Blog: Staff

July 13, 2018

Human Rights Program Awards Five Visiting Fellowships for 2018-2019


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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June 29, 2018

Job Posting: International Human Rights Clinic Hiring Clinical Instructor


The International Human Rights Clinic, which is part of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, is inviting applications for a Clinical Instructor. The Clinic offers second and third year students, as well as LLM students, the opportunity to work on a variety of timely and complex human rights issues in partnership with clients, civil society organizations, and affected communities around the world, including in the United States. Through supervised practice and intense mentorship, clinical students develop a range of skills necessary to become thoughtful, critical, creative, strategic, and effective human rights advocates.

The Clinical Instructor will be a legally-trained practitioner with at least five years of demonstrated experience in, and commitment to, human rights, including experience training, teaching, or mentoring law students. S/he will join a vibrant community of human rights practitioners and scholars at Harvard Law School. The Clinical Instructor will design, oversee, and execute clinical projects, and supervise and manage student teams. Clinical projects deploy a variety of strategies and methodologies and may include fact-finding investigations and advocacy efforts, human rights reporting, legislative drafting, litigation in national and international fora, media advocacy, policy initiatives, coalition building, and negotiating treaty provisions. Over the course of the term appointment, the Clinical Instructor may also have an opportunity to be appointed a Lecturer on Law and to develop and teach clinical seminars.

The position is expected to begin in early / mid- 2019 and extend through June 2021.

For the full job ad and to apply, please go through the Harvard Jobs Portal.

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June 25, 2018

Clinic’s Parliamentary Submission Urges Marshall Islands to Reap Benefits of Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

Countries gather for the signing ceremony of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the UN in September 2017. Photo by Bonnie Docherty

The Marshall Islands (RMI), which still suffers from the catastrophic effects of 67 U.S. nuclear tests, has much to gain by joining the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

If it became a state party, the RMI would be entitled to new sources of assistance to address the ongoing human and environmental harm caused by nuclear testing. The RMI would also advance the cause of nuclear disarmament, which the country has historically supported, and become a leader among Pacific and affected states.

While some Marshallese are concerned about the TPNW’s ramifications for the Compact of Free Association between the RMI and the United States, the Compact should not be seen as an insurmountable legal obstacle to joining a treaty that would benefit the Marshallese people and their environment.

The RMI’s parliament (Nitjela) has the power to decide whether to sign and ratify the TPNW. Its Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade is currently considering Resolution 46, which would approve those steps. In July 2017, the RMI joined 121 other countries in voting to adopt the TPNW at the United Nations.

In a submission made to the parliamentary committee this week, the Clinic encourages the Nitijela to approve Resolution 46, and the country to sign and ratify the TPNW. The submission details the advantages of joining the treaty for the RMI and shows how the TPNW can be understood as legally compatible with the Compact. The Clinic has also released a more in-depth analysis of the relationship between the TPNW and the Compact.

The TPNW’s provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation, for which the Clinic advocated actively during the treaty’s negotiations, provide the RMI humanitarian incentives become a party. The treaty mandates a range of assistance for affected individuals, including medical care, psychological support, measures to ensure socioeconomic inclusion, and human rights protections. The treaty also requires measures to reduce environmental contamination and exposure to radioactive materials.

The TPNW spreads responsibility for victim assistance and environmental remediation across the countries that are party to the treaty. Affected countries, such as the RMI, bear the responsibility to lead these efforts, but other states parties in a position to do so are required to help them meet their obligations.

While the Compact grants the U.S. “full authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to” the RMI, the Clinic’s analysis finds that the RMI’s obligations under the TPNW and the Compact are not per se contradictory. It emphasizes that the Compact requires the U.S. to “accord due respect” to the RMI’s foreign affairs authority and responsibility for its people’s well-being. If the U.S. sought to block the RMI’s ratification of the TPNW or withhold aid in response, it would be failing to honor its commitment in the Compact to respect the RMI’s sovereign right to act in the interests of its people.

In March 2018, the Clinic visited the RMI to discuss the TPNW with government officials, civil society members, and individuals affected by testing. The Clinic based its conclusions and recommendations on those conversations and a close analysis of the TPNW and the Compact.

In addition to requiring victim assistance and environmental remediation, the TPNW includes comprehensive prohibitions on activities involving nuclear weapons. The TPNW has been signed by 59 countries and ratified by 10. It will enter into force when 50 countries complete their ratification.

 

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June 7, 2018

New Clinic Reports Call on NATO Members, Sweden to Join Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

As preparations for a US-North Korea summit highlight the ongoing threat posed by nuclear weapons, proponents of nuclear disarmament should increase their support for the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Momentum has been building. In May alone, three more countries ratified the treaty, bringing the total to 10; another 48 have signed. In addition, several countries have initiated national processes that represent an important step toward coming on board.

In this context, the Clinic is releasing two papers demonstrating why it is legally possible for even allies of nuclear armed states to join the TPNW.

The first paper examines the implications of the TPNW for “nuclear umbrella” states, notably US allies, that wish to join the new treaty. It finds that once a country is party to the TPNW, it may no longer remain under the protection of a nuclear umbrella, i.e., rely on an ally’s nuclear weapons for defense.

In most cases, however, a country may sign and ratify the TPNW without violating its legal obligations under a security agreement with a nuclear armed state. The TPNW would also allow it to continue participate in joint military operations with nuclear armed states as long as it does not assist with prohibited acts, such as possessing, threatening to use, or using nuclear weapons.

A NATO member state that joined the TPNW would therefore have to renounce its nuclear umbrella status, but from a legal perspective, it could remain a part of the existing alliance. The same would be true for other US allies, including Australia, Japan, and South Korea.

A second Clinic paper focuses specifically on the situation of Sweden, which frequently partners with NATO but is not a member state. Sweden has appointed an inquiry chair to examine how joining the TPNW would affect Sweden’s defense policies and its obligations under other agreements. Sweden was one of 122 nations to adopt the TPNW in July 2017.

The Clinic concludes that if Sweden became a party to the treaty, the country could not assist its allies with prohibited activities involving nuclear weapons. It could, however, maintain its relationships with NATO and the European Union and continue to participate in joint military operations without violating the treaty.

Given Sweden’s historically strong support for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, Sweden should serve as a role model for other countries in a similar position. It should advance the TPNW’s goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and expedite its entry into force by joining as soon as possible. The treaty will enter into force, i.e., become binding law, once 50 states have become party.

The TPNW absolutely prohibits nuclear weapons. It also establishes positive obligations to assist victims and remediate the environment affected by the use and testing of nuclear weapons.

The Clinic participated actively in last year’s negotiations of the TPNW and has worked closely with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

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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 13, 2018

Spotlight Feature: Clinic team help hold Bolivian ex-leaders responsible for killings in historic case

Posted by Cara Solomon

This post originally ran on the Harvard Law Today homepage under the title, “After a decade of tireless fighting, a measure of justice.”

When the verdict came down, most of the litigation team was in the second row of the courtroom, leaning forward, tense with the waiting, trembling at times. But Thomas Becker ’08, was in the front row beside the plaintiffs, his arm around the shoulders of Felicidad Rosa Huanca Quispe, whose father was shot dead in the street all those years ago.

There was no other place for him to be. He had spent the past decade on and off in Bolivia, working in partnership with the plaintiffs–attending victims’ association meetings, tracking down witnesses, investigating leads. They were not only his inspiration. They were also his friends.

When Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín reached Federal District Court last month, it had already made history: the first time a living former head of state faced his accusers in a human rights case in U.S. court. Now, as the judge read the verdict form, Becker found the words hard to believe.

Had the jury really just found two of the most powerful men in Bolivian history liable for the extrajudicial killings of eight indigenous people–and awarded the plaintiffs $10 million in damages?

With more than 25 witnesses and hundreds of pages of evidence, the case against Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Carlos Sánchez Berzaín seemed clear—how they had deployed massive military force to quash protests, leading to scores of civilian deaths. Still, Becker turned around for reassurance from Susan Farbstein ’04 and Tyler Giannini, co-directors of the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), which was co-counsel in the litigation from the start.

“Susan was smiling with tears running down her face, and Tyler was nodding in his Zen-like way,” said Becker. “And I knew that after a decade of tireless fighting, the plaintiffs had gotten some form of justice.”

In the summer of 2006, Becker was a rising 2L, living in Bolivia, and immersed in the social justice movement around “Black October,” the military violence that killed more than 50 and injured more than 400 in the fall of 2003.

The fight for accountability was already well underway, and would later lead to the Trial of Responsibilities, which found five members of the Military High Command guilty for their role in the killings. But the men who had unleashed the military on civilians—Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín—had fled to the United States in the aftermath of the violence, and lived there ever since.

At some point, Becker remembered something he’d learned about in his 1L year. It was called the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), and it allowed people to sue in U.S. courts for human rights violations. What if lawyers in the United States could use it to help the victims’ associations here get some justice for their loved ones?

He reached out to experts in ATS litigation—Paul Hoffman, Judith Chomsky, and Giannini—to see what was feasible.

For Giannini, it felt reminiscent of another long-shot ATS case: Doe v. Unocal, brought by Burmese villagers against the company for human rights abuses related to a gas pipeline project. Back in 1995, when the organization he co-founded, EarthRights International, decided to sue a corporation for human rights violations, the reception was less than enthusiastic.

“People thought we were nuts,” he said.

But Giannini served as co-counsel on that case for a decade, right up until it settled. So when Becker called with the idea of suing the president of Bolivia, he had a receptive audience: this was not a litigator put off by long odds.

Continue Reading…