Blog: Press Releases
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December 20, 2018
We are pleased to present HRP’s 2017-2018 Annual Report. The report showcases the global reach and impact of the Human Rights Program in its 34th year, featuring work on populism, armed conflict, and accountability litigation. It spotlights fieldwork undertaken by students and alumni, and details pedagogical innovations and new research.
We thank all of the students, partners, and alumni who made the year so strong.
Click below to open the Annual Report as a flipbook or download the PDF.
December 15, 2018
Defense Alliance with US not Legal Bar to Ratifying New Treaty
(Cambridge, MA, December 14, 2018) – Australia’s alliance with the United States need not stand in the way of Australia joining the 2017 treaty banning nuclear weapons, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic said in a report released today.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) would require Australia to end its reliance on US nuclear arms for defense. But it would not undermine the countries’ broader collective security agreement established under the 1951 ANZUS Treaty.
“Australia has long claimed to support nuclear disarmament,” said Bonnie Docherty, lead author of the report and the Clinic’s associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection. “Joining the ban treaty would advance that goal without creating insurmountable legal obstacles to ongoing military relations with the US.”
The 13-page report “Australia and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” explains why Australia can renounce its nuclear defense arrangement with the US (under the so-called “nuclear umbrella”) while maintaining military ties to its ally. The report also shows the compatibility of the treaty with Australia’s disarmament commitments under other treaties and policies.
The Labor Party is expected to discuss the TPNW at its national conference from December 16 to 18, 2018. The conference will provide a forum for Labor to develop a new party platform. In its last platform, adopted in 2015, the Labor Party called for negotiations of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Continue Reading…
November 16, 2018
The Human Rights Program invites applications for its Visiting Fellows Program for the 2019-2020 academic year.
About the Visiting Fellows Program
The Visiting Fellows Program gives individuals with a demonstrated commitment to human rights an opportunity to step back and conduct a serious inquiry in the human rights field. Visiting Fellows are usually scholars with a substantial background in human rights, experienced activists, or members of the judiciary or other branches of government.
Typically, fellows come from outside the U.S., and spend from one semester to a full academic year in residence at Harvard Law School, where they devote the majority of their time to research and writing on a human rights topic.
The fellows form an essential part of the human rights community at Harvard Law School, and participate in the Human Rights Program’s Visiting Fellows Colloquium, as well as a number of other activities.
The Human Rights Program provides between four to eight fellows annually with a shared office space, access to computers, and use of the Harvard library system.
In order to profit from the fellowship, fluent spoken English is essential.
For the 2019-2020 year, HRP has a particular interest in research focusing on the topic of indirect discrimination in comparative perspective.
As a general matter, the Human Rights Program does not fund fellows. However, applicants who are nationals of low or middle income countries are eligible to apply for the Eleanor Roosevelt Fellowship, which offers a stipend to help defray the cost of living.
The deadline to submit applications is February 1, 2019. Click here for more information on how to apply or write to Emily Nagisa Keehn, the Associate Director of the Academic Program, at email@example.com.
November 16, 2018
(Geneva, November 14, 2018) – Countries at an upcoming United Nations disarmament conference, faced with evidence of 30 new incendiary weapons attacks in Syria, should agree to strengthen the international law that governs their use, the International Human Rights Clinic said in a report released this week.
The 13-page report, “Myths and Realities About Incendiary Weapons,” counters common misconceptions that have slowed international progress in this area. Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. While often designed for marking and signaling or producing smokescreens, incendiary weapons can burn human flesh to the bone, leave extensive scarring, and cause respiratory damage and psychological trauma. They also start fires that destroy civilian objects and infrastructure.
“The excruciating burns and lifelong disabilities inflicted by incendiary weapons demand a global response,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of conflict and civilian protection at the Clinic. “Simple changes in international law could help save civilian lives during wartime.”
The report details the exceptionally cruel harm caused by incendiary weapons, explains the shortcomings of existing law, and lays out steps countries should take in response. The report, designed as an accessible overview of the incendiary weapons issue, was jointly published with Human Rights Watch.
Countries that are party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) are scheduled to address incendiary weapons at the UN in Geneva from November 19 to 23. Protocol III to this treaty imposes some restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, but it does not provide sufficient protections for civilians.
November 1, 2018
Press Statement: Constitutional Law Scholars Respond to Trump’s Threats Against Birthright Citizenship
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, leading constitutional scholars stated that there is no serious scholarly debate about whether a president can, through executive action, eliminate birthright citizenship and contradict the Supreme Court’s long-standing and consistent interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. Gerald L. Neuman, HRP Co-Director and J. Sinclair Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, was one of fifteen authors on this statement.
The full statement reads as follows:
President Donald Trump is reportedly considering an executive order to essentially rewrite the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship. In an interview to be aired later this week, he explains that people are now telling him that he can do this “just with an executive order.” As constitutional scholars who have studied the 14th Amendment, we write to say in no uncertain terms that he is wrong.
The Citizenship Clause—enshrined as Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1868—states simply that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.” The 14th Amendment, adopted in the immediate aftermath of a Civil War that very nearly ripped this country in two, established the foundational principle that all persons are entitled to due process and equal protection under the law. The Citizenship Clause contained therein was meant as a direct rebuke to the infamous decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), in which the Supreme Court held that that people of African descent born on our soil whose ancestors were slaves could not be citizens, even if they were free.
The Supreme Court 120 years ago in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), settled the very issue raised by the president. In that case, the Court held that with certain very limited exceptions, all children born in the United States are natural-born citizens regardless of the citizenship status of their parents. Many decades later in the case of Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), in which the Court upheld the right of all children regardless of alienage to a free public education, the Court analogized its holding on Equal Protection Clause grounds to the settled law on the Citizenship Clause as declared in Wong Kim Ark. Specifically, the Court noted that just as undocumented immigrants are “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” for purposes of the Citizenship Clause, they too are “within the jurisdiction” of a state for purposes of the Equal Protection Clause. Id. at 211 n.10.
There is today no serious scholarly debate about whether a president can, through executive action, contradict the Supreme Court’s long-standing and consistent interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. Instead, as conservative legal scholar James Ho, now a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit nominated by President Trump, wrote more than a decade ago, “a constitutional amendment is … the only way to restrict birthright citizenship.” The executive branch’s own lawyers have long agreed.
It took a Civil War—the bloodiest conflict in American history—to resolve a dispute about what it means to be an American—a person—in this country. The 14th Amendment, including the Citizenship Clause, is the rightly cherished result of that American tragedy.
Signatories included: Muneer I. Ahmad, Yale Law School; Walter E. Dellinger III, Duke University School of Law; Lucas Guttentag, Stanford Law School and Yale Law School; Harold Hongju Koh, Yale Law School; Stephen H. Legomsky, Washington University School of Law; Gerard N. Magliocca, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law; David A. Martin, University of Virginia School of Law; Michael W. McConnell, Stanford Law School; Hiroshi Motomura, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law; Gerald L. Neuman, Harvard Law School; Cristina Rodríguez, Yale Law School; Peter J. Spiro, Temple University Law School; Geoffrey R. Stone, The University of Chicago; Laurence H. Tribe, Harvard Law School; and Stephen I. Vladeck, The University of Texas at Austin Law School.
Find the full press release on the Center for American Progress’s website.
October 29, 2018
This month, the Musawah Movement for Equality in the Muslim Family submitted a thematic report to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee advocating for codification of family law provisions to protect the rights of Muslim women in Mauritius. International Human Rights Clinic students Samantha Lint JD’20 and Natalie McCauley JD’19 contributed to drafting the report and developing its legal recommendations, working in close collaboration with Mauritian attorney and family law expert, Narghis Bundhun.
As the report notes, a major cause of the lack of rights protection and inequality for Muslim women in Mauritius is the absence of a clear legal framework that protects rights in the context of religious marriages. The report highlights this legal ambiguity and key resulting inequalities that harm Muslim Mauritian women and in turn damage families, communities, and society as a whole. The report encourages the State of Mauritius to leverage its robust framework of diversity and inclusion to promote equality for Muslim women and take concrete steps to ensure all women in Mauritius enjoy full legal protection.
The report will be considered by the CEDAW Committee in its Constructive Dialogue with the Government of Mauritius. Today, Monday, October 29, the IHRC team has joined Musawah in Geneva, Switzerland, where the session and associated Committee briefings are now taking place. Tune in to the #CEDAW71 Constructive Dialogue starting tomorrow (10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. CET) and follow Musawah on Twitter for updates. Watch live at http://webtv.un.org/…/71st-session-committee-…/5723840293001.
October 12, 2018
Posted by Bonnie Docherty
Humanitarian disarmament has become a highly effective and firmly established means of dealing with arms-induced human suffering. This year, it has celebrated many milestones that highlight its achievements. These milestones have also generated forward-looking discussions about how civil society campaigns can best work together to advance humanitarian disarmament’s overarching aim.
In March, Harvard Law School’s Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) assembled 25 humanitarian disarmament leaders from around the world for a two-day conference in which they could reflect on the state of the field and strategize about its future. The ACCPI has produced a summary of the conference and its conclusions in a new 27-page report Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead. It has also launched the website humanitariandisarmament.com, which will serve experts and the public alike.
Humanitarian disarmament seeks to prevent and remediate harm caused by arms and related activities through the establishment of norms. It is a people-centered approach, driven by civil society campaigns, that focuses on human rather than national security. Continue Reading…
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.
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
July 13, 2018
During the 2018-2019 academic year, the Human Rights Program will welcome five exemplary human rights practitioners and scholars to Harvard Law School for a semester or year of study on a diverse slate of research topics. Learn more about the visiting fellowship here and see below for details on the incoming cohort.
Dr. Tony Ellis (New Zealand)
Dr Tony Ellis is a New Zealand Human Rights Barrister in Blackstone Chambers. His approach is comparative and international. He holds a doctor of juridical science from La Trobe, an M.Phil from University of Essex, an LL.M. from Victoria University, and an LL.B. from Monash University. Dr. Ellis was President of the New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties for over eight years.
He is the first New Zealand lawyer to have won cases before the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies. His current caseload includes murder appeals, public law cases, and cases where his clients are intellectually disabled. He is currently working on cases involving a death in custody, an extradition to China for homicide, and a torture case involving ECT treatments. In addition, he has a variety of cases pending before the UN Human Rights Committee and UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as a judicial independence case before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
At HRP, his research will focus on the arbitrary detention of the intellectually disabled within an international scope.
Jong Chul Kim (Republic of Korea)
Jong Chul Kim is the founder and program director for the public interest lawyers’ organization, Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL) in Seoul. He holds an LL.M. from Korea Graduate University and an LL.B. from Korea University and obtained his Certificate in Law at the Judicial Research and Training Institute.
His work focuses on the rights of vulnerable migrants in Korea, including refugees, victims of human trafficking, and migrant detainees. He also specializes in business and human rights, and monitors human rights abuses committed by Korean companies overseas. He has conducted field investigations of human rights violations by Korean corporations in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Vietnam. Most recently, with the International Organization on Migration, he conducted field research on the forced labor of Southeast Asian fishermen in Korean fishing vessels. In 2011-2012, he served as chair of the human rights department for the Korean Bar Association. In 2016, the Korean Bar Association awarded Kim with the prize for “Best Public Interest Lawyer.” In 2018, Kim received the Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award from the U.S. State Department.
At HRP, Kim will research the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies’ jurisprudence on the topics of business and human rights and migration, and the extent to which their decisions are implemented.
Sabrina Mahtani (Zambia / U.K.)
Sabrina Mahtani is the OPIA / HRP Wasserstein Fellow for the 2018-2019 year. She is a human rights lawyer from Zambia and the U.K. with over fourteen years’ experience working in the human rights field. She specializes on the rights of women in the criminal justice system in Africa and has prepared cases before domestic, regional, and international courts. Mahtani holds a B.A. in Law and History from University College London and an LL.M. from New York University.
Since 2014, she has worked as a researcher at Amnesty International, leading the organization’s research and advocacy work on Anglophone West Africa. She is currently working on the transitional justice and accountability process. Mahtani is also the founder of the award winning NGO, AdvocAid, which provides access to justice, education, and empowerment for women involved in the criminal justice system in Sierra Leone. She has previously worked at the Special Court for Sierra Leone and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Mahtani was awarded the Amnesty International Gender Defender award, a Vital Voices Lead Fellowship, and the Trainee Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award at the Law Society Junior Lawyers Awards.
At HRP, Mahtani will research African jurisprudence on legal defenses for women who have killed their domestic abusers after prolonged periods of abuse.
Alpha Sesay (Sierra Leone)
Alpha Sesay is an Advocacy Officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), where he works on promoting human rights and the rule of law in Africa. He holds an LL.B. from the University of Sierra Leone and an LL.M from the University of Notre Dame Law School.
Sesay presently co-leads OSJI’s project on strengthening regional human rights mechanisms and focuses on improving implementation processes for decisions of human rights bodies in Africa. Previously, Sesay worked in The Hague as a Legal Officer for OSJI’s International Justice Program, where he monitored the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Sesay has also previously worked with the Special Court for Sierra Leone, is founding president of the Fourah Bay College Human Rights Clinic, and is founding Executive Director of the Sierra Leone Court Monitoring Program. He has worked and consulted with the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, International Center for Transitional Justice and with Human Rights Watch.
At HRP, he will research challenges to and mechanisms to increase the successful implementation of decisions of human rights bodies in Africa.
Dr. Ralph Wilde (U.K.)
Dr. Ralph Wilde is a Reader at University College London’s Faculty of Laws. He holds a Ph.D. and an LL.M. from Cambridge University, a Diploma in European Human Rights Law from the European University Institute, and a B.Sc. from the London School of Economics.
Dr. Wilde is currently engaged in an interdisciplinary research project on the extraterritorial application of international human rights law. His book International Territorial Administration: How Trusteeship and the Civilizing Mission Never Went Away (OUP 2008) was awarded the Certificate of Merit (book prize) of the American Society of International Law in 2009. He previously served on the executive bodies of the American and European Societies of International Law and the International Law Association.
At HRP, Dr. Wilde will work on his monograph on the nature and scope of international human rights law, to be published as part of the Oxford University Press ‘Elements of International Law’ series.
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