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November 17, 2017
Clinic Releases Joint Report on Challenges and Significance of Documentation for Refugees in Nairobi
Posted by Anna Crowe
The International Human Rights Clinic and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Kenya released a report today in Kenya detailing the challenges refugees in Nairobi face in obtaining the official documentation needed to secure their status and identity, as well as the significance of documentation to their daily lives. Most of the nearly half a million refugees in Kenya live in refugee camps, but approximately 64,000 live outside the camps, in Nairobi.
The report, “Recognising Nairobi’s Refugees,” highlights refugees’ experiences in Nairobi with registration and refugee status determination – processes that lead to documentation. The challenges refugees described included stalled or suspended processes; inconsistency in requirements and information; substantial delays in receiving documentation; and confusion about the next steps to take in a process. The report relies on interviews with more than 30 refugees living in Nairobi, as well as with representatives of local and international non-governmental organizations; the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and the Kenyan government’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat.
In interviews, refugees described the critical importance of documentation to establishing a sense of security in the lives, as well as to proving their identity in official and informal settings. Without documentation, many reported frustration, stress, and even a feeling of hopelessness. Refugees lacking documentation also reported problems with police, such as harassment, which in turn led them to restrict their movements.
In their joint report, the Clinic and NRC recommend that, among other things, the Government of Kenya should continue to register refugees living outside camps; recognize refugees’ right to freedom of movement within the country; produce and widely disseminate clear guidance on registration and refugee status determination procedures; and undertake measures, such as training of relevant officials, to ensure refugees can live without fear or restriction in the city.
Today’s report is part of the Clinic’s ongoing focus on legal identity and refugee documentation. In previous years, the Clinic has collaborated with NRC to examine the challenges and significance of documentation – such as birth certificates and ID cards – for Syrian refugees living in Jordan.
November 14, 2017
We are very pleased to announce that HRP’s 2016-2017 annual report is now online. We hope it gives you a window into some of our work last year, on topics ranging from the rights of foreign nationals to accountability litigation to women’s rights. Thanks to all of the students, partners, and alumni who made the year so strong.
October 26, 2017
Posted by Bonnie Docherty
Although I never met Carl Thorne-Thomsen, I’ve known about him for as long as I can remember.
I distinctly recall driving down the road to my grandparents’ home in Lake Forest, IL, as my mother told me about her close high school friend who had died in Vietnam. Carl had opposed the war, she explained, but he felt it was unjust for him to be sheltered from the draft while others with less privilege were sent to fight in Southeast Asia. In a quiet act of protest, he withdrew from Harvard College during his junior year and was drafted in April 1967. Two months after arriving in Vietnam, and 50 years ago this week, he was killed in combat.
Although I was in elementary school at the time of this conversation, Carl’s decision to live—and die—by his principles made a vivid impression on me. Decades later, having spent most of my career on issues of armed conflict, I still find myself compelled. The 50th anniversary of his death motivated me to track down more information through archives and interviews and to write a Vita for Harvard Magazine’s September/October issue.
Carl’s story demonstrates the power of an individual to have a lasting impact. Virtually everyone I interviewed used the word “special” to describe him. Crew teammates and fellow soldiers alike cited the strength of character Carl showed in standing up against the inequity of the draft. On the battlefield, his bravery as a radio operator saved lives. Several Harvard classmates said they had sought out Carl’s name on the Vietnam Wall, and for decades, his commanding officer carried with him a letter Carl’s mother sent after she received the news of his death. An unexpected reward of doing my story was to share with his still grieving family how others remembered him.
My own admiration for Carl has only grown as I have done more research and talked with people who knew him personally. He made sacrifices for his principles yet did so in private way. Many of his classmates and comrades-in-arms did not know until recently how a Harvard student ended up as an enlisted man in Vietnam. Carl hated injustice, and whether on campus or in a combat zone, he treated everyone with the same respect. In the end, he left a legacy of courage and character that remains an inspiration.
September 26, 2017
Yesterday the International Human Rights Clinic livestreamed on Facebook a conversation about the Rohingya crisis and its long-term implications for Myanmar. It was the first in a series of conversations we plan to livestream on critical topics in the world of human rights.
Tarek Zeidan, HKS ’18, moderated the discussion between Yee Htun, clinical instructor and former director of the Myanmar Program for Justice Trust, and Tyler Giannini, the Clinic’s co-director and co-founder of EarthRights International, who lived and worked on the Thai-Burmese border for a decade. You can watch the conversation on our FB page.
September 21, 2017
Friday, September 22, 2017
“In Pursuit of Accountability for Post-9/11 Torture: A Discussion with the Litigation Team of Salim v. Mitchell”
12:00- 1:00 p.m.
Lunch will be served
Please join us for a discussion with the litigation team behind Salim et al. v. Mitchell et al., the landmark case that sought to hold CIA-contracted psychologists Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell accountable for the post-9/11 torture program they devised. Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, and Lawrence Lustberg, chair of the Criminal Defense division at Gibbons Law in Newark, NJ, will discuss the recently settled case with moderator Paul Hoffman, a civil and human rights attorney and fellow member of the trial team currently teaching at HLS. The ACLU filed the lawsuit under the Alien Tort Statute on behalf of three victims of the CIA’s program, Mohammed Ben Soud, Suleiman Salim, and Gul Rahman, who died as a result of the torture inflicted on him.
September 13, 2017
Now that the semester is underway, we want to extend our warmest welcome to all of the new staff and Visiting Fellows at the Human Rights Program. They are, in a word, fantastic.
Debbie Frempong, the new Program Assistant for the International Human Rights Clinic, comes to us from Harvard Divinity School, where she graduated with an MTS in Religion, Politics and Ethics. She holds a B.A. in Public Policy and Politics from Pomona College.
Debbie is taking on many of the responsibilities previously held by Katherine Young, who until recently worked as Program Associate. This summer, she was promoted to Program Manager, in charge of administrative management of the International Human Rights Clinic and the financial administration of the Human Rights Program.
Dana Walters, the new Program Assistant for the Academic Program, comes to us from the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, where she was a coordinator, and the Atlantic Media Company, where she was a fellow. Dana holds a B.A. in English and American Literatures from Middlebury College and an M.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago, where she was previously pursuing a doctorate.
This semester, we’re also so pleased to welcome three Visiting Fellows. Continue Reading…
September 12, 2017
Posted by Anna Crowe, Yee Htun, Salma Waheedi, Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein
As human rights advocates, we support the student groups Lambda and QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) in their action today against Harvard Law School’s decision to allow JAG recruiting on campus, which is the school’s only exception to its anti-discrimination policy. We also support the students’ call for increased support and awareness for issues affecting the transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming community. We stand in solidarity with the students, staff and faculty seeking to build a more inclusive Harvard Law School.
Read the students’ statement here.
September 6, 2017
Posted by Cara Solomon
Yesterday, when we converged on Harvard’s campus to protest the end of DACA—when we listened to stories of pain and resistance; when we snapped our support; when we linked our arms, and chanted together, several hundred strong—one person was missing.
That person was Gabriela Gonzalez Follett, who never missed a fight for the rights of other people in her three years with us, first as Program Assistant, and later Program Coordinator. She left HLS last Friday, headed to teach English to children in a small Spanish town.
We could say that Gabriela was superb at her job, and it would be true. She organized nearly 100 events in her three years at the Human Rights Program, including conferences on everything from the role of African women in the post-2015 Development Agenda to climate change displacement and human rights. She became a master of managing the moving parts: speakers flying in from around the globe, last-minute technical breakdowns, calming the community’s fraying nerves.
On a daily basis, she supported the ever-changing needs of several clinical instructors; the staff of the Academic program; the Visiting Fellows; and hundreds of students seeking guidance on everything from the fellowship process to clerkship letters.
But now that Gabriela has officially left HRP, her job performance is not what many of us will remember.
We will remember her power.
Like so many great stories, Gabriela’s has an arc. By her own telling, she came to Harvard Law School intimidated, feeling less than the sum of her considerable parts. But she pushed past that feeling, followed her curiosity, and sat in on clinical seminars, collecting all the knowledge she could.
Then, when a crisis point came—the non-indictment of a white police officer, Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri—Gabriela quickly rose to meet the need. She reached out to students of color—not just as a friendly face in the office, but as a friend. In public and in private, on the job and off, she showed up in ways that went late into the night, and made others feel less alone.
One of those students, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, JD ’16, returned the favor nearly a year later, when the community gathered yet again to discuss racial equity on campus, in the aftermath of someone—or some people—defacing the portraits of black professors. In her comments, Keaton used her privilege as a student to raise concerns about the treatment of staff of color, a community that had gone overlooked in the discussion to that point.
Gabriela, inspired, rose to represent. She spoke about her own experience as a woman of color on campus—about the stereotypes that flew around her, and at her, and about the differences in the way she saw staff or color treated. When she finished speaking, she had become a leader in what became Reclaim Harvard Law School, a movement of students and staff pushing for institutional change and racial equity in education.
Gabriela spent the next several months strengthening the ties between students of color and staff of color while working tirelessly for the movement overall. At nights and on weekends, she sat through hours-long meetings, helping to substantively shape the content of the movement’s demands and manifesto. She hosted workshops; led art-actions; wrote an Op-Ed; coordinated critical email lists; spoke at community forums. She organized “family dinners” for staff of color. She slept overnight with the students in Belinda Hall, the student lounge the movement renamed in honor of Belinda Sutton, a former slave of HLS benefactor Isaac Royall.
And so it was that, less than two years into her time at HLS, Gabriela received the ultimate honor from HLS students: their Suzanne L. Richardson Staff Appreciation Award. (See video of her speech below.)
Gabriela would continue to support the Reclaim movement in ways small and large, right up until the day she left HLS. But it is hard to shake the power of her image on Class Day, rising to speak, and draping the traditional cloth from her mother’s homeland over the dais before she began—a woman completely at home, and entirely her own.
Thank you for the inspiration, Gabbie—and for the many gifts you brought to our door.
June 1, 2017
We are thrilled to announce today that the Human Rights Program has hired Yee Htun and Salma Waheedi as clinical instructors in our International Human Rights Clinic.
For the past year, Yee and Salma have worked with us as clinical advocacy fellows, supervising projects on everything from land rights and telecommunications policies in Myanmar to torture in Iraq. They also share a strong focus on gender justice.
For Yee, that focus comes from a personal place. She’s spent most of her career as an attorney working on women’s rights, often with refugee and migrant communities. Yee herself was born in Myanmar and immigrated to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee.
“Women’s rights for me is not an abstract concept but a cause to which I have dedicated most of my life’s work to,” said Yee. “Whether it is coordinating and launching the first ever global campaign with Nobel Peace Laureates to stop sexual violence in conflict or offering legal counsel to women’s organizations seeking to enact a prevention of violence against women law, I have done it out of the belief that only when we give power to women and girls do we advance the human rights for all.”
Until recently, Yee was the Myanmar Program Director for Justice Trust, a Yangon-based international legal non-profit organization that provides support to communities. This year, she worked with clinical students to elevate the voices of women human rights advocates in the country; convene workshops on law reform in Myanmar with LGBTQI activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers; document land policy that discriminates against women; and examine the country’s new telecommunications law, which has had a chilling effect on free speech.
Salma came to the Clinic this year as a joint fellow with the Islamic Legal Studies Program: Law and Social Change, where she focused on women’s rights in Islamic legal systems and issues of legal reform and gender justice in Muslim family laws. This past year, she and her students worked with women’s rights lawyers and advocates across different Muslim countries, documenting legal obstacles to women’s equality, advocating for an end to discriminatory policies and practices, and engaging with the committee of the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to foster deeper and more productive dialogues with the states.
In the Clinic, Salma also plans to focus on business and human rights concerns in the Middle East, particularly with respect to issues of corporate accountability and economic justice. Before entering the legal profession, Salma worked in her native country of Bahrain as Economic Planning and Development Director at Bahrain’s Economic Development Board, and later served as a consultant on economic policy and international development around the world.
As a lawyer, she continued to advocate for social and economic justice through community development and legal assistance programs in the United States and abroad.
May 21, 2017
A disarming leader: Bonnie Docherty recognized for contributions to human rights, clinical community
A post by Cara Solomon
When Nicolette Boehland, JD ’13, began the daunting work of documenting torture and mass hangings in a Syrian prison, she was prepared. She knew how to interview survivors of trauma. She knew how to protect the security and confidentiality of witnesses. She knew, when her 50th interview was done, just how to connect the dots.
“There I was, with my pieces of paper all around me, with different highlighters for each different fact I was trying to establish,” said Nicolette, a researcher for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “That’s basically me modeling what Bonnie taught me to do.”
Over the course of her career, as Bonnie Docherty has emerged as an international expert on civilian protection in armed conflict, she has also mentored scores of clinical students, from field researchers in conflict zones to advocates inside the halls of the UN in Geneva.
Her biggest alumni fans call themselves “the Bonnie mafia.” When they heard of her recent promotion to Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection at the International Human Rights Clinic, the reaction could best be summed up in one word: jubilation.
“This is the best news I’ve heard in a while,” said Lauren Herman, JD ’13, a fellow at Make the Road, NJ, an immigrants’ rights organization. “I am just thrilled for Bonnie and the Clinic and all of Harvard.”
The promotion gives Bonnie room to deepen and expand her work on civilian protection. She plans to increase support for civil society organizations working in the field, create a track for students interested in careers in civilian protection, and provide a forum for experts to develop practical innovations.
A senior researcher in the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch as well as a Harvard lecturer on law, she’ll continue to dedicate much of her time to humanitarian disarmament, which seeks to eliminate civilian suffering from problematic weapons. It’s an area Bonnie has been working in for 16 years.
“It’s a time of great expansion in humanitarian disarmament, but also a time of challenges,” said Bonnie. “I’m hoping we can bolster the advocacy of the NGOs, and provide some fresh thinking.”
Nobody is better poised to do that work. With her experience in the field, and her expertise in international humanitarian law, she is, her colleagues say, unquestionably one of the keenest legal minds in the humanitarian disarmament movement — known for her deep knowledge, her sharp legal analysis, and her strategic thinking.
“If someone asks you who is the best lawyer in the world to go to on cluster munitions — and now killer robots — Bonnie is at the top of the list,” said Steve Goose, who heads the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch.
Bonnie never imagined this career for herself. In college, she immersed herself in the study of history, partly for the love of individual stories, convinced she would pursue a PhD. Then she decided she wanted to see history unfold in real time, and turned towards journalism.
It was there, as a reporter for the Middlesex News, that she saw the aftermath of war up close. When the Department of Defense offered media trips to embed with the US-NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia in 1998, Bonnie, whose job included covering an Army lab in Natick, lobbied her editor to go.
The ten-day trip was a series of firsts: working with a translator, interviewing victims of human rights abuses, going on patrol with the military, seeing the remnants of weapons of war. Along the way, she picked up tricks of what would later become her trade — interviewing an Air Force pilot in a pitch-black cockpit, for example, scribbling her notes in the dark.
“I just tried to space the notes out broadly enough, and kept flipping pages quite aggressively — and hoped,” she said.
She’d applied to Harvard Law School months earlier, partly because she was tired of asking other people to answer her legal questions. In typical Bonnie form, she wanted to study the source of the information for herself. Then, the week she left for Bosnia, she got the acceptance letter.
And so, with the curiosity of a journalist and the long view of a historian, Bonnie went to law school, studying human rights and international humanitarian law, and landing at Human Rights Watch after graduation. Her first day on the job was September 12, 2001.
Over the years, Bonnie has documented human rights abuses and civilian casualties in some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones, at some of the most dangerous times, from Afghanistan in 2002 to Baghdad in 2003, three weeks after the city fell.
In 2005, when she interviewed for the job of clinical fellow at the International Human Rights Clinic, she called in on a rental cell phone during a layover on the way to a three-week mission in Darfur.
With clinical students in tow, she’s investigated the use of cluster munitions in Lebanon; documented the ongoing needs of civilian victims of Nepal’s armed conflict; and most recently, examined the use of explosive weapons in populated areas of Ukraine.
From the very beginning, she thrived on the work.
“It’s a chance to make a difference in the world, which I always wanted to do,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity to be a part of history.”
What Bonnie saw out in the field then pushed her into another world, of diplomats and treaty negotiations. She began working intensively, often in Clinic-Human Rights Watch collaborations, to ban weapons that disproportionately affect civilians.
She’s been a leader in efforts to ban fully autonomous weapons, otherwise known as “killer robots,” and to strengthen international law on incendiary weapons. Perhaps most famously, she’s known as the legal expert behind the campaign for an absolute prohibition on cluster munitions, which started as a dream, and a decade later led to a treaty.
“It’s just amazing that someone is so capable of teaching and doing and showing students the ropes in those very different worlds,” said Brian Kelly, JD ’14, who now works at the U.S. Department of State. “I still reach out to her with questions.”
The process of improving civilian protection is slow moving and full of setbacks. To stay the course, she says, you need patience and stamina and plenty of faith.
For her part, Bonnie takes inspiration from studying the patterns of history. And then there’s always her memory of that day in 2008 when almost 100 countries gathered in Oslo to sign the treaty banning cluster munitions.
“It does give me patience when I’m doing all my other work to say: I know this can lead somewhere,” Bonnie said.
By the time the ban on cluster munitions was signed, Bonnie had been a teacher in the International Human Rights Clinic for three years. So when it happened, she had students by her side. Chris Rogers, JD ’09, was one of them.
It was a day he will never forget.
“You had individuals who were really part of a movement for years, from victims of cluster munitions in Cambodia to arms control groups in Latin America and the Middle East to human rights organizations in Europe,” said Rogers, now a senior policy analyst with the Open Society Foundations’ Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia Program. “For me, someone who was just starting out in his career in this field, to see such an impressive victory by civil society, it was very influential.”
Ask any student under Bonnie’s supervision, and they’ll tell you: they learn on the job. They’re up all night with her drinking Diet Mountain Dew and parsing treaty language before a meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons. They’re preparing presentations on the dangers of killer robots for UN side events.
Ask Ken Rutherford, co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network, and he’ll tell you: Bonnie’s students are rock stars.
“They’re not traveling around the world trying to get free cups of tea,” said Ken, a professor of political science at James Madison University. “They’re singularly focused on niche areas of international humanitarian law that need to be re-evaluated, re-examined, and opened up for further discussion or refinement.”
By now, inside the tight-knit community of advocates that work on protecting civilians in armed conflict, there’s an expectation of excellence from Bonnie.
It’s just a given: Every few months, she and her students will churn out a meticulously researched publication. It will be on a topic foundational enough, or cutting edge enough, to push any given campaign forward.
Bonnie will draw large crowds to her side events at international weapons conferences. And you will see in the audience so many nodding heads, as she lays out in a straightforward and compelling manner the case for what civilians need.
“Sometimes we take it for granted,” said Miriam Struyk, Program Director of Security and Disarmament at PAX, who grew up in the humanitarian disarmament movement alongside Bonnie. “But we shouldn’t, because it’s still remarkable.”
When Bonnie joined the Clinic, she had eight projects, 16 students, and very little teaching experience. She was something of an introvert then, as she is now, and she wondered: Would she connect?
Her colleagues in the Clinic knew she would. Her passion, her dedication, and her caring caring were all contagious.
“Bonnie’s just a natural,” said Tyler Giannini, co-director of the Clinic. “From the very beginning, the students have been inspired to follow her lead.”
Quiet and understated, Bonnie is not the kind of advocate whose voice swells when she talks about victims. Her caring comes through in other ways — in the literature she assigns her students to read, in the tributes she writes to beloved colleagues who have passed away.
Here was a human rights advocate who strayed so far from the stereotype in her mind. Someone who had made a career, and a community for herself, by being superb at her job, and generous.
“You don’t need to be this showy person who’s constantly hustling and advocating for themselves, which is a little bit how I imagined it had to be,” said Crowe, now a clinical instructor and lecturer on law at Harvard Law School. “That was one of the major revelations of the year.”
More than a decade after she began teaching, the “Bonnie mafia” now stretches far and wide, roughly 40 alumni strong. Some work in government. Others at law firms. Many have moved into the fields of disarmament, or civilian protection, or other areas of human rights advocacy.
Many owe their first job to her, and often, the job after that. To them, Bonnie’s influence cannot be overstated.
“Without Bonnie, I wouldn’t be who I am and doing the work I am doing today,” said Rogers. “There is a direct line between Bonnie and the laws and policies I’ve helped to pass in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Those words come from a letter several alumni wrote to the senior leadership of Harvard Law School a few years ago, calling attention to the ways in which Bonnie prepared them to practice law, and strengthened the contributions they would make to the world. It gave Bonnie goose bumps to read it. She’d never heard some of those stories before.
When she was promoted this spring, Bonnie got to hear it all again, in notes that came from all corners of the country and the world. It’s something far more than praise to her; it’s a gift.
“They’ve made such a difference in my life,” said Bonnie. “It’s nice to think I could give them something in return.”
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