Blog: Student Perspectives

April 23, 2019

HRP Awards 2019 Summer Fellows

From left to right: 2019 summer fellows Julian Morimoto, Angel Gabriel Cabrera Silva, Matthew Farrell, Ji Yoon Kang, and Emily Ray.

HRP is pleased to announce its 2019 summer fellowship cohort: Angel Gabriel Cabrera Silva SJD Candidate, Matthew Farrell JD’21, Ji Yoon Kang JD’20, Julian Morimoto JD’21, and Emily Ray JD’21.

Summer fellowships for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience and provide rich professional, personal, and intellectual opportunities. Many students and alumni/ae who are committed to human rights were introduced to the field through an internship. Interns work for at least eight weeks with nongovernmental or intergovernmental organizations concerned with human rights, exclusively outside the United States.

Angel Gabriel Cabrera Silva, SJD Candidate, will intern with Colectivo Emanicpaciones in Mexico. Colectivo Emanicpaciones is an organization dedicated to supporting the struggle of indigenous social movements in Michoacán, México. Prior to his doctoral studies, Angel worked and interned at several governmental and nongovernmental organizations dedicated to human rights, including the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales in Argentina, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos. He graduated from Harvard Law School with an LL.M. in 2016 and from Universidad de Guadalajara with an LL.B. in 2013.

Matthew Farrell JD’21 will intern with Amnesty International in the United Kingdom, working in their strategic litigation division. With an interest in the legal response to mass atrocities, Matthew hopes to specialize in international criminal law. He has previously published on humanitarian intervention in the Rwandan genocide, and his masters thesis analyzed the European and African human rights regimes. He holds a B.A. from York University in International Studies and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Ji Yoon Kang JD’20 will intern with the International Rescue Committee in Thailand, specifically working with Burmese refugee populations. Previously, he worked at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Korea. For the past year, Ji Yoon has been an active member of the International Human Rights Clinic, working on projects that look at decriminalizing LGTBQ+ rights and countering hate speech in Myanmar, all under Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law Yee Htun. He hopes to pursue a career in international human rights law and transitional justice with a regional focus on Southeast Asia. Ji Yoon holds a B.A. in History and East Asian Studies from McGill University.

Julian Morimoto JD’21 will intern with Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) in the Philippines. IDEALS is an NGO focused on empowering the disempowered in Filipino society, in particular, they do work to combat President Duterte’s war on drugs. Previously, Julian interned with Volunteer Legal Services Hawai`i, helping low-moderate income clients become more knowledgeable about their rights. Since starting law school, he has been an active member of the student practice organization HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and has acted as an RA for Professor Sabrineh Ardalan in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic. Julian holds a B.A. in Mathematics from Case Western Reserve University.

Emily Ray JD’21 will intern with the Forest Peoples Programme in Guyana. The Forest Peoples Programme is a human rights organization that supports forest and indigenous populations in land rights and environmental advocacy. Since beginning law school, Emily has been an active member of the student practice organization HLS Advocates for Human Rights, in addition to acting as an editor with the Harvard Human Rights Journal. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy and Government from Franklin & Marshall College and a Master of Letters in Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy from the University of St. Andrews.

Congratulations to all of our summer fellows and best of luck to all the HLS students interning abroad this summer!

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March 29, 2019

Clinic Releases Report Documenting Femicide and Impunity in Bolivia

Posted by Thomas Becker JD'08, Julia Wenck JD'20, and Fabiola Alvelais JD'20

For women, Bolivia is a land of paradoxes. The Bolivian government has enacted some of the world’s most progressive legislation to advance women’s rights. It was one of the first countries to criminalize femicide − the killing of women because they are women – and maintains strict protocols to combat gender violence. Yet despite these efforts, violence against women remains a pervasive problem. Bolivia’s femicide rate is the second highest in South America and one of the highest in the world.

In April 2018, Mujeres Creando, a Bolivian feminist collective, asked the International Human Rights Clinic to examine femicide in Bolivia. Throughout this academic year, clinical students Fabiola Alvelais JD ’20, Isabel Pitaro JD ’20, and Julia Wenck JD ’20 have worked on this issue under the supervision of Clinical Instructor Thomas Becker JD ’08, conducting extensive desk research and traveling to Bolivia to interview families of femicide victims, activists, and government officials involved in the investigation and adjudication of femicide cases.

Last Friday, the Clinic released its report, “ ‘No Justice for Me’: Femicide and Impunity in Bolivia.” Becker and Alvelais presented the report at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in La Paz. Family members of femicide victims, academics, and the former Human Rights Ombudsman of Bolivia (and current Chancellor of the University)  participated in the presentation before an overflow crowd of roughly one thousand people.

Becker and Alvelais presented the results of the report at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in La Paz last week. They were joined there by members of Congress and those affected by femicide. From left to right: Susan Rivera, Vice-President of Congress; Becker; Daiana Tapia, sister of femicide victim Daniela Tapia; Adriana Salvatierra, President of the Senate; Valeria Silva Guzmán, President of the Justice Commission of Congress; Rosario Mendez, mother of femicide victim Veronica Quintana; Alvelais; and Miriam Valeriano, mother of femicide victim Yessenia Fuentes.

“No Justice for Me” identifies three key areas that have hindered the government’s efforts to prevent femicide and hold perpetrators accountable: (1) investigative barriers, (2) judicial barriers, and (3) institutional discrimination. The report calls on actors in the Bolivian government and civil society to address these obstacles, adhere to the country’s own progressive legislation on femicide, and work together to address the pervasiveness of femicide and impunity in the country.

Helen Alvarez, whose daughter Andrea Aramayo was killed by her boyfriend in 2015, was interviewed for the report and remains concerned about the prevalence of femicide. “All women can be victims of femicide in Bolivia,” she noted. “Unfortunately, impunity sends a signal to men that they can get away with killing women.”

Though Alvarez recognizes that preventing femicide and holding perpetrators accountable will continue to be difficult, she is hopeful that the Clinic’s report can be a powerful tool in this struggle and ultimately bring her daughter’s case one step closer to justice.

The clinical team shared its report with the public, conducting dozens of radio, print, and television interviews. “I was genuinely moved by the widespread interest in battling femicide in Bolivia,” Alvelais reflected.

Becker and Alvelais also met with high level members of the Bolivian government, including the President of the Senate, the Vice-President of Congress, the President of the Justice Commission of Congress, and the Director General of the Plurinational Service for Women and Depatriarchalization, to discuss the report.

To Becker, these meetings signaled a sincere effort to confront the problem of femicide. “We had a unique opportunity to sit down with members of the government, who showed a genuine interest in collaborating to eradicate femicide in the country,” he explained. “We are optimistic about the possibilities for meaningful change.”

The report is available in English and Spanish.

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February 27, 2019

HRP Winter Term Fellow Niku Jafarnia JD/MPP’20 Reflects on Independent Clinical on OCP Blog


In Germany, Jafarnia met Isabel Schayani (left), a former Harvard John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellow who started a program within WDR (a German public-broadcasting news station) that provides refugees with critical programming and information about their legal rights in Farsi and Arabic.

A joint degree candidate at Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Niku Jafarnia JD/MPP’20 spent Winter Term 2019 in Germany conducting research on refugee rights as a Human Rights Program Winter Fellow. Having worked in the refugee legal advocacy space for years, Jafarnia wished to address the “lack of initiatives that include and train members of the refugee community to work as legal advocates for themselves.”

She spent multiple semesters in the International Human Rights Clinic and the Immigration and Refugee Clinic, in addition to interning at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey in Summer 2017 as a Human Rights Program Summer Fellow, but in the last year, Jafarnia has been “explor[ing] the viability of an organization that would allow refugees to play a greater role in legal processes relevant to the refugee community.”

In a recent post for the OCP blog, she expands on what she found while examining comparative refugee programs:

“During my research, I was particularly struck by the divergences between the German and U.S. asylum and refugee systems. Though the German system has significant room for improvement—particularly as their efforts to deport and exclude refugees have increased—there was a certain humanity that I recognized in the system of services and in the government-provided provisions, educational opportunities, and shelters provided to refugees. This image presented a stark contrast with the U.S.’s increasingly militarized southern border and systematic imprisonment of migrants. Hopefully, countries will look to Germany’s inclusionary policies as an example, rather than replicating the U.S.’s administration’s efforts to demonize and dehumanize those who have come to the U.S. seeking refuge.”

Read more about Jafarnia’s experiences on the OCP blog.

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January 4, 2019

How Facebook is Reconfiguring Freedom of Speech in Situations of Mass Atrocity: Lessons from Myanmar and the Philippines

Posted by Jenny Domino LLM'18

Jenny Domino is a Satter Human Rights Fellow (funded through the Human Rights Program) working with ARTICLE 19 to counter hate speech. In an article for OpinioJuris, she argues that Facebook’s secrecy around its community standards and its intermediary status as a hosting “platform” detract from international law’s ability to hold the corporation accountable for its role encouraging harmful rhetoric that fuels mass atrocity. Find the full text of the article below and at OpinioJuris.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and not the views of ARTICLE 19.

Facebook has been described as a service to democracy. This perception arguably peaked during the Arab Spring uprisings, touted as Facebook’s crowning glory in its mission to connect people. The past two years have effectively undermined that rhetoric, as serious lapses in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the Russian hacking in the 2016 US Presidential election have shown.

In Southeast Asia, we don’t need to look far to see how Facebook has been used to oppress. The OHCHR Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar recently concluded that Facebook was instrumental in the dissemination of hate speech against the Rohingya. In the Philippines, disinformation on Facebook has enabled the triumph and reign of Duterte, whose war on drugs has reportedly claimed thousands of civilian lives. Notably, both situations are under preliminary examination at the International Criminal Court. If Facebook has failed in a mature democracy such as the United States, it has all the more failed in struggling democracies. Rather than bringing the world closer, Facebook has facilitated the spread of divisive rhetoric even within borders.

Selective transparency

This year, Facebook finally published its Community Standards in an effort to be more transparent. It has also started to publish a report of their Community Standards enforcement. These were announced during the first Asia-Pacific Facebook Community Standards Forum held last month in Singapore, which I attended.

Conspicuously, relevant information on how these rules operate remain shrouded in secrecy. We have the applicable rules and the results of their implementation, but we are left in the dark as to what happens in between. Facebook did disclose the type of people they hire as content moderators (ranging from counter-terrorism experts to previous law enforcers), or the fact that they use human labor and algorithms to review content, but when pressed about the details on the process, they invoke their content reviewers’ safety in refusing to disclose any information on this aspect.

This seems odd. If Facebook has chosen to disclose the type of people they are hiring, why can’t they disclose their procedure on content moderation, which is arguably less likely to reveal the identity of their content reviewers and thus expose them to physical risk?

This is crucial in monitoring Facebook’s efforts to improve its operations in situations of mass atrocity. Information on procedure would help civil society monitor social media companies’ timely detection and moderation of hate speech posted on their platform, which could prevent further escalation of violence or abuse towards a victim group. This, in turn, could strengthen the normative force of the Genocide Convention’s preventive provisions, including the crime of direct and public incitement to commit genocide.

Information on procedure can also shed light on how a certain situation will be prioritized over others. During the forum, Facebook admitted that the company prioritizes certain content over others, but there is no information on how these priorities are decided. The situation in Myanmar is unique in that the UN itself made a finding on Facebook’s enabling role; what metric does Facebook plan to use moving forward? This will be crucial in the work of the ICC, whose recent statementson potential situation countries include references to incitement to violence, where the battle is increasingly being fought on Facebook.

The kind and depth of information that Facebook chooses to disclose regarding its Community Standards reflect the ease with which corporations can evade accountability through the use of the “platform” nomenclature. Tarleton Gillespie has written about how intermediaries manipulate the ambivalent, multi-layered meanings of the term “platform” to serve different constituencies – ordinary citizens, businesses, policymakers, and so forth. Though platforms seem to only “facilitate” expression, there is nothing neutral about the curating, filtering, and “orchestrating” of posted content that they take on. As mediators of content, platforms also crucially mediate relations among users, between users and the public, between users and sellers, and even between users and governments.

Facebook’s earlier reference to itself as a neutral platform could explain its previous indifference to the impact of its operations in Southeast Asia, but it also continues to frame corporate policy on public engagement. Because the term “platform” does not carry with it a clear, corresponding set of obligations for accountability on Community Standards enforcement, Facebook can conveniently choose what to disclose depending on what their interests dictate at a given point in time – whether improving public image, expanding operations, or fulfilling the demands of the UN.

This is worrying. While our demand for transparency from our public officers is guaranteed by law, our expectation from Facebook is not. We can only know what Facebook lets us know despite the impact of their Community Standards enforcement to situations of mass atrocity. Continue Reading…

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October 29, 2018

Clinic Students Support International Advocacy to Advance Rights of Women in Mauritius


This month, the Musawah Movement for Equality in the Muslim Family submitted a thematic report to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee advocating for codification of family law provisions to protect the rights of Muslim women in Mauritius. International Human Rights Clinic students Samantha Lint JD’20 and Natalie McCauley JD’19 contributed to drafting the report and developing its legal recommendations, working in close collaboration with Mauritian attorney and family law expert, Narghis Bundhun.

As the report notes, a major cause of the lack of rights protection and inequality for Muslim women in Mauritius is the absence of a clear legal framework that protects rights in the context of religious marriages. The report highlights this legal ambiguity and key resulting inequalities that harm Muslim Mauritian women and in turn damage families, communities, and society as a whole. The report encourages the State of Mauritius to leverage its robust framework of diversity and inclusion to promote equality for Muslim women and take concrete steps to ensure all women in Mauritius enjoy full legal protection.

The report will be considered by the CEDAW Committee in its Constructive Dialogue with the Government of Mauritius. Today, Monday, October 29, the IHRC team has joined Musawah in Geneva, Switzerland, where the session and associated Committee briefings are now taking place. Tune in to the #CEDAW71 Constructive Dialogue starting tomorrow (10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. CET) and follow Musawah on Twitter for updates. Watch live at http://webtv.un.org/…/71st-session-committee-…/5723840293001.

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June 12, 2018

HRP Awards Four Post-Graduate Fellowships in Human Rights for the 2018-2019 Year


The Human Rights Program is pleased to announce its cohort of post-graduate fellowships in human rights. This year, Conor Hartnett, JD’18, and Alejandra Elguero Altner, LLM’17, have been awarded the Henigson Human Rights Fellowship and Jenny B. Domino, LLM’18, and Anna Khalfaoui, LLM’17, have been awarded the Satter Human Rights Fellowship.


Conor Hartnett will be a Legal Fellow with Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he will focus on transitional justice within two different spheres: criminal justice accountability and education. As a fellow, he will provide technical assistance to criminal justice organizations attempting to hold war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable for their activities. He will also help develop curricula on transitional justice and human rights for a host of different universities. With a sustained interest in human rights and international development, Conor made human rights the focus of his law school career: spending multiple semesters in the International Human Rights Clinic and contributing substantially to the leadership and growth of the Harvard Human Rights Journal. Prior to law school, he was a fellow in the Peace Corps where he developed a human rights education curriculum for students in the Republic of Georgia.

 

Alejandra Elguero Altner will be a Legal Fellow with Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) in Nairobi, Kenya, where she will work on projects that address sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) in South Sudan and Somalia. With both societies in long-term conflict, Alejandra will be helping to strengthen the ability of civil society organizations and attorneys to hold perpetrators of SGBV accountable. Having graduated with an LLM in 2017, Alejandra has spent the last year with the Organization of American States consulting on a number of related projects, including Mexico’s compliance with international legal obligations regarding violence towards women and their access to justice. Prior to her LLM, she worked to combat human trafficking and provide access to justice to SGBV survivors and held positions with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Ignacio Ellacuria Human Rights Institute.

 

Jenny B. Domino will work with ARTICLE 19 in Myanmar, strengthening the organization’s response to hate speech, specifically as it incites violence and provokes atrocities committed against the Rohingya community. Throughout her career, Jenny has dedicated herself to deepening the commitment to international human rights law in the ASEAN region. In her home country of the Philippines, she spearheaded the Commission on Human Rights’ investigation of the state leaders most responsible for the extrajudicial killings arising from President Duterte’s drug war. Her investigation helped prompt the International Criminal Court to open a preliminary examination into whether these killings constitute crimes against humanity.

 

Anna Khalfaoui will work with the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA-ROLI) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, supporting programs in North and South Kivu, where there are increasing attacks against civilians and high levels of sexual violence that are committed with impunity. She will support ABA-ROLI’s early warning and response system for preventing atrocities and provide legal assistance to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence to file cases with civilian and military authorities. Anna is a French lawyer who trained in the International Human Rights Clinic. She currently serves as a consultant for the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

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May 1, 2018

Spotlight on HRP’s 2018 Winter and Summer Fellows

Posted by Dana Walters


As part of its mission to merge theory with practice, the Human Rights Program continually offers students the opportunity to leave the law school environment to engage in scholarly inquiry and gain practical experience in the field. Winter Term is but one period that offers JD students a short yet intensive time to do research or internships abroad in human rights. This year, the Program provided Winter Term fellowship awards to four students to immerse themselves in different arenas of advocacy, human rights research, and documentation with courts and NGOs.

Elisa Quiroz, JD ’19, conducted research in Chile, examining the government’s legislative and policy responses to the country’s rapid rise in migration. Recently, Chile has sought to strengthen migrants’ access to socio-economic rights, including labor rights, the right to health, and the right to education. Quiroz examined how services are being delivered, and whether the government is meeting commitments in line with its international human rights obligations.

Elisa Quiroz, JD ’19, who spent her HRP winter term fellowship in Chile, researching the country’s response to the rapid rise in migration.

Without working under the umbrella of an organization, Quiroz undertook this research initiative largely independently. Assistant Clinical Professor Sabi Ardalan of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic served as her adviser, as the project had grown out of an International Labor Migration reading group Ardalan had taught with Lecturer on Law Jennifer Rosenbaum. Spending time in Chile doing desk research and speaking with academics and civil society experts allowed Quiroz to further contextualize the historical conditions of this recent migration and the legal responses to it. In one instance, she notes, migrants’ equal access to housing is compromised by the insufficient attention the government gives to housing rights in general. Quiroz hopes to analyze this rights gap, as well as the innovative responses by the government and civil society to the influx of new peoples, in a longer academic paper.

In addition to Quiroz, other Winter Term grantees included Molly Ma, JD’18, Ellen Zheng, JD’18, and Mila Owen, JD’18. Ma traveled to The Hague to work with Judge Chung Chang-ho of the International Criminal Court, where she researched the operations of the Court and potential reforms. As a returning intern at Justice Base in Myanmar, Zheng studied ethnic violence and discrimination in the Rakhine state. Likewise, Mila Owen, JD’18, also continued her work for the second year in a row at Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights in Harare, where she focused on disability rights, among other projects. You can read more about her experience in Zimbabwe on the OCP blog here.

From left to right, HRP’s summer fellows: Eun Sung Yang, JD’20; D Dangarang, JD’20; Ginger Cline, JD’20; Krista Oehlke, JD’20; and Delphine Rodrik, JD’20. Not pictured: Sara Oh, JD’19.

This summer, the Human Rights Program has funded six fellows to intern abroad at various human rights organizations. Among these are: Ginger Cline, JD’20, who will travel to Kenya to work for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; D Dangarang, JD’20, for Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa; Krista Oehlke, JD’20, for EarthRights, International in Peru; Sara Oh, JD’19, for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey; Delphine Rodrik, JD’20, for Human Rights Watch in Lebanon; and Eun Sung Yang, JD’20, for Justice Base, in Myanmar.

 

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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…

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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…

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