, Professor of International Law at Graduate Institute of International & Development Studies at Geneva; and Enrique Gomez-Pinzon, Partner at Holland & Knight LLP; and Attila Tanzi, Professor of International Law at the University of Bologna.

And Meera, our Clinical Advocacy Fellow, will moderate an American Bar Association tele-conference entitled “The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Perspectives from the US, UN, and Civil Society.” That panel, from 12- 1:30 p.m., will feature Zaid Hydari, of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly; Jana Mason, of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees; Jennifer Williams, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State; and a Syrian refugee activist TBA.

September 28, 2012

Performance Art (and Other Pictures from HRP Orientation)

Posted by Cara Solomon

Here’s a Friday afternoon treat for you: an iconic image from the law school experience.

When Fernando spotted this display at our recent HRP Orientation, he rightly described it as a piece of performance art—except, of course, that it wasn’t.

Below are some other images from the event. Apologies in advance for the poor picture quality, and a belated thanks to all who came, learned, and ate. We were so happy to have you there. Continue Reading…

August 22, 2012

Giannini and Neuman appointed co-directors of the Human Rights Program

Posted by Harvard Law School Communications

Tyler Giannini, Clinical Professor of Law, and Gerald L. Neuman ’80, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign and Comparative Law, have been appointed co-directors of the Human Rights Program (HRP) at Harvard Law School.

Said HLS Dean Martha Minow: “I’m delighted to announce Gerry Neuman and Tyler Giannini as co-directors of Harvard’s Human Rights Program. Tyler is a pioneer in the development of theories of liability in the field of human rights, and his efforts have guided our path-breaking clinic and he has collaborated with clinical students and superb colleagues in human rights advocacy pursuing all the available tools—investigations, litigation, media, and coalition-building. Gerry’s distinguished scholarship spans human rights, constitutional law, and regulations of immigration and refugees; his immense expertise in international human rights law includes his invaluable contributions and experiences as a member of the UN’s Human Rights Committee. Outstanding as individuals, Tyler and Gerry are an amazing team, and I look forward to the new initiatives emerging through their collaboration and leadership.”

HRP is the central venue for international human rights work at Harvard Law School, offering students a range of opportunities to engage in academic pursuits and to apply theory to practice, both on campus and abroad. By fostering scholarship, engagement with pressing issues, and training in human rights advocacy, HRP’s faculty has worked for decades to educate students who will become leaders of the human rights movement. Now in its 28th year, HRP was founded by Emeritus Professor Henry Steiner ’55.

“I cannot think of two better people than Gerald Neuman and Tyler Giannini to continue to strengthen HRP as one of the premiere human rights programs in the world,” said Lisa Dealy, assistant dean of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. “Having them both at the helm of this joint directorship ensures that the International Human Rights Clinic is closely integrated with the academic Human Rights Program, which is greatly beneficial to both the practice on the ground and the broader study of human rights law.”

“It’s an honor to be part of HRP and its long tradition of excellence,” Giannini said. “HRP represents the very best in the Law School’s efforts to combine scholarship and practice in an academic setting. HRP is a place where scholarship is informed by practice through our International Human Rights Clinic, and just as importantly, the efforts of our Clinic are enriched greatly by HRP’s engagement with intellectual pursuits.”

Said Neuman: “I am excited about continuing the Human Rights Program’s tradition of intellectually rigorous engagement with the field of human rights advocacy and implementation. I also hope to build stronger connections with the wider academic community here at HLS, and in the University more generally.”

Continue Reading…

June 27, 2012

Human Rights and Climate Change: An Opinion Piece

Posted by Cara Solomon

At the request of the Yale Journal of International Law, Bonnie and Tyler wrote an opinion piece, “Human Rights and Climate Change Adaptation at the International Level”, which appeared yesterday as part of an online symposium. It responded to the new article “Avoiding Apartheid: Climate Change Adaptation and Human Rights Law,” written by Margaux Weiss (HLS ’08 and HRP graduate) and David Weiss. Here is an excerpt of Bonnie and Tyler’s piece:

“The issue of climate change refugees provides an excellent case study of how a human rights framework could work at the international level. Experts predict that climate change will lead to the migration of tens, and maybe hundreds, of millions of people, many of whom will cross national borders. [Hall and Weiss] note that recognition of climate change refugees is an example of “how human rights could begin to play a concrete role in climate negotiations,” but they do not explore the topic in depth. In “Confronting a Rising Tide: A Proposal for a Convention on Climate Change Refugees,” we lay out the components and negotiation process for a proposed instrument on climate change refugees. We also note that an integrated approach that blends efforts to mitigate and adapt is needed. The proposal draws on human rights for essential protections, assignment of state responsibility, and procedural elements.”

Bonnie and Tyler published “Confronting a Rising Tide” in the Harvard Environmental Law Review in 2009. They have both regularly supervised clinical projects on the intersection of human rights and the environment and co-teach a seminar on the topic.

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May 31, 2012

Clinic Graduates Honored for Community Service

Posted by Cara Solomon

A little late but no less heartfelt, here is our huge congratulations to Daniel Saver, Poppy Alexander, and Yonina Alexander for the community service awards they won last week.

Daniel was a co-recipient of the Frank S. Righeimer, Jr. Prize for Student Citizenship. Established in memory of Frank S. Righeimer, Jr. ’32, the prize is awarded annually to a graduating student or students in recognition of exceptional citizenship.

Poppy and Yonina received the Dean’s Award for Community Leadership, given to graduates who have contributed time and energy to making the HLS community a better place through involvement in student organizations, community service groups, and individual efforts.

Daniel, Poppy, and Yonina have been fixtures at the Clinic since their 2L year–talented and tireless in the way they approach the fight for human rights. They’ve worked on more than a dozen clinical projects between them, from Alien Tort Statute litigation related to violations in Bolivia and Nigeria, to fact-finding in South Africa and along the Thai/Burma border, to efforts to support indigenous rights in Chile.

They’re also just a lot of fun to have around the office, which is good, because they were around the office A LOT. And they continue to be, even now that they have graduated; it’s all hands on deck for the latest amicus curiae brief in the Kiobel case, due to the Supreme Court in mid-June.

May 30, 2012

Daring to Be a Doer: Profile of Clara Long, JD ’12

Posted by Corydon Ireland, Harvard News

Note: A shorter version of this profile appeared in the May 24, 2012 issue of the Harvard Gazette

Clad in black, with her mortarboard jaunty, Clara J. K. Long received a J.D. from Harvard Law School on May 24. She was one of hundreds that day – but surely the only one who had lived in a Brazilian landfill.

Clara Long, a longtime member of the Clinic, plans to pursue a career in human rights advocacy. Photo Credit: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Back then, Long was a Brown University undergraduate helping to organize city trash pickers. She lived on sliding mounds of trash, with noisy birds wheeling overhead, for just one month. But the experience is an emblem of the eccentric verve with which Long has so far lived her young life. As a teenager she jumped on a plane to tour Russia, roamed through Central America with just a backpack and bravery for company, hiked 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, and one summer – still a biology major then – grew cancer cells in a New York City laboratory.

In her 20s, she worked alongside peasant socialists in Brazil, summered as a grant writer in Tanzania, taught filmmaking in Burundi, interviewed residents of the U.S.-Mexican border as a young journalist, helped with an anti-debt slavery campaign in the Brazilian Amazon, worked as a “fixer” – advance person and translator – for American journalists in Venezuela, and as a law student did grinding rounds of legal work in American and South American prisons. This was before and after graduating from Brown University in 2004, and earning a master’s degree from the London School of Economics (2005) and another (in journalism) from Stanford University (2007). As part of the journey, Long mastered three new languages – French, Spanish, and Portuguese. (Today she is studying Swahili, whose grammar she calls “a gift.”)

During these years, alongside a passion for adventure, Long embraced an equal and motivating passion for justice and human rights. In all, the life this 32-year-old has lived so far was summed up nicely years ago by Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian: “In every act of justice,” he said, “daring is necessary and risk is unavoidable.”

Continue Reading…

May 16, 2012

Supporting Public Interest Litigation in Mongolia

Posted by Bayartsetseg Jigmiddash, LLM ’08, Special Assistant to the President of Mongolia

A few weeks ago, the Office of the President of Mongolia and Open Society Foundation—Mongolia held a conference on public interest litigation.  In many countries, public interest litigation is commonly used to advance legal and social policy, but here in Mongolia, the concept is rather novel to most NGOs and lawyers alike.  There is growing interest in public interest litigation by our NGO sector, with human rights groups filing an increasing number of cases on environmental rights, but there are also significant challenges to gaining momentum.

The April 2012 conference on supporting public interest litigation in Mongolia.

We reached out to Harvard Law School—and in particular, to Mindy Roseman, Academic Director of the Human Rights Program—to bring a comparative and engaged perspective on using courts to advance the public interest, and to support those in Mongolia who are working to expand the use and effectiveness of public international law.

Continue Reading…