April 7, 2017
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.
April 4, 2017
April 4, 2017
“Is there an existential threat to human rights?”
12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
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.
March 30, 2017
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…
March 20, 2017
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.
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.
March 15, 2017
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 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…
February 28, 2017
“Shifting Grounds in International Human Rights”
12:00- 1:00 p.m.
Please join the Human Rights Program for a panel discussion on how the international human rights landscape has changed since President Trump took office. HRP’s resident scholars and advocates will examine the question: what impact is the change of administration having on the work of international human rights scholars, lawyers, and activists working internationally? Panelists will address a range of topics, including women’s rights, LGBTQI rights, and the rights of religious minorities, and examine these issues in contexts where human rights are already under threat, such as Myanmar and the Middle East.
February 7, 2017
Evan Mawarire, of the #ThisFlag Movement, Should Be Immediately Released by the Government of Zimbabwe
Posted by Susan Farbstein
Update: Thankfully, since this post was published, Evan Mawarire has been released.
Back in November, I was pleased to moderate a conversation with pastor Evan Mawarire, the leader of the #ThisFlag movement, which in 2016 channeled citizens’ frustrations into large-scale protests against corruption, human rights abuse, and economic decline in Zimbabwe. It was therefore deeply distressing to learn that he was arrested last Wednesday at Harare International Airport when he returned to the country. He continues to be held at Harare Central Police Station.
Mawarire was initially charged with subverting a constitutionally-elected government and was expected to appear in court for a hearing and the opportunity to make bail. However, additional charges of insulting the Zimbabwean flag and inciting violence were added in an apparent attempt to prolong his detention and suppress his cause. He is expected back in court on February 17. If the case proceeds to trial he could face 20 years in prison.
Mawarire was previously arrested for treason last July. After thousands protested outside the courthouse, the charges were dismissed and he was released. He left soon after for South Africa and, subsequently, the United States, fearing for his safety.
Zimbabwe’s criminal justice system should not be used to intimidate citizens who speak out against abuse or target activists who organize peaceful resistance. Mawarire should be released and the charges against him dropped.
February 6, 2017
Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, Former Senior Clinical Instructor, Becomes Scholar in Residence at NYU Law
Posted by Cara Solomon
As the spring semester gets underway at HRP, we’re already missing the fellowship and expertise of one of our colleagues: Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, JD ’08, Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, is now a Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law.
Simply put, this is a big loss for us. Fernando is an expert on criminal justice in Brazil, which has one of the world’s worst records on mass incarceration. His clinical work went wide and deep; his teams used strategies ranging from litigation to fact-finding to negotiating with government officials to launching media campaigns.
Beyond the rigor and innovation that was the hallmark of Fernando’s work, there was another distinguishing factor: it was always collaborative. Throughout his seven years at the Clinic, he worked closely with local partners whom he considered not just colleagues but mentors: Justiça Global, Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões, Pastoral Carcerária, and Comissão Justiça e Paz. He also nurtured relationships with prisoners’ families, corrections officials, and members of the media.
Most importantly, as described in the Harvard Law Bulletin last year, Fernando treated people who were incarcerated the way he treated everyone else: with kindness.
At NYU, Fernando will explore the link between state violence and corruption, a link he first documented with Justiça Global in the high-profile, book-length report, “São Paulo under Extortion: Corruption, Organized Crime, and Institutional Violence in May 2006.” That joint report, the culmination of a five-year investigation, explored the role of corruption in a series of coordinated uprisings in detention centers and attacks on police and public buildings that left 43 state officials and hundreds of civilians dead. The report also documented the wave of reprisal attacks by police, including extrajudicial killings of people they suspected of having arrest records—in many cases profiling victims’ youth, skin color, tattoos and presence on the streets of a poor neighborhood at night.
During his time in the Clinic, Fernando tackled a range of criminal justice issues in Brazil. His clinical team contributed comparative and international law research to a workshop that culminated with federal prosecutors filing the first-ever criminal charges for dictatorship-era human rights crimes. A case he argued before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court) led to an investigation into juvenile justice system abuses, one which ultimately brought down an alleged corruption ring at the highest levels of state government.
He spent the great majority of his time, though, addressing rampant over-incarceration and abuse in prisons. Continue Reading…
December 21, 2016
Posted by Fernando Ribeiro Delgado
Inter-American Court of Human Rights Critiques “Over-Incarceration” and Prison Building in Brazil
Landmark Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex Rulings Also Innovate on Rights of LGBT Prisoners; Prisoners with Disabilities; and Anti-Corruption Measures
Sounding the alarm on mass incarceration, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently ordered officials in Brazil to adopt an emergency plan to reduce overcrowding at the abusive Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex in Recife, Pernambuco. Noting that it “shared the concern expressed by several Brazilian authorities…with respect to the tendency toward ‘over-incarceration’ [‘super encarceramento’] witnessed over the past decade throughout the country, and with particular intensity in Pernambuco,” the Court also demanded other measures that can promote decarceration. These include the hiring of public defenders and the listing of the legal grounds for the detention of each prisoner at the Complex.
Currently, the Complex holds some 7,000 men in space designated for less than 2,000. The Court gave the state 90 days to comply, with Brazil’s federal prosecutor’s office (Ministério Público Federal – MPF) tapped to monitor implementation.
The ruling marks a major advance for the civil society petitioning coalition comprised of the Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões – SEMPRI, Pastoral Carcerária, Justiça Global, and the International Human Rights Clinic. For years, the coalition has urged authorities to redress overcrowding through decarceration measures. Brazil today has the world’s fourth largest prison population, with over 600,000 detained. In its resolution, the Court warned that “until the tendency [toward over-incarceration] is reversed,” state policies promoting prison construction “will not be sufficient” to deal with the problem.
There is growing recognition in Brazil that its turn toward mass incarceration is unwise and unsustainable. Earlier this year the head of Brazil’s federal penitentiary department (Departamento Penitenciário Federal – DEPEN) declared, “incarceration does not reduce criminality.” Over the past 25 years, the country has seen a 575 percent increase in the prison population.
The Court’s decision also innovated on other legal issues. Pointing to a wave of sexual violence and other abuses against LGBT persons at the prison Complex, the Court ordered the state to “adopt specific measures to protect the personal integrity and life of groups in situations of vulnerability.” Other novel points of the decision include measures protecting the rights of prisoners with disabilities and a demand for evidence demonstrating the existence of judicial oversight of the prison. Continue Reading…
December 15, 2016
Posted by Emily Nagisa Keehn, Anna Crowe and Yee Htun
It is now well trodden discourse that the election of Donald Trump, like the rise in nationalist movements in Europe, is both creating and reflecting paradigmatic shifts in the way we view global institutions. These shifts point to pressing concerns for the international human rights project. The xenophobic, rights-abusive platform of the Trump campaign put the human rights community on notice, and we have assumed a defensive stance to protect the potential roll-back of hard-won progress. In the era of Trump, we believe the U.S. human rights community must continue to draw on international human rights law as an advocacy and accountability tool, partnering with international movements and actors to stop rhetoric from becoming reality.
For U.S. scholars, lawyers, policymakers and activists committed to the defense of human rights, the rhetoric and fledgling policies of the incoming administration have raised strategic and existential questions. In this new era, we are examining and debating critical concerns about the state and utility of international human rights law, and questioning where to place our resources. For those of us working within law schools, we face added questions from students, some of whom feel a crisis of conscience about where best to stake their social justice careers. From our perspective we must continue to invest in international human rights.
To begin with, we must dispel with the false dichotomy that pits domestic rights against the international human rights regime. International human rights norms are implemented by domestic actors and often embedded in national constitutions. And human rights abuses are not a phenomenon that ‘happens’ abroad, violating the rights of ‘others’ who are unconnected to us. The systemic interlinkages in our globalized world make us common rights-holders, in issues spanning trade and the environment, to counter terrorism. The international system exists as a failsafe for local and domestic efforts. No domestic space is a paradigm of human rights virtue and we all benefit from the scrutiny of global institutions.
Granted, international human rights law has limited power in U.S. courts, but it is not impotent. We have seen its persuasive function in important Supreme Court Cases such as Lawrence v Texas, which struck down the sodomy law in Texas, and Roper v Simmons, which abolished capital punishment for people under 18. There is further work to do in pushing back against American exceptionalism by both diffusing international norms, and keeping human rights language and knowledge alive, in the U.S. legal community and judiciary – if anything, U.S. human rights activists have perhaps prematurely given up on the project of making international human rights law enforceable in U.S. courts.
History shows that human rights violations carry reputational risks, and have tangible costs for national security and the U.S.’s geopolitical position. For instance, the Bush-era war on terror and the torture memos made the U.S. an outlier to established international law, damaged its moral authority, and fanned the flames of conflict.
During this period of what may be a redux in U.S. human rights ‘deviance’, we must fight to limit damage to the integrity of human rights norms. This requires our continued engagement with global institutions mandated with international human rights law protection, to prevent and seek accountability for any new violations, and to protect against the dismantling of important gains. This could include backslides in progress under international U.S. leadership in the areas of LGBTQI rights, women’s health and reproductive rights, and a strengthened UN Human Rights Council. Protecting gains also means safeguarding against cuts in U.S. government support for human rights defenders around the world who are working with vulnerable people in hostile environments.
Finally, we must demonstrate heterogeneity and dissent in U.S. voices in international settings, and avoid brain drain and the deskilling of the U.S. human rights community. For humanistic and principled reasons, concern for human rights should not follow national borders or be driven by nationalist impulses. This cuts to the core of our group identity as a human rights constituency, committed to the foundational principles of universal application of human rights for all.
Today’s shifting ground and the risks of a regressive trajectory present an opportunity to re-double efforts and promote the resonance of international norms domestically. Now, more than ever, work needs to be done to bring the U.S. into a larger comparative framework. Human rights actors are needed in both domestic and international institutions to serve as critical, reinforcing bridges between these two arenas.