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September 30, 2011

Inside the Classroom: Using Literature and History to Introduce Disarmament Law

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

“Gassed,” by John Singer Sargent (1918), a reminder of what motivates advocates for disarmament. Imperial War Museum.

Before my first class this fall, a student approached me to say she had spent the previous evening at the kitchen table reading her assignment and crying. Normally I would feel that I had failed as a teacher if I made a student cry, but this time I was both touched by her reaction and pleased that the initial readings for my course had had an impact.

In my new seminar, “The Promises and Challenges of Disarmament,” students will spend much of the semester poring over the negotiating histories and provisions of international weapons treaties.  They will have ample opportunity to analyze legal sources in depth.  But to start off, I felt it was important for the students to grasp the reasons for and the value of the law governing weapons.

Drawing from my training as an undergraduate history and literature concentrator, I turned to readings that are atypical for a law school class but that had affected me personally and would help the students understand what motivates most modern disarmament advocates, including myself.

Over the course of a decade of war zone field research, I have been moved by the testimonies of survivors of armed conflict.  I wanted the students, too, to see human suffering from an individual perspective.

For the opening reading, I chose a poem, a reminder that literature can have a place in the study of law.  In “Dulce et Decorum Est,” World War I poet and soldier Wilfred Owen describes a comrade who had inhaled poison gas “guttering, choking, drowning. . . . with white eyes writhing in his face.”

To show the impact of a nuclear weapon, I then gave them excerpts from journalist John Hersey’s Hiroshima, which was originally published in 1946 but banned in Japan by US occupying forces. Hersey recounts the stories of six survivors of the atomic bomb and the unprecedented horrors they witnessed.

When I pulled out my copy of Hiroshima this summer, I saw I had annotated in college a passage about the skin slipping off a victim’s hands “in huge, glove-like pieces” with the note that it was the most gruesome description I had ever read.  I have since seen first-hand many of the effects of armed conflict—gaping wounds, lost limbs, body parts of a dead child—but I still find Hersey’s image as haunting as I did then.

To highlight the harm from types of munitions used in contemporary armed conflict, I turned to the story behind an iconic image: Nick Ut’s famous Vietnam War photograph of a naked girl, Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack.  Passages from a biography of  Phuc illustrate the excruciating and enduring pain caused by incendiary weapons.  These weapons can burn at almost incomprehensible temperatures of up to 1,200° celsius; according to one of Phuc’s doctors, treatment for the wounds they cause is comparable to being “flayed alive.”

Finally, I included Ken Rutherford’s account of losing both his legs to a landmine while he was a humanitarian aid worker in Somalia in 1993.  He describes how, immediately after the explosion, he saw a foot on the floorboard of his Land Cruiser.  Realizing it was his own, he kept trying to reattach it.

Ken Rutherford and Bonnie Docherty smile and pose at the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Ken and me at the 2008 signing ceremony for the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

My friendship with Ken, whom I met during the campaign to ban cluster munitions, gives his tale special resonance for me.

As a teacher, you never know how students will react to readings, particularly when the course is new.  But during class, students opened up and shared their personal responses.  They wondered aloud how people could design such cruel weapons as napalm, which spreads burning gel across the body as a victim instinctively tries to wipe it off.  One student related to Ken’s experience because she could envision being a field worker someday; another said she could imagine reacting to a nuclear bomb like the witness who ran around Hiroshima in disbelief for hours after the attack.

Students were also able to look beyond the narratives to identify how weapons differ in technology, use, and the harm they cause.  It was gratifying for me as an instructor to see them so engaged.

I know from experience that when one is absorbed in the minutiae of arms treaty work, it is possible to lose sight of the suffering that makes it a humanitarian imperative.  My hope is that our discussion of literature and history will continue to remind students of the individuals whose protection underlies disarmament law.

Course readings:

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September 26, 2011

Panel Tomorrow, Sept. 27: Can Courts Bring More Justice to Health?

September 27, 2011

“Litigating Health Rights”

12:00-1:15 pm

Hauser 101

Please join us tomorrow for the launch of Litigating Health Rights, the latest book from the Human Rights Program.  This event will feature a panel discussion with Alicia Ely Yamin, co-editor of the book and Director of the Program on the Health Rights of Women and Children, François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University; Norman Daniels, Professor of Population Ethics and Professor of Ethics and Population Health at the Harvard School of Public Health; Namita Wahi, SJD candidate and co-author of a chapter in the book; and Mindy Roseman, Academic Director of the Human Rights Program.

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September 23, 2011

Coming on Monday: A Talk by Judge Baltasar Garzon

Posted by Fernando Delgado

A fascinating figure in the human rights field, Judge Baltasar Garzón will be on campus Monday to speak to the Harvard Law School community.  Starting with his role in the landmark arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998, Judge Garzón has been instrumental to the implementation of universal jurisdiction and accountability for crimes against humanity and other grave abuses.

Check out the event notice below:

“International Crimes and Universal Jurisdiction”

A Talk by Judge Baltasar Garzón

12:00-1:15 pm

Pound 213

Light lunch provided

Baltasar Garzón
Baltasar Garzón

A hero within the human rights community, Judge Baltasar Garzón is perhaps best known for indicting and issuing an arrest warrant against Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile.  But he has also brought cases against Russian mafia leaders; Osama bin Laden; and the former Argentine naval officer Ricardo Miguel Cavallo for genocide and torture committed during the Argentine military’s “dirty war” of the 1970s and 1980s.

Last year, he made international news again, when the Spanish judiciary suspended him for opening an investigation into General Franco’s crimes during the Spanish Civil War.  At the time, Garzón had been investigating the use of government-authorized and systematic torture in U.S. detention facilities.

Judge Garzón has recently been awarded the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) first annual $100,000 prize for Human Rights Activism.

He will speak in Spanish, with simultaneous interpretation provided.

This event is being co-sponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, International Legal Studies, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and the Human Rights Program.  Please RSVP to [email protected]


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September 18, 2011

Demining (and Dancing) in Lebanon

Posted by Nicolette Boehland, JD '13

Several days ago, on a sunny morning in southern Lebanon, my clinical instructor, Bonnie Docherty, and I witnessed the explosion of a submunition left from a cluster munition attack in 2006.  After the blast, which happened so close to us I felt the earth move as a result of its force, I smiled broadly at Bonnie.

Two women stand smiling in a hot desert landscape; they stand over large rusty shells that look like weapons.
Nicolette Boehland, JD ’13, and Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty on a field visit to see demining efforts in Lebanon.

Why was I grinning in response to such a ground-shaking jolt and ear-splitting boom? Because this was no accidental submunition explosion; it was a controlled detonation conducted by the Lebanese military as a part of a clearance campaign for the village area of Nabatieh.  The detonation of this dud submunition, which dated to the Lebanon war five years ago, represented one small but necessary step in the effort to eradicate the remnants of war from the area, and to restore the property and livelihoods of the community.

Bonnie and I had traveled to Lebanon to support this effort, serving as representatives of the International Human Rights Clinic, Human Rights Watch, and the Cluster Munition Coalition at the Second Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  At the meeting, which began last Monday and ended Friday, around 600 representatives of states, international organizations, and civil society convened to promote the implementation and universalization of the Convention, which prohibits all use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions.

A woman crouches to examine rusty metal pieces that look like weapons.
Nicolette examines a cluster munition during the field visit to the village of Nabatieh.

Cluster munitions are large weapons that release dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions.  They cause civilian casualties during attacks due to their wide area effect, and for months or years afterwards because many of them do not explode on impact and become de facto landmines.

Lebanon seemed an especially fitting base for the meeting, since, according to the UN Development Program, Israel dropped an estimated 4.2 million submunitions over the country during the conflict in 2006.  These submunitions contaminated approximately 54.9 square kilometers, including residential neighborhoods, homes, schools, hospitals, and farmland.  At this point, the Lebanese military, humanitarian organizations like the Mines Advisory Group, and other members of the international community have worked tirelessly to clear more than two-thirds of the contaminated land.

Bonnie and I participated in the field visit to Nabatieh in advance of the meeting, hoping to see first-hand how various actors in Lebanon, are working together to clear land contaminated by cluster munitions.

Military members wearing camouflage garb carry a stretcher with a body.
In this mock drill, members of the military evacuate a deminer who has been injured.

As the call to prayer echoed through the hills surrounding the village, the military shuttled us first to a mock “CAS-EVAC” drill to show us how they would evacuate a deminer if he or she were injured on the job. Then, after the submunition detonation, they gave us a tutorial on proper equipment and protective clothing for clearance.  Finally, since we were in Lebanon after all, we were treated to cheese and zatar sandwiches, strong Arabic coffee, and an impromptu traditional Arabic dance (“debke”) session, where soldiers, NGO workers, state delegates, cluster munition survivors, and doctors held hands and danced their hearts out.

To me, the unexpected and joyous scene looked like a blessing for a community that once seemed permanently damaged by the effects of cluster munitions— that, too, made me smile.

Military members dance in a circle with photographers visible.
At the end of the field visit, participants gather for an impromptu dance.

Click here for more from Human Rights Watch on last week’s meeting in Beirut.

Nicolette Boehland, JD ’13, recently returned from Afghanistan, where she worked this summer with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.  This semester, she is a member of the Clinic and a participant on Bonnie’s cluster munitions team.

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September 15, 2011

Tomorrow, Sept. 16: Human Rights Program Orientation!

Event Notice

September 16, 2011

Human Rights Program Orientation

12:00- 1:30 pm
Pound Hall 200

It’s that time of year again!  Join us for pizza and an overview of the Human Rights Program and how you can get involved.

We’ll give you information on our International Human Rights Clinic; summer funding for human rights internships; post-graduate fellowships; events and conferences; and the larger human rights community at Harvard Law School. Then it’s your turn: mix and mingle with instructors from the Clinic, Visiting Fellows from the Academic Program, as well as representatives from student groups focused on human rights, such as HLS Advocates for Human Rights.

For more information, stop by Pound 401 or email us at [email protected]


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September 14, 2011

What the Courts Did Over Our Summer Vacation: Three Days that Redefined the Corporate ATS Landscape

Posted by Susan Farbstein

It’s still 80 degrees and sunny in Cambridge, but I know summer is over because the students are back, roaming the halls and knocking on my office door.  Many are asking the same question: what happened in the corporate Alien Tort Statute (ATS) world over the summer?  The short answer is: a lot.  Here’s a quick summary to get folks up to speed.

The plaintiffs in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.  filed their petition for certiorari in early June, asking the Supreme Court to reverse the Second Circuit’s decision that corporations cannot be held liable under the ATS.  Amicus briefs from international human rights organizations, international law scholars, former ambassador David Scheffer, and professors of legal history—the last submitted by our own International Human Rights Clinic—supported the petition.

Then something interesting happened: in a matter of three days, two opinions were issued that transformed the Second Circuit’s Kiobel decision from defining the landscape to becoming an outlier.

Continue Reading…

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September 12, 2011

It’s What Makes This Place Go…

Posted by Tyler Giannini

The International Human Rights Clinic and the Human Rights Program (HRP) are abuzz with energy again—the energy that comes with the start of the semester and the return of students.  They will be joining our team of clinicians and carrying forward a recent flurry of activity: Fernando just traveled to Brazil to investigate prisons conditions, then turned around and headed to Colombia, where he and Deborah made two oral arguments in the same day before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.  Along the way, he worked with local partners to negotiate a precedent-setting settlement with the Government of Brazil to improve conditions in one of the country’s most notorious prisons (watch this space for more on that this week).  Not to be outdone, days after Deborah returned from Colombia, she was in Panama advocating for clients from an indigenous community that has been displaced by a dam.

As for Bonnie—well, she’s in Beirut right now at the Second Meeting of States Parties on the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  For Susan’s and my part, we just came back from Asia, where we were talking to people about the underlying causes of a protracted conflict in one country and the interplay between human rights and democracy.  And Deborah and I have had a few litigation tussles with the Ohio state attorney general on whether we’ll be granted an oral argument in a case there; more motions in other cases are in the works as well.

All of that in the last three weeks alone.  It may have been summer, but we clinicians are not a bunch that likes to sit idle.

Continue Reading…

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