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May 31, 2012

Clinic Graduates Honored for Community Service

Posted by Cara Solomon

A little late but no less heartfelt, here is our huge congratulations to Daniel Saver, Poppy Alexander, and Yonina Alexander for the community service awards they won last week.

Daniel was a co-recipient of the Frank S. Righeimer, Jr. Prize for Student Citizenship. Established in memory of Frank S. Righeimer, Jr. ’32, the prize is awarded annually to a graduating student or students in recognition of exceptional citizenship.

Poppy and Yonina received the Dean’s Award for Community Leadership, given to graduates who have contributed time and energy to making the HLS community a better place through involvement in student organizations, community service groups, and individual efforts.

Daniel, Poppy, and Yonina have been fixtures at the Clinic since their 2L year–talented and tireless in the way they approach the fight for human rights. They’ve worked on more than a dozen clinical projects between them, from Alien Tort Statute litigation related to violations in Bolivia and Nigeria, to fact-finding in South Africa and along the Thai/Burma border, to efforts to support indigenous rights in Chile.

They’re also just a lot of fun to have around the office, which is good, because they were around the office A LOT. And they continue to be, even now that they have graduated; it’s all hands on deck for the latest amicus curiae brief in the Kiobel case, due to the Supreme Court in mid-June.

May 30, 2012

Daring to Be a Doer: Profile of Clara Long, JD ’12

Posted by Corydon Ireland, Harvard News

Note: A shorter version of this profile appeared in the May 24, 2012 issue of the Harvard Gazette

Clad in black, with her mortarboard jaunty, Clara J. K. Long received a J.D. from Harvard Law School on May 24. She was one of hundreds that day – but surely the only one who had lived in a Brazilian landfill.

A woman with red hair leans against a tree in Harvard Yard. She wears a black vest and shirt.
Clara Long, a longtime member of the Clinic, plans to pursue a career in human rights advocacy. Photo Credit: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Back then, Long was a Brown University undergraduate helping to organize city trash pickers. She lived on sliding mounds of trash, with noisy birds wheeling overhead, for just one month. But the experience is an emblem of the eccentric verve with which Long has so far lived her young life. As a teenager she jumped on a plane to tour Russia, roamed through Central America with just a backpack and bravery for company, hiked 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, and one summer – still a biology major then – grew cancer cells in a New York City laboratory.

In her 20s, she worked alongside peasant socialists in Brazil, summered as a grant writer in Tanzania, taught filmmaking in Burundi, interviewed residents of the U.S.-Mexican border as a young journalist, helped with an anti-debt slavery campaign in the Brazilian Amazon, worked as a “fixer” – advance person and translator – for American journalists in Venezuela, and as a law student did grinding rounds of legal work in American and South American prisons. This was before and after graduating from Brown University in 2004, and earning a master’s degree from the London School of Economics (2005) and another (in journalism) from Stanford University (2007). As part of the journey, Long mastered three new languages – French, Spanish, and Portuguese. (Today she is studying Swahili, whose grammar she calls “a gift.”)

During these years, alongside a passion for adventure, Long embraced an equal and motivating passion for justice and human rights. In all, the life this 32-year-old has lived so far was summed up nicely years ago by Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian: “In every act of justice,” he said, “daring is necessary and risk is unavoidable.”

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May 23, 2012

Big Moments, Small Moments That Make Up A Year

Posted by Tyler Giannini

Big moments, small moments; during graduation week, we are often flooded with the memories we have created over the past year, working closely with students.  It seems like a natural time to reflect.  But where to start when there are so many good memories?

I think about the small moments in the field, like when a student makes a breakthrough.  Earlier this year, I was shadowing two students in Thailand as they interviewed a refugee through a translator, and the student leading the interview kept turning to me, asking for advice.  I told her to stop; I told her she could do this—I had seen her do it—and that she needed to work now with her partner, not me.  She finally got it, trusting herself and the talent and skills she already possessed.

I think about the seemingly small moments in advocacy work that do not get a lot of media attention but are major victories for the protection of civilians, like when Bonnie and her team of students joined a group of nongovernmental organizations in defeating a proposal that would have weakened the absolute ban on cluster munitions.  For the students in Geneva who opposed the proposal, the moment—indeed the precise minute—it was defeated is indelibly etched in their minds: 7:05pm on Friday, November 25, 2011. The students wrote about it here.

I think about the big moments that come together after years of effort with partners, like the groundbreaking work out of Latin America that Fernando and Deborah did this year with several crack teams of students.  In August, they obtained critical measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect prisoners at the largest detention center in Latin America. Then, within weeks, they turned around and, working with their local partners, helped strike a landmark settlement with the state of Brazil that promises large-scale reform within the infamous Urso Branco Prison.

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May 17, 2012

Fact-Finding in Libya: Documenting Risks from a Revolution

Posted by Cara Solomon

Note: This story was originally published on the Harvard Law School homepage.

There she stood, in northern Libya, a spread of explosive weapons before her: mortars and rockets and surface-to-air missiles almost 20 feet long. For all her work in post-conflict zones, senior clinical instructor Bonnie Docherty ’01 had never seen anything like it. The weapons stretched on for miles.

Individuals crouch over a chest in a desert. Inside the chest are weapons.
John McFarlane, technical field manager for Mines Advisory Group Libya, shows the team weapons that deminers have gathered for controlled destruction.

It was March, five months after the revolution had ended, and Docherty was supervising a team from the International Human Rights Clinic on a trip to assess the humanitarian risks of abandoned weapons. As the team traveled from city to city, the scale of the problem was startling.

“We saw huge quantities of weapons—particularly in bombed-out bunkers—many of which were inadequately secured,” said Docherty, a lecturer on law, as well as a senior researcher with the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch.  “In our view, these weapons represent a real threat to the safety and stability of Libyans.”

Over the course of eight days, the team traveled to Misrata, the focus of Col. Gaddafi’s bombing campaign; Sirte, where rebels finally defeated the dictator; and Zintan, where NATO bombing had destroyed a complex of more than 70 bunkers full of weapons. Their research will feed into a larger body of work on Libya by the nongovernmental organization CIVIC and the Center for American Progress.

The students prepared for weeks for the trip, researching the scattering of Gaddafi’s abandoned stockpiles, the efforts underway to deal with the weapons, and the relevant legal frameworks. Still, being there, post-revolution, was something else entirely.

“It felt momentous,” said Nicolette Boehland ’13, who is returning to Libya this summer with CIVIC, which promotes assistance for civilians victims of armed conflict. “It definitely felt like a place that was changing by the day.”

In their conversations with locals, the students said they sensed tremendous pride and enthusiasm for what had been accomplished in the revolution; the energy was palpable in the streets. But from the team’s perspective, there were also serious risks for civilians.

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May 16, 2012

Supporting Public Interest Litigation in Mongolia

Posted by Bayartsetseg Jigmiddash, LLM ’08, Special Assistant to the President of Mongolia

A few weeks ago, the Office of the President of Mongolia and Open Society Foundation—Mongolia held a conference on public interest litigation.  In many countries, public interest litigation is commonly used to advance legal and social policy, but here in Mongolia, the concept is rather novel to most NGOs and lawyers alike.  There is growing interest in public interest litigation by our NGO sector, with human rights groups filing an increasing number of cases on environmental rights, but there are also significant challenges to gaining momentum.

A conference in Mongolia depicts an ornate room. Tables with satin white tablecloths circle the room and people wear suits around the rectangle. A poster hangs on the wall.
The April 2012 conference on supporting public interest litigation in Mongolia.

We reached out to Harvard Law School—and in particular, to Mindy Roseman, Academic Director of the Human Rights Program—to bring a comparative and engaged perspective on using courts to advance the public interest, and to support those in Mongolia who are working to expand the use and effectiveness of public international law.

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May 11, 2012

Susan Farbstein Appointed Assistant Clinical Professor and Co-Director of the International Human Rights Clinic

Posted by Martha Minow, Dean, Harvard Law School, and Tyler Giannini

As a teacher, a mentor, a clinician, and a colleague, Susan Farbstein has already made her mark on the Human Rights Program over the past four years. Today we have the privilege of announcing that she has been appointed as an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School and will become a Co-Director of its International Human Rights Clinic. We look forward to many more years of her leadership, both within the Human Rights Program, and in the larger Law School community.

Susan Farbstein stands talking to a student wearing a hijab in a classroom.
Susan Farbstein speaks with a student at the Human Rights Program orientation last autumn. Farbstein is a national leader in the area of Alien Tort Statute litigation.

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May 4, 2012

Incendiary Weapons: Growing Support for Stronger Protections

Posted by Michael Jacobson, JD '13, and Patricia Villa Berger, LLM '13, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy At Tufts University

Support is growing for strengthening regulations of incendiary weapons, according to a new paper published by the International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch. In addition to analyzing countries’ positions, the paper highlights recent use, stockpiling, and production of incendiary weapons, which demonstrate the urgent need for better international law.

The Clinic and Human Rights Watch urge states to open diplomatic discussions on incendiary weapons as soon as possible and to move towards amending current international law with the goal of enhancing humanitarian protection.

An image of a cluster munition on a desert landscape of red clay.
An IHRC team found this white phosphorus munition at one of Qaddafi’s abandoned weapons depots in Libya in March.

The law in question is the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), an international treaty regulating weapons that cause unnecessary suffering or have indiscriminate effects. Incendiary weapons pose a significant threat to civilians, causing severe burns, asphyxiation, and, in some cases, death. States adopted CCW Protocol III to regulate the weapons in 1980.

But according to the Clinic and Human Rights Watch, the protocol has multiple loopholes; for example, it does not cover use of dual-purpose weapons with incendiary effects, like white phosphorus munitions, which have been used since 2003 in Afghanistan. Protocol III also establishes inconsistent regulations for weapons that produce the same harm.

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May 2, 2012

Renewed Threat to Freedom of Expression in South Africa

Posted by Susan Farbstein

In the forthcoming issue of the New York Review of Books, Nadine Gordimer writes about two disturbing pieces of legislation under consideration by the South African parliament: the Media Tribunal and the Protection of State Information Bill (or so-called “Secrecy Bill”). Both would significantly curtail freedom of expression and access to information.  Nearly twenty years after the end of apartheid, the acts are eerily reminiscent of the legal architecture that upheld the apartheid system itself—laws banning political parties, newspapers and books, and advocacy of political, economic, and social change.

Five protestors in South Africa hold a sign that says, "The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to be silent or silenced!!" The protest appears to be a candlelight vigil.
Protesters show their opposition to the so-called “Secrecy Bill” at a candlelight vigil in Johannesburg, September 2011. Photo: Heather Mason at

If the Media Tribunal is established, journalists will be required to inform it about topics that they plan to investigate or write about; the Tribunal will then have the power to determine whether these subjects pose a threat to state security.  However, under a new plan recently proposed by the Press Freedom Commission, a compromise seems more likely.  The Commission has recommended a system of “independent co-regulation” between the public and press, without involvement of political parties or state officials, which may mitigate some concerns raised by critics of the Tribunal.

The Secrecy Bill may be the greater threat.  It has received heavy criticism from South African civil society and media, and would impose significant prison sentences on those who expose corruption in government and industry.   It lacks a public interest defense, meaning that journalists or whistle-blowers could be imprisoned for up to 25 years for sharing information deemed classified by the government, even in the face of a compelling public interest such as exposing corruption or malfeasance.  In addition, the Bill will insulate various intelligence agencies from public scrutiny, ensuring that ordinary constitutional checks and balances will not apply to the intelligence services.

The powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a traditional ANC ally, is strongly opposed to the Bill, as is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said that it “makes the state answerable only to the state.”  The final hearing on the Bill is set for May 17th.  If passed into law, expect to see a Constitutional Court case challenging the Bill in the near future.

In many ways, this legislation contradicts the founding ideals that the ANC promised to a new South Africa.  Should the Secrecy Bill be enacted into law, former Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs’ warning may prove disturbingly prescient: “There is no guarantee that somebody who is a freedom fighter, who is willing to sacrifice his life for freedom, will not violate the rights of others when he takes over power.”

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