Blog: Staff

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.

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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.

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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.

Bonnie on a fact-finding mission in Iraq.

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.”

Bonnie consults with NGO delegates at a UN conference on cluster munitions in Geneva. Photo by Gemima Harvey/CMC

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.

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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.”

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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.

Bonnie with Anna Crowe, LLM ‘12, now a clinical instructor

Almost above all, it was her humility that struck Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, when she arrived in the Clinic, knowing Bonnie only by reputation. Anna was prepared to be intimidated. And then, surprisingly, she wasn’t.

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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May 18, 2017

Clinic and partners call on ICC to investigate role of Chiquita executives in contributing to crimes against humanity


PRESS RELEASE

Human Rights Coalition Calls on ICC to Investigate Role of Chiquita Executives in Contributing to Crimes against Humanity

Communities in Colombia Seek Accountability after two decades of impunity

 

Bogota, Colombia, May 18, 2017 – Today, on behalf of affected Colombian communities, a coalition of human rights groups called on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the complicity of executives at Chiquita Brands International in crimes against humanity. To date, no executive has been held to account despite the company’s admission that it funneled millions of dollars to Colombian paramilitaries that killed, raped, and disappeared civilians. If the ICC takes up the case, it would be the first time it moved against corporate executives for assisting such crimes.

In their submission to the court, the coalition of local and international human rights groups traces the executives’ involvement with payments made to the paramilitaries between 1997 and 2004. Even after outside counsel and the U.S. Department of Justice said such payments were illegal under U.S. law, the payments continued. The submission includes a confidential, sealed appendix that identifies by name fourteen senior executives, officers, and board members of Chiquita who the coalition argues should be the focus of the Prosecutor’s investigation.

The coalition, which consists of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR), relied on internal Chiquita documents and assistance from the National Security Archive at George Washington University to identify the Chiquita officials and show how they were involved with the crimes.

“The executives who oversaw the funding of paramilitaries should not be able to sit comfortably in their houses in the United States as if they did nothing wrong,” said a member of the Peace Community of San José de Apartado, which submitted a letter to the ICC about how the paramilitary violence personally affected them. “Families across Colombia have been waiting for accountability for too long.”

Chiquita could have acted differently, or could have left the country years before it did, but instead decided to continue its lucrative business while paying paramilitaries for so-called ‘security’ in the banana-growing regions. By 2003, Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia was its most profitable banana operation in the world.

“At the time, Colombian paramilitaries were notorious for targeting civilians, among them banana workers and community leaders,” said CAJAR, “but Chiquita’s executives decided to continue giving money to paramilitaries anyway.”

The Chiquita corporation already pled guilty in a U.S. federal court in 2007 to illegally funding Colombian paramilitaries. But accountability for the executives who oversaw and authorized the payment scheme has been elusive: while civil litigation is pending in U.S. courts against Chiquita executives, no criminal prosecution is on the horizon. Colombia has not been able to get jurisdiction over them, and there is no indication that the United States would extradite the executives.

“We request that the ICC expands its current inquiry in Colombia to specifically include Chiquita’s executives and officials,” said Dimitris Christopoulos, the President of FIDH. “The weight of the evidence should lead the Office of the Prosecutor to act if Colombian authorities are not able to.”

If Colombian authorities do not move ahead with this case, the submission asks the Prosecutor to request formal authorization from its Pre-Trial Chamber to open an investigation into Chiquita’s corporate executives.

The communication comes at a critical time in Colombia, as the country begins to implement an historic peace agreement after nearly half a century of conflict. The coalition’s submission urges the Office of the Prosecutor to monitor local Colombian proceedings to ensure its meets ICC standards, particularly with regards to the private sector support for the paramilitaries and business’ accountability.

“In times of transition to peace, corporate actors too often escape accountability for their egregious behavior in the past,” said Professor Tyler Giannini, a Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. “The prosecution of Chiquita officials for their payments to the paramilitaries would send a powerful message that impunity is no longer business as usual.”

* * *

For media inquiries: 

Tyler Giannini (English), Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School +1 617 669 2340
Dimitris Christopoulos (English, French Greek), FIDH President : + 33 6 75 76 69 32
Jimena Reyes (Spanish, French, English) – FIDH Americas Desk director : +32 493 61 72 64 (jreyes@fidh.org)
Sebastián Escobar, CAJAR: +57 3143776026

May 12, 2017

Paul Hoffman, expert in constitutional and civil rights litigation, to teach in the Clinic this fall semester

Posted by Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini


We are extremely pleased to announce that a human rights advocate we have long admired, and worked alongside, will join us at the International Human Rights Clinic for the fall semester. Paul Hoffman, an expert in constitutional and civil rights litigation, will teach the Clinic’s Human Rights Advocacy seminar, as well as supervise students on several clinical projects.

Paul-Hoffman-218x300Paul has been an incredible mentor to each of us, in terms of his knowledge of the law, his ability to think creatively and strategically, and the passion and love he brings to his work. He is, without a doubt, the leading Alien Tort Statute (ATS) litigator in the country, and yet he carries that distinction with so much humility and openness to others.

The Clinic has worked closely with him on several recent ATS cases, including the In-Re South African Apartheid litigation and Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co, which Paul argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. We also collaborated on two other landmark cases, Unocal and Wiwa, both of which resulted in settlements. Paul also argued the first major ATS case, Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, before the Supreme Court. Continue Reading…

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April 26, 2017

Tomorrow, April 27: Climate, Migration and Health


final_climate_week_posterApril 27, 2017

“Human health in a changing climate”

A Harvard symposium

9:00 a.m.- 2:30 p.m.

Jefferson Hall 250
17 Oxford St,
Cambridge, MA

Lunch provided

Please join the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Climate Change Solutions Fund, and the Harvard University Center for the Environment for a symposium on human health in a changing climate, with welcoming remarks by Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust. The keynote address will be by Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, followed by remarks by Michelle Williams, Dean of the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health.

HRP’s Bonnie Docherty will moderate a 10:15 a.m. panel on climate, migration and health, featuring Jennifer Leaning, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University; Michael VanRooyen, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Kira Vinke, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

April 14, 2017

Bonnie Docherty promoted to Associate Director for Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection


BonnieCakeToday, we have the most wonderful news: our beloved Bonnie Docherty has been promoted to Associate Director for Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection! Bonnie has been a leader in the disarmament movement since 2001, working to ban everything from cluster munitions to killer robots to nuclear weapons- and developing a generation of students into advocates along the way.

More on this in an article to come. In the meantime, here she is today, being celebrated by some of her many fans, all of whom raised a plastic glass of Diet Mountain Dew in her honor. Congratulations, Bonnie! You do us proud.

 

JillandLisa

 

AnnaBonnie

 

Eating

 

BonnieTyler

 

BonnieYee

 

MountainDew

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April 7, 2017

VIDEO: Testimonies from International Women’s Day at HLS


Because we believe that every month should include an International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating it again this month by sharing videos from last month’s official celebration at HLS. Either that, or we got caught up in other things around the Human Rights Program and neglected to post these videos in a timely manner.

If you visit our account on YouTube, you’ll find the following powerful testimonies offered by: Doris Rena-Landaveirde, union leader and member of the HLS custodial staff; our very own Susan Farbstein, Co-Director, International Human Rights Clinic; Aparna Gokhale, JD ’17; Radhika Chitkara, LLM ’17;  .  and Esme Caramello, Faculty Director, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Deborah Anker, Director, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, also spoke but unfortunately we’re missing that video.

Thanks to the powerhouse women below- Yee Htun, Clinical Advocacy Fellow; Anna Crowe, Clinical Instructor; and Emily Nagisa Keehn, Assistant Director of the Academic Program- for organizing this event that drew more than 100 students, staff and faculty to Belinda Hall on March 8. Thanks also to the women who stood in front of that community and inspired and energized us with their words. And thanks finally to all the women we know- and the billions we do not- who have pushed for change, in whatever way they can, so that we are stronger and more secure and ready to push for MORE.

YeeAnnaEmily

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April 4, 2017

Today, April 4: Is there an existential threat to human rights?


Shifting Grounds_2

April 4, 2017


“Is there an existential threat to human rights?”


12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
WCC 4059


Please join the Human Rights Program for a discussion with Professors Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein, Co-Directors of the International Human Rights Clinic, who will examine global trends, the changing nature of U.S. exceptionalism, and human rights methods in the post-truth atmosphere. More broadly, they will consider whether there are existential threats facing human rights and the human rights movement. This is the final event in the Human Rights Program’s three-part Shifting Ground series, which reflects on the human rights landscape after the election of President Trump.

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March 30, 2017

Op-Ed: UN investigation can help Myanmar down the path of democracy


This opinion piece by Clinical Advocacy Fellow Yee Htun and Tyler Giannini, co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic, appeared in The Irrawaddy on March 29, 2017


UN Investigation Can Help Myanmar Down the Path of Democracy



At first glance, the UN Human Rights Council resolution passed on Myanmar looks like a rebuke of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) government. The resolution calls for an international investigation into “alleged recent human rights violations by the military and security forces,” singling out Rakhine State in particular for scrutiny.

Given her muted public response to the violence, her government’s denials, and the lack of any serious domestic investigation to date, it would be easy to lay a lot of the blame at Aung San Suu Kyi’s door. But the real story remains in plain sight: there are roadblocks that prevent her and the civilian government from investigating and controlling the abuses of security forces. These roadblocks are rooted in the country’s Constitution, adopted by the military in 2008, and until they are removed, domestic and international maneuvering will be necessary to pressure the military to change its violent ways.

This is not the first time that we have seen Myanmar’s Constitution fail its citizens. Despite her party winning the first open elections in a generation, Aung San Suu Kyi herself was denied the presidency under the Constitution. She and her party had to resort to creating a new position – State Counselor – that has made her the de facto leader of the government. It was a creative, and necessary, move to bring a just outcome to the election.

Similarly, the international investigation is a necessary move, given that Myanmar is missing the basic checks that a functioning democracy requires. Since October, the security forces have allegedly killed as many as 1,000 people and forced an estimated 77,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee their homes in northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh. These security forces are legally and factually controlled by the military. Continue Reading…

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March 20, 2017

Moving on: Maureen Corrigan leaves HRP for fresh start in California

Posted by Cara Solomon

Just the other day, we said goodbye to one of the gentlest souls on the Harvard Law School Campus: Maureen Corrigan, HRP’s longtime financial manager, is headed to family and a new job in California.

Over the course of her years at HRP, Maureen navigated the increasingly complicated finances of a program that works not only with dozens of students and staff every year, but with visitors from around the world. It was not an easy job.

Maureen

Maureen Corrigan, our longtime financial manager, at left, with her fans from HRP.

The receipts alone would have done a lesser person in. They came to her ripped and wrinkled from around the world: scraps of paper with words written in Arabic, in Thai, in Bosnian, in illegible English. Maureen took them by the handful and calmly proceeded to trace them back to something expense-able, like dinner.

Certainly, there were predictable rhythms to her job, like the demands of budget season. But it was not uncommon to pass by her office, and hear the whirring and clacking of Maureen’s old-fashioned calculator as she tackled a problem one of us had dropped in her lap that day. With a plea that she solve it as soon as possible. While we panicked down the hall.

She always did, and in a way that put all of us at ease.

Mostly she did it with humor. Always she did it with heart.

It was no accident that Maureen volunteered to organize the birthday celebrations for everyone in the office. She was that kind of considerate. She knew the names of the people and the pets we loved. She asked after them, and after us, and offered hugs when we didn’t even know we needed them.

This is why, in the great East Coast/West Coast rivalry, none of us is pleased to cede Maureen to California. But she’s headed there for a job in the financial department of Chapman University, which happens to be exactly three blocks from her new house, where she will live with her husband, her two dogs, and her college senior son.

We wish her all the happiness she’s given us through the years, along with the very best luck life has to give.

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March 15, 2017

Disarmament family loses loved and legendary campaigner Bob Mtonga

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

The humanitarian disarmament community lost a legend last week. Bob Mtonga, a medical doctor and long-time activist, died in his native Zambia shortly after returning from one of countless international trips to promote the protection of civilians in armed conflict. He was just 51.

Bob Mtonga-50 ratifications of ATT-2014

Bob Mtonga celebrates the ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty by 50 countries in 2014.

Bob was a much-loved leader in the field of humanitarian disarmament, which seeks to end civilian suffering caused by indiscriminate and inhumane weapons. He campaigned for strong international law on nuclear weapons, and landmines, and cluster munitions, and the arms trade. He served on the leadership committees of several civil society coalitions and had been co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).

In less than two weeks, the UN General Assembly will begin negotiating a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. This coming September marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty. Next year is the 10th anniversary of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Bob contributed to each of these milestones. His absence at the nuclear negotiations and anniversary celebrations will be deeply felt.

While making international law is often a slow process, nothing would ever deter Bob from working to improve the world. One friend wrote after his death, “Wherever we all go from this place, we can be sure that since Bob has preceded us he is already organizing it to be a better place.”

I met Bob more than a decade ago during the Oslo Process, which produced the Convention on Cluster Munitions. I came to know dozens of civil society advocates during those negotiations, but Bob immediately stood out as a campaigner and a personality. Continue Reading…