Blog: UN

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September 26, 2018

Human Rights Watch Releases Brief on Houthi Hostage-Taking in Yemen

International Human Rights Clinic Students Contribute Research

Illustration Credit: Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch released a brief on Tuesday documenting illegal imprisonment and serious abuses by Yemen’s Houthi rebel forces against detainees in their custody.  The brief uses investigative and legal research conducted by students of the International Human Rights Clinic on Houthi practices of hostage-taking and torture, and documents dozens of cases in which Houthis held people unlawfully and profited from their detention since 2014.  It also calls on the United Nations Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen to investigate and identify those responsible for abuses.

“The Houthis have added profiteering to their long list of abuses and offenses against the people under their control in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than treat detainees humanely, some Houthi officials are exploiting their power to turn a profit through detention, torture, and murder.”

International Human Rights Clinic students who contributed to this research include Zeineb Bouraoui, LLM ’18, Danesha Grady (Berkeley) ’JD 18, Tarek Zeidan, HKS MPA ’18, and Canem Ozyildirim, JD ’18.

Read the full brief here:


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September 21, 2015

Tomorrow, Sept. 22: Negotiating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities

Luis Gallegos Poster (2)Tuesday, September 22, 2015

“Negotiating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: An Insider’s Perspective”

A Talk by Ambassador Luis Gallegos

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 3008
Harvard Law School

Please join us for a brown bag discussion with Ambassador Luis Gallegos, who chaired the first half of the negotiations on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and is a current board member for the Special Olympics. He has previously served as Ecuador’s Ambassador to the United States, as Ecuador’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and as a Member of the UN Committee Against Torture.

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August 31, 2015

Has the Human Rights Committee Extended its Reach?

Posted by Gerald L. Neuman

This post was originally published July 29, 2015 on Just Security

Last week the UN Human Rights Committee, the independent body created by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to monitor states’ compliance, issued its Concluding Observations (COBs) on the periodic reports of seven states, including Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. These most recent statements of concern and recommendations to those states may exhibit an innovation in the committee’s approach to the perennial debate over extraterritorial application of the ICCPR. They suggest a broadened understanding of the concept of “jurisdiction” that links an individual overseas to a state and triggers the state’s ICCPR obligations, although the committee has not clearly articulated or explained the change.

The COBs on France and the United Kingdom both address issues of surveillance of communication, within and outside national territory. The observations on the UK (and a March 2014 COB on the USA) seem to assume that extraterritorial communications surveillance raises privacy issues under article 17 of the Covenant, regardless of the nationality of the parties to the communication. (The COBs for France are less explicit on the latter point.) The committee therefore expresses concern about overbroad and unchecked surveillance practices, and makes a series of recommendations for reform.

If one probes the committee’s assumption that extraterritorial communications surveillance always raises privacy issues under the Covenant, the following question arises: How does the committee explain the relationship between extraterritorial surveillance of foreign nationals and the undertaking of each state party to the ICCPR “to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant,” as article 2(1) of the treaty provides? 

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May 11, 2015

Government Official, Suspected of War Crimes, Put in Charge of Human Rights Review for Myanmar

Posted by Matthew Thiman, JD '16, and Tyler Giannini

It only happens once every four years: a full UN review of Myanmar’s human rights record. With its rather generic name—the Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”)—this UN process does not often get much attention. But it should. Especially when the head of Myanmar’s delegation is someone like Lieutenant General Ko Ko—the country’s Home Affairs Minister, a man who has been linked to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It was quite a moment when we at the International Human Rights Clinic realized that Ko Ko was in charge of Myanmar’s UPR process. We know Ko Ko well because we have been investigating his central role in a brutal Myanmar Army offensive for the last four years. We published our findings in a legal memorandum last November, implicating Ko Ko and two other military commanders in violent attacks on civilians.

Exactly a year after the release of our findings, the Myanmar delegation is scheduled to answer questions about its human rights record as part of the UPR process. If Ko Ko in fact ends up leading that delegation, it will say a lot about the status of reform in a country that says it is committed to human rights. With over 1000 pages of witness testimonies and expert declarations implicating him in international crimes, Ko Ko should not be the face of human rights in the new Myanmar.


NOTE: The International Human Rights Clinic made a submission to the UPR process in March, detailing the findings of the Clinic’s investigation. The submission notes Myanmar’s ongoing obligations to provide remedies for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and also highlights that high-ranking officials like Ko Ko have been promoted instead of investigated.

November 14, 2012

Tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 15: The Rule of Law at Home and Abroad

Event Notice

November 15, 2012

“Rule of Law at Home and Abroad – A Critical Perspective”

A Panel Discussion

12 – 2 pm

Wasserstein 3019

Promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels is at the heart of the United Nations’ mission. It is also a principle that is embedded throughout the Charter of the United Nations and most constitutions of national states. But there is much friction among Member States as to the definition of the rule of law, with assertions of hidden agendas.  In addition, there is mounting skepticism among donors and international organizations regarding rule of law promotion.

Please join us for an inter-active discussion on these issues with panelists: Gerald L. Neuman, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard; Ivan Šimonovi?, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights; and Robert O. Varenik, Director of Programs, Open Society Justice Initiative.

The moderator will be David Marshall, LL.M ‘02, Visiting Fellow, Harvard Human Rights Program, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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October 24, 2012

Today: Human Rights, Counterterrorism, and the U.S. Elections

Event Notice

October 25, 2012

“Enemies of All Mankind”

A Talk by Ben Emmerson

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and implementation of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

12- 1 pm

Hauser 104

Lunch Provided

Ben Emmerson QC will describe the principal challenges currently facing his UN mandate, including recent developments on the accountability of public officials for involvement in the US policies of targeted killing, torture, secret detention and rendition.  He will also address the positions taken on some of these key issues by the candidates to the US Presidential Election, and give an overview of the human rights issues currently heading the UN’s counter-terrorism agenda.

Emmerson has more than 25 years of experience in domestic and international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. He has litigated extensively in domestic courts, the European Court of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, including on domestic and international terrorism cases.

October 3, 2011

UN Human Rights Council Establishes Special Rapporteur on Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence

Posted by Susan Farbstein

Interesting development this week from the Human Rights Council: it has adopted a resolution to appoint, for a period of three years, a new Special Rapporteur on promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence of serious crimes and gross violations of human rights.

The Special Rapporteur’s mandate will include gathering relevant information on national situations, practices, and experiences, as well as normative frameworks, related to transitional justice mechanisms.  The Special Rapporteur will also be tasked with providing technical assistance upon request, exchanging and promoting good practices, and recommending strategies to address grave human rights abuses and serious crimes.  The resolution calls for survivor-centered approaches and the incorporation of gender-sensitive perspectives.

The resolution received wide support, as it was co-sponsored by more than 75 countries.  The Council requested the Special Rapporteur report annually to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.


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August 24, 2011

Clinic Files UN Complaint on Behalf of Filipina-American Abducted and Tortured in the Philippines


Melissa Roxas asks UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to call for full and impartial investigation
into her abduction and torture in the Philippines in 2009

August 24, 2011, Los Angeles, CA—Filipina-American Melissa Roxas has filed a submission with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture seeking justice for the abduction and torture she suffered in the Philippines in 2009.  The submission, prepared by the International Human Rights Clinic and the firm of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP, requests that the Special Rapporteur call upon the Philippines government to investigate Ms. Roxas’s abuse in order to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable.

Melissa Roxas, a Filipina-American, was kidnapped and tortured in the Philippines in 2009.

In May 2009, Ms. Roxas was preparing for an aid mission in the Philippines when approximately fifteen armed men abducted her, along with two companions.  She was then held for six days, during which time she was kept blindfolded and handcuffed, deprived of food and water, and brutally interrogated.  During these interrogations, Ms. Roxas was choked, beaten, and suffocated with a plastic bag.  While in captivity, Ms. Roxas heard sounds consistent with those of a military airbase.  For example, some of her captors used the greeting “sir,” and one informed her she had been detained by a special forces unit of the Philippines military.

Ms. Roxas initially pursued investigations in the Philippines, but with limited success.  While the Philippines judicial system and other bodies agreed that her allegations of detention and torture were factually true, they failed to identify the perpetrators.  Some of Ms. Roxas’s efforts to investigate were barred.  For example, though Ms. Roxas presented evidence indicating that she had been abducted by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, she was prohibited from inspecting the military base where she suspects the detention occurred.

“Although no one denies the abuse that I suffered, the Philippines government has repeatedly denied me justice for it,” said Ms. Roxas, who continues to seek a full and impartial investigation that will lead to accountability for those responsible.

“Faced with a lack of transparency and a lack of results in the Philippines, Melissa Roxas had to turn to the UN,” said Paul Hoffman, Ms. Roxas’s attorney at Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison.  “Rather than accepting impunity she is taking her case to the international level.”

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