Blog: Staff

May 21, 2018

Listen: ACCPI’s Bonnie Docherty Discusses Humanitarian Disarmament Career Path on Leading Questions Podcast


Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative Associate Director Bonnie Docherty spoke with the Harvard Law Record‘s Hannah Solomon-Strauss, JD’18, and Evelyn Douek, SJD Candidate, on their Leading Questions podcast. Docherty discussed her career path from history student to journalist to a teacher and lawyer that most recently helped advise the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in their Nobel Peace Prize-winning efforts in humanitarian disarmament.

When asked what drove her when her goals—such as the historic treaty banning cluster munitions in 2008—felt like a “long shot,” Docherty responded: “I think it was partly having seen the effects of these weapons, both [in] Afghaniston, Iraq, and in Lebanon. And knowing first-hand what they did really did keep me motivated. So intellectually I was motivated by the challenge of crafting treaty text and that was really exciting once we got in the negotiations. But I think [it is] important in this work to remember the humans and not to get lost in the advocacy or the legal details. […] If you remember the humans, it keeps you going.” Below is the full audio of the conversation. 

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May 18, 2018

Moving On: Cara Solomon Departs HRP to Focus on Her Non-Profit, Everyday Boston

Posted by Susan Farbstein

Communications Manager Cara Solomon sits with plaintiff Gonzalo Mamani Aguilar at the Fort Lauderdale Courthouse during the Mamani trial.

This post is tough to write: Cara Solomon, our Communications Manager, is leaving HRP. Having endured eight years in an office full of lawyers, she is following her passion to focus full-time on Everyday Boston, the nonprofit that she founded to build community across the city and break down stereotypes through storytelling. So we’re losing a dear colleague and friend. And we’re left to write this tribute without her invaluable editorial input.

It comes as no surprise that this is her next step. Cara, who joined us following a career as a print journalist, is a storyteller at heart. She loves nothing more than speaking with interesting people—asking insightful questions and digging deep to understand who they are and what drives them—and then turning that raw material into a beautifully reported piece. From articles about the bonds that form between clinical students, to profiles of clinical instructors and their work, to in-depth features on clinical projects and victories, Cara captures the story.

Her writing resonates not simply because she cares about the issues, but because she connects with people and puts them at the center of her work. During a break in the Mamani trial in March, I watched Cara sit outside the courtroom with Gonzalo Mamani Aguilar, one of the plaintiffs.  Cara speaks no Spanish, and Gonzalo no English. Yet somehow they were deep in conversation—smiling, laughing, gesticulating, commiserating. This is just her way.

In addition to being a gifted storyteller, Cara has also proven herself to be a natural teacher. She taught us all to be better writers—how to find our voices, show rather than tell, shrug off the constraints of legal writing to speak to a broader audience—and then she tirelessly revised, edited, and reworked our pieces until they met her exacting standards.

She did this not only for those of us who work in the Clinic but also for our students, teaching clinical teams how to frame advocacy messages and talking points, to write blogs and op-eds, and to pitch ideas to journalists. In the classroom, Cara developed and taught modules on media advocacy and storytelling, dissecting op-eds and advocacy plans drafted by students and providing incisive feedback and suggestions.

Cara always called it like she saw it. Over the years, many students and staff turned to her as a listening ear to celebrate achievements, exchange frustrations, or seek advice. She looked out for them, checked in on people, reminded us all to take better care of ourselves. She had a keen eye for injustice and the need to break down hierarchies, including within the law school itself.

Thank you, Cara, for making us better writers, but more importantly for your kindness and friendship. We will miss you tremendously but know that your creativity, collaborative spirit, and curiosity will be put to good use at Everyday Boston. We’re excited to see the impact that you, and Everyday Boston, are already having on the community—and we wish you every success!

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May 10, 2018

Emily Nagisa Keehn Co-Authors Article on Strategic Litigation to Address HIV and TB in South African Prisons


Congratulations to Emily Nagisa Keehn, Associate Director of the Academic Program, who co-authored with Ariane Nevin an article published this week in the Health and Human Rights Journal. The article, “Health, Human Rights, and the Transformation of Punishment: South African Litigation to Address HIV and Tuberculosis in Prisons,” examines the use of strategic litigation to develop and vindicate the health rights of incarcerated people in South Africa.

As the authors note: “The South African experience illustrates the value of an incremental strategic litigation strategy that begins with tackling narrow issues, such as access to anti-retroviral therapy (ART), and progresses towards challenging systemic drivers of disease, such as overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.” The article also examines “how South Africa’s strong and independent judiciary has facilitated change through the courts—despite the absence of popular support for penal reform—and how sustained lobbying, coalition-building, and mass media advocacy by activists have increased the impact of litigation.”

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April 30, 2018

HRP’s Katherine Young Moves On to Work at Control Arms


As the semester winds down and graduation gets near, we’re missing the calming presence of Katherine Young, until recently HRP’s Program Manager, whose expertise guided us through so many milestones for nearly four years.

Katherine Young, former Program Manager for HRP, at the “Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead” conference this spring.

She’s moved on to something particularly exciting—a job as a researcher with Control Arms, a coalition that works to end the flow of arms and ammunition that fuel conflict, poverty and human rights abuses. This seems only fitting. Even as she seamlessly coordinated the many moving parts of our program—including supporting dozens of students and managing HRP’s budget—Katherine also steeped herself in the field of human rights advocacy.

It was not her job to do it. She did it because it interested her. And she did it because she cared.

As the undisputed champion of proofreading at HRP, Katherine often found herself immersed in the language of human rights. But as she read, she spent an equal amount of time processing the substance of the reports and amicus curaie briefs and legal memorandums that crossed her desk. As a result, she developed a deep knowledge of many of the Clinic’s areas of focus, from business and human rights to accountability litigation to armed conflict and civilian protection.

It goes without saying that Control Arms will be tremendously lucky to have her. Curious and kind-hearted, with a sharp sense of humor and a warm and welcoming way, Katherine is a gift to any community. We wish her the best of luck on this new path, and send her off with an HRP tradition: a fake press release from Bonnie Docherty, who was a journalist in her previous life.

KATHERINE QUITS TO CAT AROUND CATSKILL

Human Rights Program Disarmed by Young’s Departure

 

(Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2018)—Katherine Talbot Young, the Human Rights Program’s center of sanity, is leaving Cambridge for the Catskills, the Human Rights Program (HRP) announced with dismay today.
Continue Reading…

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April 16, 2018

Commentary: We’re Running Out of Time to Stop Killer Robot Weapons


This piece by Bonnie Docherty, Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection, originally ran in The Guardian, under the headline “We’re Running Out of Time to Stop Killer Robots”

 

It’s five years this month since the launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a global coalition of non-governmental groups calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. This month also marks the fifth time that countries have convened at the United Nations in Geneva to address the problems these weapons would pose if they were developed and put into use.

The countries meeting in Geneva this week are party to a major disarmament treaty called the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. While some diplomatic progress has been made under that treaty’s auspices since 2013, the pace needs to pick up dramatically. Countries that recognise the dangers of fully autonomous weapons cannot wait another five years if they are to prevent the weapons from becoming a reality.

Fully autonomous weapons, which would select and engage targets without meaningful human control, do not yet exist, but scientists have warned they soon could. Precursors have already been developed or deployed as autonomy has become increasingly common on the battlefield. Hi-tech military powers, including China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, the UK and the US, have invested heavily in the development of autonomous weapons. So far there is no specific international law to halt this trend.

Experts have sounded the alarm, emphasising that fully autonomous weapons raise a host of concerns. For many people, allowing machines that cannot appreciate the value of human life to make life-and-death decisions crosses a moral red line.

Legally, the so-called “killer robots” would lack human judgment, meaning that it would be very challenging to ensure that their decisions complied with international humanitarian and human rights law. For example, a robot could not be preprogrammed to assess the proportionality of using force in every situation, and it would find it difficult to judge accurately whether civilian harm outweighed military advantage in each particular instance.

Fully autonomous weapons also raise the question: who would be responsible for attacks that violate these laws if a human did not make the decision to fire on a specific target? In fact, it would be legally difficult and potentially unfair to hold anyone responsible for unforeseeable harm to civilians. Continue Reading…

April 10, 2018

Understanding Victim Assistance and Environmental Remediation Under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

The humanitarian impact of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) depends on both its comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons and its obligations to assist victims and remediate the environment affected by use and testing. The former aims to prevent future harm, while the latter addresses harm that has already occurred.

The Clinic is releasing new papers on victim assistance and environmental remediation in order to increase awareness of these elements of the treaty. The short publications provide an overview of the provisions in the TPNW and guidance from other humanitarian disarmament treaties as to how they might be implemented.

The TPNW’s so-called “positive obligations” establish a framework of shared state responsibility for helping victims and cleaning the contaminated environment

During last year’s treaty negotiations at the United Nations, the Clinic worked closely with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. A team from the Clinic, along with advocates from Article 36, Mines Action Canada, and Pace University, played a leading role in ensuring that the treaty included the positive obligations.

 

 

 

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April 3, 2018

In Clinic Case, Jury Finds Former Bolivian President Responsible for Extrajudicial Killings of Indigenous People; Awards $10 Million in Damages


In a landmark decision today, a federal jury found the former president of Bolivia and his minister of defense responsible for extrajudicial killings carried out by the Bolivian military in September and October 2003. The decision comes after a ten-year legal battle spearheaded by family members of eight people killed in what is known in Bolivia as the “Gas War.” It marked the first time in U.S. history a former head of state has sat before his accusers in a U.S. human rights trial. The jury awarded a total of $10 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiffs.

Both the former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and his former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, have lived in the United States since they fled Bolivia following the massacre known as “Black October.”  During that period, more than 50 people were killed and hundreds were injured. In Bolivia, in 2011, former military commanders and government officials who acted under Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín’s authority were convicted for their roles in the killings. Both Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín were indicted in the same case, but could not be tried in abstentia under Bolivian law.

Several of the plaintiffs and their litigation team.

The lawsuit originated from a collaborative effort between the International Human Rights Clinic and Bolivian lawyers, advocates, and community members seeking justice for the 2003 violence. Dozens of students have worked on the case since 2006.

“After many years of fighting for justice for our family members and the people of Bolivia, we celebrate this historic victory,” said Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a plaintiff and member of the indigenous Aymara community of Bolivia, who were victims of the defendants’ decision to use massive military force against the population. “Fifteen years after they fled justice, we have finally held Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín to account for the massacre they unleashed against our people.”

In Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, the families of eight Bolivians who were killed filed suit against Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín in 2007. Today’s verdict affirms the plaintiffs’ claims that the two defendants were legally responsible for the extrajudicial killings and made decisions to deploy military forces in civilian communities in order to violently quash opposition to their policies.

“To me, it was the biggest honor of my life to work with the plaintiffs and learn from them in their struggle for justice,” said Thomas Becker ’08, who brought the idea for the lawsuit to IHRC after spending time in Bolivia and learning about the massacre there. “It’s an extraordinary privilege to witness this and be a small part of this.”

The three-week trial included the testimony of 29 witnesses from across Bolivia who recounted their experiences of the 2003 killings. Twenty-three appeared in person. Eight plaintiffs testified about the deaths of their family members, including: Etelvina Ramos Mamani and Eloy Rojas Mamani, whose eight-year-old daughter Marlene was killed in front of her mother when a single shot was fired through the window; Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, whose pregnant wife Teodosia was killed after a bullet was fired through the wall of a house; Felicidad Rosa Huanca Quispe, whose 69-year-old father Raul was shot and killed along a roadside; and Gonzalo Mamani Aguilar, whose father Arturo was shot and killed while tending his crops.

One witness, a former soldier in the Bolivian military, testified about being ordered to shoot at “anything that moves” in a civilian community, while another recounted witnessing a military officer kill a soldier for refusing to follow orders to shoot at unarmed civilians. Witnesses recounted how tanks rolled through in the streets and soldiers shot for hours on end. Others testified about how the president and minister of defense committed to a military option instead of pursuing dialogue with community leaders to reach a peaceful resolution.

In 2016, a U.S. appeals court held that the plaintiffs could proceed with their claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), which authorizes suits for monetary damages in U.S. federal court for extrajudicial killings. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín then sought and were denied a review by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017, and the case moved forward in U.S. District Court. After a review of the evidence gathered by both sides, District Court Judge James I. Cohn ruled on February 14 that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

“There are just no words for what the plaintiffs have done over the past ten years to seek justice for their lost loved ones as well as many others who were killed in Bolivia,” said Tyler Giannini, Co-Director of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. “Today the jury gave the plaintiffs a huge victory, and showed that the former president and his defense minister are not above the law.”

“When I heard the verdict, I almost couldn’t believe it,” added Susan Farbstein, Co-Director of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. “The only thing I could think of was: We didn’t let down the plaintiffs, we didn’t disappoint them, we did our jobs.”

As co-counsel, the International Human Rights Clinic has been involved in all phases of the litigation from the outset, including researching and drafting for the complaint and various motions and briefs, assisting with oral arguments, and undertaking more than a dozen investigative missions to Bolivia since 2007. Over the past year, during the discovery phase, students traveled to Bolivia numerous times, and assisted with document review, interrogatories, and the depositions of plaintiffs, witnesses and experts; more than a half dozen students worked on every facet of the case during the three weeks of trial.

“It was fascinating to work under the legal team and have complete faith in their talent and ability to manage such a complex case,” said Amy Volz ’18, who traveled to Bolivia on four fact-finding trips. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

After the jury announced its verdict, the defendants made a motion asking the judge to overturn the jury’s finding of liability against both defendants. Both parties will submit briefing on this issue in the coming weeks.

“We’re not one to leave halfway through the fight,” said Baltazar Cerro. “We will struggle until the last moment.”

In addition to the Clinic, a team of lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firms of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Schonbrun, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP, and Akerman LLP are representing the family members. Lawyers from the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) are cooperating attorneys.

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March 21, 2018

Conference preview: Gerald L. Neuman on “Human Rights in a Time of Populism”


Earlier this week, Gerald L. Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program (HRP), and the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School, sat down to discuss HRP’s upcoming conference, “Human Rights in a Time of Populism,” with Natalie McCauley, JD ‘19.

Natalie McCauley, JD ’19, interviews Prof. Gerald L. Neuman, Co-Director of HRP, on FB Live about his upcoming conference on populism and human rights.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, takes place this Friday afternoon and Saturday all day on Harvard Law School’s campus.

So Professor, to start us out: What is this conference about?

Thank you for asking. We plan to discuss the current rise in populism: What are its causes? What are its effects? What implications does it have for the international human rights system? And how should the international human rights system respond?

We don’t expect the answers to these questions to be the same for every country, and that’s one of the things we’re going to be discussing.

We’ll have more than a dozen leading experts coming from as far away as The Philippines and as near as our own university. There will be specific discussion on the United States, Poland, Southeast Asia, Turkey, and Latin America, as well as cross-cutting themes.

I should clarify what I mean by populism. Political scientists offer different formulations for the notion of populism, as we’ll be discussing. The phenomenon of concern here is a kind of politics that employs an exclusionary notion of the people- the “real people,” as opposed to disfavored groups that are unworthy. Populist leaders then claim to rule on behalf of the “real people,” whose will should not be constrained.

And does this populism affect internationally protected human rights?

We plan to discuss examples of how that happens. But the easy answer is: Yes, it does. Certainly within the country, and it in cases it has implications for other countries as well. If we look internally, often populism then leads to targeting the excluded groups. But it also poses a danger to the majority. Populists deny the legitimacy of the political opposition. They often try to entrench themselves in power and undermine checks. Populism can tip over into authoritarianism.

We’re talking about examples in Poland, Duterte in the Philippines, and of course, President Trump here. Continue Reading…

March 8, 2018

Susan Farbstein Honored in Harvard Women’s Law Association’s International Women’s Day Exhibit


On this International Women’s Day, and every other day, we’re full of gratitude for all the women who push for change around the world. But we’re feeling particularly happy and proud today to see our very own Susan Farbstein honored in this year’s International Women’s Day portrait exhibit, organized by the Harvard Women’s Law Association (WLA).

A portrait of Susan Farbstein, Co-Director of our International Human Rights Clinic, on display at Harvard Law School this week in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Susan, who co-directs our International Human Rights Clinic, is among 25 luminaries celebrated in the Wasserstein Hall exhibit for their “astounding contributions” in the areas of law and policy.

They include Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist and the creator of “Me Too,” a phrase invented to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse in society; Zainah Anwar, a leading feminist activist and scholar in Malaysia, and the current Director of Musawah; Sarah McBride, an LGBT rights activist who serves as the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign; Losang Rabgey, the co-founder of Machik, a
nonprofit dedicated to social innovation in Tibet through educational development and capacity building; and Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, and the first woman elected to head a major professional sports union in North America.

It comes as no surprise to us that Susan stands among them. As an expert in Alien Tort Statute litigation, among other things, she has been co-counsel in such landmark human rights cases as Wiwa v. Shell, in Re: South African Apartheid Litigation, and now Mamani v. Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain. That historic case, which began trial in Federal District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Monday, marks the first time a former head of state stands trial in a civil case in U.S. court for human rights abuses.

It is, in fact, the reason she missed the celebratory luncheon in honor of International Women’s Day. So today  we celebrate Susan from afar for all she’s done to protect and strengthen human rights over the course of her career- and wish her, the clinical team, and the plaintiffs the very best of luck in the momentous days of the trial to come.

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March 2, 2018

Bonnie Docherty Launches Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative


The International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) is thrilled to announce the launch of the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI), which aims to reduce the harm caused by armed conflict through targeted advocacy, leadership development, and the generation of innovative solutions.

Bonnie Docherty, Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection, talking with colleagues.

The ACCPI will be led by Bonnie Docherty, Lecturer on Law and Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection, who is an internationally renowned leader in the field of humanitarian disarmament. Docherty has worked at the heart of almost every major civil society campaign to ban inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, or curtail their use to minimize the impacts on civilians. She was a critical player in the 2008 cluster munitions ban, as well as the nuclear weapons ban, adopted in July of last year.

“Today’s armed conflicts are causing countless civilian casualties, destroying infrastructure and the environment, and driving people from their homes,” said Docherty, who also works as a Senior Researcher in the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. “This initiative represents a unique opportunity to provide focused support to the movement dealing with these issues, as well as to students interested in making a career in the field.”

Since she arrived at the Clinic in 2005, Docherty has put clinical students at the heart of her advocacy, supervising them on everything from field research in Lebanon to lobbying at the UN. Under her leadership, and through her mentorship, students have gone on to work as field researchers, advocates in peace negotiations, and policy analysts, actively working to protect civilians from the effects of armed conflict.

In the years to come, the ACCPI will create a formal track for HLS students who want to pursue careers in civilian protection. That track will expand on existing offerings, including specialized courses, clinical projects, and trainings; it will also build a career development program that links students with relevant organizations, a network of alumni, and funding for internships and fellowships.

“So many of us have learned the tools of the trade by Bonnie’s side,” said Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, who is actively involved in the ACCPI. “This initiative will strengthen the movement by creating even more opportunities for students to develop into leaders.”

The ACCPI will go broad as well as deep, tackling issues as diverse as environmental damage, refugee rights, and world heritage in times of armed conflict. One of its main areas of focus will be humanitarian disarmament, which strives to end the civilian suffering that certain weapons cause.

This Monday, March 5, the ACCPI’s inaugural conference, “Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead,” will bring dozens of international experts together to discuss how the movement has developed over the past two decades, and to explore where it should go from here. With its focus on collaboration and innovation, the conference is a window into one of the ACCPI’s central priorities: generating fresh perspectives and creative strategies for lessening the harms of war.

The mostly closed-door conference will include two public events: a keynote conversation with leaders of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning campaigns to ban nuclear weapons and landmines; and a panel that examines current issues in humanitarian disarmament, including efforts to end the urban use of certain explosive weapons, reduce the environmental impact of armed conflict, ban killer robots, and control the unlawful arms trade.

During her time in the Clinic, Docherty herself has gone deep on almost all of these issues, documenting the effects of explosive weapons in Ukraine, teaching about the environmental impacts of war, and making the case for preemptively prohibiting killer robots. Together with Crowe, she led a clinical team during the nuclear ban treaty negotiations last summer; supervisors and students successfully advocated for the treaty to include “positive obligations” that require countries to assist victims and clean up the environment affected by nuclear weapons.

The ACCPI will build on this body of work, focusing on effecting change through advocacy in two areas. First, it will ramp up existing efforts to create new international instruments that protect civilians from problematic weapons. Second, the initiative will promote the development of norms in unsettled areas of law and practice, whether hotly contested or at the intersection of multiple legal frameworks.

Throughout, the ACCPI will adopt an interdisciplinary approach that draws on multiple legal bodies to achieve its ends. It will look to international human rights law, the focus of IHRC and a body of law applicable at all times. It will use international humanitarian law, applicable in times of armed conflict. It will also rely on humanitarian disarmament law, which incorporates elements of both of the above.

In these ways and others, the ACCPI will occupy a distinct niche on Harvard’s campus, combining cutting-edge advocacy with student involvement in all aspects of the work. It is the kind of work that will make Harvard a center for excellence on civilian protection from armed conflict. And her colleagues know: There is no better person to lead it than Docherty, a pioneer from the very start.

“The depth of Bonnie’s impact on her field over the past fifteen years has been remarkable, and she’s done it all with such humility,” said Tyler Giannini, Co-Director of the International Human Rights Clinic. “She’s a tireless advocate, and given the state of armed conflict today, we’re elated to see her launch and lead this critically important initiative.”

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