Blog: Amelia Evans

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October 23, 2013

Q & A: Joshua Oppenheimer, Director of “The Act of Killing”

Posted by Cara Solomon

Earlier this month, we welcomed the director Joshua Oppenheimer for a panel discussion of his controversial documentary, “The Act of Killing,” a film that explores a country where death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes. Its focus is Indonesia, where a military coup in 1965 led to killings of more than 1 million alleged Communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals. Oppenheimer examines the culture of impunity that surrounds those killings through interviews with perpetrators, asking them to re-enact their crimes in the style of their favorite Hollywood genres: the gangster, the western, and the musical.

Clinical supervisor and filmmaker Amelia Evans, LLM ’11, sat down with Oppenheimer prior to the event to discuss the film. The interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

Amelia: I understand the film had a collaborative beginning—that you got feedback from different community members and those in the human rights community and others before really fully embarking on the project. Can you tell me a bit about that, and why you did that?

Joshua: We began this work in collaboration with a community of plantation workers on a Belgian-owned oil palm plantation about 60 miles from Medan, where we made the film. As we made a film with them about their struggle to organize a union, which had been illegal under the Suharto dictatorship, we found out that they were survivors of the genocide. It turned out that the biggest obstacle they faced in organizing a union was fear. And they said: “Please come back as quickly as you can after making this first film to make a film about why we’re afraid.” Namely, the co-existence between perpetrators who enjoy total impunity, and survivors who are still intimidated by them.

When we got back, word had got out that we were interested in what happened in 1965, which was of course the source of their fear—or at least the reverberations of those events into the present—and  the local army stopped allowing us to film with them. Police chiefs would show up, army chiefs would show up, plantation administrators backed up by the army would show up, and not let the survivors talk. The people we were filming with, who we had been very close to because we had made a film with them already, said: “Look, go and film this neighbor or that neighbor”—pointing out several who were death squad leaders at the time—”and they may have information about how our loved ones were killed.”

We filmed them, and they were immensely boastful, and we didn’t expect that, and it was horrifying and shocking. We felt like this is perhaps how the Nazis would talk if 40 years had gone by and they were still in power. And our work on the Belgian oil palm plantation had taught us that this was in fact the dark underbelly of globalization. Indonesia’s not the exception to the rule. What we’re hearing in this boasting is perhaps the allegory for the rule. Continue Reading…

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August 22, 2013

Q & A: Amelia Evans, LLM ’11, Founder of Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity

Posted by Cara Solomon

This past spring, more than 70 people gathered to celebrate the launch of the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (MSI Integrity), a business and human rights organization founded by Clinic alumna Amelia Evans, LLM ’11. It was a momentous occasion: MSI Integrity is one of the first non-profits to come out of the Clinical and Pro-Bono Program at Harvard Law School (HLS). In her comments, HLS Dean Martha Minow described its mission as both essential and exciting.

Recently, we sat down with Amelia to talk about the origins of MSI Integrity, and where it fits into the landscape of business and human rights.

Congratulations on the launch, Amelia. Before we start talking about the work of the organization, tell me a bit about how you get interested in the field of business and human rights in the first place.

From left: Amelia Evans, LLM '11, Tyler Giannini, and Dean Martha Minow, celebrating the launch of the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Integrity.

From left: Amelia Evans, LLM ’11, Tyler Giannini, and Dean Martha Minow, celebrating the launch of the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Integrity.

Well, back in New Zealand, I was occupying two different worlds — I had dabbled in investment banking and commercial law, but was also an advocate at a domestic violence shelter. I felt really alienated from both of these spaces. At the firms, I felt that everybody was judging me for being part of a feminist collective, and when I was a participant in the collective, everyone was very skeptical of my commercial interests. It was frustrating that these two worlds just couldn’t be bridged, that they didn’t speak to each other in any way. At some point, I realized that the connection between the two was business and human rights, and I wanted to learn more about that.

Through my research, I saw the work that Tyler Giannini had done, so I applied to Harvard Law School hoping to work with him in the Clinic. Clinical education isn’t something that’s offered in New Zealand, and I was very eager to experience it. As soon as I got into HLS, I emailed Tyler to ask about getting involved in the Clinic in the fall, and he told me there were limited spots for LLMs. So I spent a lot of time crafting my application, and once I got in, I just tried to devote as many hours and credits to it as I could. I’m fairly certain no one could have taken more clinical credits than I did….I just loved it so much.

What kind of work did you do in the Clinic?

I was involved in three different business and human rights projects. One was the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. case, at the appellate level, with the legal historians’ amicus brief. The second was a corporate accountability case looking at remediation for survivors of human rights abuses. And the third was about multi-stakeholder initiatives or MSIs, which are these voluntary organizations that address human rights concerns within a given industry. Basically, they bring together different actors—civil society, government, rights holders, and businesses themselves—in an attempt to strengthen human rights within that industry.

The goal of our clinical project was to understand how effective these MSIs were, and to do that by creating ways to evaluate that effectiveness from a human rights perspective.

Why the focus on MSIs?

They’ve become a go-to mechanism for corporate accountability given the governance gap that exists in today’s globalized economy. It’s really difficult to get a treaty developed, or to get legislation passed that applies with extraterritorial effect, so the response has often been, “Let’s try to do something voluntarily.”

Enter MSIs. They’ve exploded in number over the past decade. Name a major global industry, name a geographic area, name a human rights issue, and there’s an MSI that applies. Most consumers have never heard of them, but the fact is that we interact with the work of MSIs on a regular basis. The label that says it’s fair trade, the certification of diamonds as conflict or blood-free — this is all the work of MSIs.

In the Clinic, we saw MSIs as an innovative way to get at business and human rights issues. But the questions were: are they working? Are they leading to improved human rights outcomes? Or are they actually, in some ways, stopping improvement in human rights? Continue Reading…

April 17, 2013

Today: Clinic Launches New Organization On Business and Human Rights

Event Notice

April 17, 2013

“MSI Integrity: A New Business and Human Rights Organization”

4:30-6:30 pm

Harkness South

Drinks will be served!

Join the International Human Rights Clinic for the launch of the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity, a non-profit organization the Clinic has helped get off the ground. MSI Integrity aims to strengthen the ability of multi-stakeholder initiatives, like Fairtrade and the Kimberley Process, to respect human rights, prevent violations, and remedy abuses.

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March 7, 2012

Is the Fight for Queer Rights Really Global?

Posted by Amelia Evans, LLM '11, HRP Global Human Rights fellow

A month ago today, I was among the many millions who cheered a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, striking down California’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. Celebrations rolled out across the country—huge parades and rallies were spontaneously organized in Santa Monica, San Diego and San Francisco; outside California, supporters like myself gathered at parties and dinners with friends.

It could have been remembered as a day for advancing queer rights, except for one critical fact: On the same date in Uganda, the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill was reintroduced to Parliament.

In a country where same-sex sexual activity is already criminalized, the Ugandan Bill takes several more steps away from equality, imposing the death penalty for certain homosexual acts, and criminalizing anyone who fails to report a person she or he knows to be homosexual. The Bill, originally introduced in 2009, was shelved last May, thanks to intense national campaigning by Ugandan queer advocates like Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who pushed the issue onto the international agenda at great personal risk.

I had the privilege of meeting Frank last November in Washington, D.C., where he received the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights’ annual Human Rights Award. I found myself unusually awestruck. Standing before me was a man who fights for queer rights in a country where 79 percent of people view homosexuality as morally wrong; where newspapers openly advocated for the killing of queer advocates; where a close colleague of his, David Kato, was found murdered in his home; where Frank himself had received death threats.

Struggling to regain my conversational skills, I began to bumble on to Frank about how much admiration I had for him.  As if such bland admissions of admiration are not socially awkward enough, I found myself talking about a recently failed effort to allow same-sex adoption in New Zealand that I had been a part of, and how by comparison, his work must be so much more daunting.  He let me keep digging my your-advocacy-work-is-so-much-harder-than-mine hole for a few minutes. Then he replied, in his surprisingly gentle, softly-spoken way, “I think it is all the same.”

At the time, I didn’t actually understand what he meant. His words disarmed me; I put them down to an attempt at modesty. But three months later, as I consider the wildly different developments in Uganda and the United States on the same day, Frank’s words have come back to me with a different meaning.

Perhaps he was trying to say that we are, all of us, chipping away at the impediments to equality in our own corners of the world—and that while the nature of the work may vary in nature from country to country, the struggle for queer equality itself is shared.

But is it?

Although efforts exist to encourage a global queer rights movement, the fact remains that on February 7, 2012, news in one part of the world—that a surprisingly narrow ruling declaring the ban against gay marriage unlawful—drowned out news in another part of the world that it may be a crime not to report a person known to be homosexual.

Over the past several weeks, we have seen more milestones in this country: Washington state legalized same-sex marriage, and more recently, Maryland became the eighth state to follow that path. We should celebrate every step toward equality, including these legislative victories. But it is worth noting that in this same time period, we have rarely heard mention of the bill in Uganda, or similar bills in Nigeria or Cameroon.

We cannot let piecemeal domestic efforts lull us into a false sense of achievement. The struggle for queer rights is universal—or, as Frank suggested, it should be. Losing sight of that only slows progress, both here and abroad.

Amelia Evans is HRP’s Global Human Rights Fellow for 2011-2012. She is working at Oxfam Novib on issues related to business and human rights, including the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder initiatives.


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