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March 29, 2012

UN Human Rights Council Moves to Appoint an Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment

Posted by Tyler Giannini

Last week, on March 20, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to appoint an Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment. The connection between human rights and the environment gained attention in the UN system around the time of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. As someone who has worked in the field since the 1990s, I have seen firsthand the efforts over the past two decades to show how human rights and environmental protections are often intertwined. With Rio+20 on the horizon in June,  the appointment of an Independent Expert is potentially a significant advance that could bring more attention to the linkages, along with the upcoming summit.

For a copy of the resolution, click here.

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March 22, 2012

Today: Open House for International Human Rights Clinic and Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic

Event Notice

The International Human Rights Clinic and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic cordially invite you to an Open House event

4:00-6:30 pm

Wasserstein 3139

Food and Drink provided

Please join us in the common lounge to chat with clinicians and learn more about the International Human Rights Clinic and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic.

All students welcome!


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March 21, 2012

Tomorrow, March 22: A Talk by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia

Event Notice

March 22, 2012

“Protecting Human Rights Through the Mechanism of UN Special Rapporteurs”

A Talk by Surya P. Subedi

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia

1:00 pm
Wasserstein 3018
Lunch will be served

Surya P. Subedi has been the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia since 2009. He is a Professor of International Law at the University of Leeds and a barrister specializing in the fields of public international law, international law of trade and investment, and international human rights law. He also serves as a member of the Advisory Group on Human Rights to the British Foreign Secretary.

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March 19, 2012

Today, March 20: Human Rights Abuses under Martial Law in Taiwan

Event Notice

March 20, 212

“Tongue Untied”

A Film Screening and (Free) Dinner

7:30 pm

Hauser 102

Please join the Taiwan Law Students Association and the Harvard Law Documentary Studio for a screening of Tongue Untied, a 2002 documentary that looks at the not-so-distant history of human rights abuse in Taiwan.

Today’s Taiwan is a vibrant example of a well-functioning Asian democracy. However, it has one of the darkest histories in the world. Its period of martial law had been the longest in the world when it was lifted, lasting for 38 years, from 1949 to 1987. As in many authoritarian states, during these four decades, the Taiwanese people were arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, executed, or disappeared, for their real or perceived opposition to the government. This documentary (with English subtitles) is the oral history of those who survived.


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March 12, 2012

Where in the World is the Human Rights Program?

Posted by Susan Farbstein

This week is spring break at the law school, but folks around HRP won’t be sitting on a beach in Florida.  Seven clinicians and 18 clinical students will be on field missions in five foreign countries and right here at home.

Fernando and Deborah will be in Brazil with their team, as well as Celina Beatriz Mendes de Almeida, LLM ’10, presenting a briefing paper about prosecution of dictatorship-era crimes at a workshop with federal prosecutors.

Later in the week, Deborah will return to Massachusetts and, with another team, conduct interviews related to Occupy Boston for a multi-clinic report examining freedom of expression and assembly in the United States.

Mindy and her team will be in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, investigating access to sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion, and the effect on women’s lives.

Meera and a student will be in Israel and the West Bank, presenting research from last semester and meeting with human rights organizations to develop new clinical projects.

She’s still waiting for the visas to come through, but Bonnie plans to have a team in Libya researching the humanitarian effects of abandoned arms, which have proliferated widely in the wake of the recent conflict there and have the potential to harm civilians as well as destabilize the country.

And Tyler and I, along with six students, will be conducting interviews in refugee camps along the Thai/Burma border, examining human rights violations committed by the Burmese military against villagers.

Here’s wishing everyone a productive “break”!

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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March 6, 2012

Kiobel Update: Supreme Court Orders Re-argument and Supplemental Briefing on Extraterritoriality

Posted by Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini

The Supreme Court will not rule this term on whether corporations can be held liable for human rights violations under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).  Yesterday, in an unusual move, the Court instead decided that it will re-hear arguments in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. and requested additional briefing on the question of whether ATS cases can be brought in U.S. courts for abuses committed abroad.

The order for additional briefing (to be filed in May and June) and re-argument (likely to be held in October or November) means the case could now have broader implications.  If decided on the grounds of extraterritoriality, the outcome in Kiobel could affect all ATS cases, not only those against corporate defendants.

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March 2, 2012

Monday, March 5: A Talk on Abortion and the Constitution

Event Notice

March 5, 2012

“A Lunch Conversation with Priscilla Smith: Abortion and the Constitution”

12:00-1:00 pm

Lewis 302

Lunch will be provided

Please join  Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice for an informal discussion with Priscilla (Cilla) Smith, a Senior Fellow at the Information Society Project at the Yale Law School. Prior to joining the ISP, Smith was an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights for 13 years, serving as the U.S. Legal Program Director from 2003-2007, and litigated cases nationwide, including Gonzales v. Carhart, 127 S. Ct. 1610 (2007), and Ferguson v. City of Charleston, 532 U.S. 67 (2001).

Currently, Smith is doing research and writes on privacy, reproductive rights and justice, and the information society. At this event, she will speak about abortion jurisprudence after Gonzales v. Carhart.

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March 2, 2012

Camping Out for Kiobel

Posted by Yonina Alexander, JD ’12, and Daniel Saver, JD ‘12

Rumor had it that if we wanted much-coveted tickets to the oral argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., we would have to arrive at the U.S. Supreme Court very, very early.  The gallery of the Court is fairly small, and there are only a limited number of seats available each day to the general public. After a few phone calls and some internet research, we decided 4:00 am would do the trick.

Then, at 10:00 pm the night before the argument, we heard from a friend that 20 people were already lined up outside the Court. After putting in countless hours working on the Legal Historians amicus curiae brief for the case this past fall, we were bound and determined to be inside the Court when the justices heard the case. Totally unprepared to spend the night outside, we decided to head over anyway.

Armed with a bag of fruit, little to protect us from the elements, but plenty of good energy to make up for it, we arrived at the steps of the Court at 11:30 pm.  A couple dozen other law students, all of whom had contributed to the case in some capacity, greeted the four of us as we took our places in line—numbers 28 to 32.  As the night wore on, others joined the line, and we huddled in the cold, sharing food, war stories, and predictions of what the morning would bring.

There was a sense of camaraderie in the group. We had never met most of these students, but we all shared a commitment to the issue at hand—corporate accountability for human rights violations.  Sometime before dawn, a police officer referred to the gathering as “kind of like a rock concert—but for nerdy law students.”

At 7:30 am, the big moment arrived.  Police officers handed us gold-colored tickets with numbers, and told us the first 40 would be admitted.  We’d done it.  We’d made it in.

We entered through the side door, exchanged our sweatshirts for suits in the bathrooms and, minutes before the oral argument began, walked into the grand chambers of the Court’s gallery.

It struck us at that moment—and often in the hours before—that we were among the lucky.  As students at Harvard Law School, we had the opportunity to fly to Washington, D.C. and wait all night to witness this historic argument.  For many others who deeply cared about the case, that was not an option.

Inside the Courtroom, we sat flanked by stone-colored colonnades and heavy, red curtains, listening to the argument unfold. It was tense for all of us, trying to divine where the justices stood on the issues. Then, in an exchange with the Defendants’ counsel, Justice Stephen Breyer read out a line from our brief.  To hear those words echo through the chambers of the United States Supreme Court was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  We feel so fortunate to have worked with the rest of the team from the International Human Rights Clinic on a case with this much at stake.

Yonina Alexander, JD ’12, and Daniel Saver, JD ’12, have been members of the Clinic for the past four semesters.

For more information on Kiobel, click here for our resource page.

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