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July 31, 2012

The Day After Victory: More Work Needed to Protect Rights of Namibian Women Living with HIV

Posted by Mindy Roseman

Yesterday the Namibian High Court issued its ruling in LM&MI&NH vs. The Government of the Republic of Namibia, finding that the three plaintiffs had been coercively sterilized. Shortly after Judge Elton Hoff read his decision from the bench, women’s rights advocates praised the outcome, which they said could herald a settlement in many more cases of forcible sterilization.

Certainly the ruling is a welcome result; however, the judge denied the plaintiffs’ contention that they had been sterilized because of their HIV-positive status.  He found no evidence supporting that claim.

And yet, in a report we released at the International AIDS Conference last week, “At the Hospital There Are No Human Rights,” our International Human Rights Clinic, the Namibian Women’s Health Network, and Northeastern University School of Law detail widespread instances of discrimination against women living with HIV in Namibia: segregation in health facilities, neglect during labor and delivery, inadequate counseling about HIV testing, and coerced consent to sterilization procedures.  In meetings and interviews in Namibia, we were told both by public health care providers and former patients that a government protocol authorized the sterilization of women living with HIV.

It was clear from our research that forced and coerced sterilizations arose out of a larger context of discrimination against women living with HIV.  Unless and until this discrimination is recognized by the Namibian executive, the legislature, and the courts, the necessary policy and programmatic steps to address it will fall short.

Our report offers a range of recommendations to the Government of Namibia, donors, and civil society to address the sexual and reproductive rights violations of women living with HIV. Specifically, we:

–      Urge the Government of Namibia to act immediately to stop ongoing forced and coerced sterilization, including holding accountable those who have committed such acts and issuing guidelines to ensure informed consent is obtained before the performance of any sexual and reproductive health care test or treatment.

–      Call on donors to provide financial and technical support to grassroots efforts, especially organizations of women living with HIV, in advocating for and monitoring legal, policy, and programmatic reforms.

–      Encourage civil society to build capacity to document discrimination against women living with HIV in Namibia, with a particular focus on recognizing and investigating violations of sexual and reproductive rights, especially forced and coerced sterilization.

The Namibian court’s decision opens a new and encouraging chapter in the struggle to protect the sexual and reproductive rights of women living with HIV.  Yet there remain many challenges ahead—not only in ensuring that the judgment makes the three plaintiffs whole, but also in addressing the ongoing stigma, discrimination, and other rights violations facing women living with HIV.  There are many pages to turn before this chapter is closed.

July 26, 2012

Namibian Women Living with HIV Report Violations of Sexual and Reproductive Rights


26 July 2012, Washington DC — Despite repeated calls for reform, the Government of Namibia’s inaction raises serious concerns about violations of the sexual and reproductive rights of women living with HIV, according to a report released today at the International AIDS Conference by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, the Namibian Women’s Health Network, and Northeastern Law School.  The 49-page report, entitled “In the Hospital There Are No Human Rights,” examines discrimination and neglect that women living with HIV are subjected to in the public health care system.

“We often assume that hospitals are healing places, where people living with HIV receive medical services in a safe facility, from trustworthy health practitioners,” Aziza Ahmed, an assistant professor at Northeastern Law School said.  “While this can be the case, women living with HIV in Namibia often report serious mistreatment in hospital settings.”

A poster for an event depicts a woman holding a tank top that says "non-negotiable: my body, my womb, my rights."

In the report, based on interviews conducted in Namibia in 2010, women describe being unable to give their informed consent (or make an informed refusal) to medical treatment either because information was withheld, or categorically denied to them.  Time and again, they said, their HIV status exposed them to mistreatment and discrimination.

“No one wanted to touch me,” said one woman, describing her birthing experience at the hospital.

Equally alarming, women interviewed for the report described experiencing forced or coerced sterilization.  The majority of reported cases involved the failure of medical personnel to provide women living with HIV with a description of the nature of the sterilization procedure, as well as its effects, consequences, and risks.  In some cases, medical professionals obtained consent under duress or based on misinformation, and demanded consent to sterilization in order for female patients to access other necessary services—including abortion and child delivery.  In other cases, medical professionals demanded or obtained consent for sterilization without providing information about other contraceptive options.

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July 25, 2012

Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street

Posted by Deborah Popowski

The first report in our multi-clinic Protest and Assembly Rights Project series calls on New York City authorities to stop the pattern of abusive policing of Occupy Wall Street protests.  Lead authored by our partners at NYU and Fordham, the report released today documents in painstaking detail how the New York police and other city officials violated the rights of Occupy protesters.

Event poster for, "Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street," depicts pictures of protesters surrounded by a police barricade.

It also provides background on the national movement and outlines the international legal framework that protects the human rights of assembly and expression, which the United States is legally bound to respect, protect, promote and fulfill. Reports focusing on other cities–including one on Boston authored by our own Clinic–are expected to be released later this year, so stay tuned.

Within hours of its release, this first report has already generated good media coverage, with articles in The New York Times, Alternet, The Atlantic and Gothamist. Below you’ll find the press release from our partners.


Legal Experts File Complaints about Widespread Rights Violations in Policing of ‘Occupy’ Movement

Call on NYC, U.S. Justice Department, UN to Protect Protestors’ Rights

(New York, NY, July 25, 2012) – The City of New York must take immediate action to correct the clear pattern of abusive policing of Occupy Wall Street protests, said legal experts in a complaint filed today with New York City authorities, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the United Nations. The complaint is based on a report providing in-depth documentation and legal analysis of widespread human rights violations in New York City’s treatment of Occupy protests over the past ten months.

“Recently, officers repeatedly yanked the broken collarbone of a protester as he begged them to stop hurting him. And just two weeks ago, a phalanx of officers removed a grandmother from a park for the ‘crime’ of knitting in a folding chair, arrested a man trying to help her leave, and then arrested another man filming the incident,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, one of the report’s principal authors, who also witnessed these incidents. “These are just two of hundreds of examples we document in our report, demonstrating a pattern of abusive and unaccountable protest policing by the NYPD.”

This report is the first in a series by the Protest and Assembly Rights Project, a national consortium of law school clinics addressing the United States response to Occupy Wall Street. In their 132-page report—Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street—the experts catalog 130 specific alleged incidents of excessive police force, and hundreds of additional violations, including unjustified arrests, abuse of journalists, unlawful closure of sidewalks and parks to protesters, and pervasive surveillance of peaceful activists. Yet, to date, only one police officer is known to have been disciplined for misconduct in the context of Occupy Wall Street policing.

“The excessive and unpredictable policing of Occupy Wall Street is one more example of the dire need for widespread reform of NYPD practices. These violations are occurring against a backdrop of police infiltration of activist groups, massive stop-and-frisk activity in communities of color, and the surveillance of Muslims,” said Emi MacLean, a human rights lawyer and primary author of the report. “This report is a call to action.”

The report calls for urgent state action, including:

• The creation of an independent Inspector General for the NYPD;
• A full and impartial review of the city’s response to OWS;
• Investigations and prosecutions of responsible officers; and
• The creation of new NYPD protest policing guidelines to protect against rights violations.

If New York authorities fail to respond, the report calls for federal intervention.
“The U.S. response to the Occupy movement – which itself emerged as part of a wave of global social justice protests—is being closely watched by other governments,” said Professor Katherine Glenn, one of the report’s principal authors. “In the face of this international attention, this report shows that New York City’s response actually violates international law and, as such, sets a bad example to the rest of the world. The city now has an opportunity to set this right through reforms that reflect just and accountable policing practices.”

This report is the first in a series by the Protest and Assembly Rights Project. This report focuses on New York City, and was authored by the Global Justice Clinic (NYU School of Law) and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic (Fordham Law School). Subsequent reports will address the responses in Boston, Charlotte, Oakland, and San Francisco. Participating law clinics are at NYU, Fordham, Harvard, Stanford, Rutgers-Newark, Charlotte, and Loyola-New Orleans.

Contact: Professor Sarah Knuckey (NYU) +1.212.992.8873; Emi MacLean, Human Rights Lawyer, +1.212.998.6714

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July 18, 2012

SCOTUSblog: The ATS and the Importance of Historical Evidence

Posted by Cara Solomon

NOTE: Tyler and Susan wrote the following post for SCOTUSblog’s online symposium on Kiobel. For all symposium posts, please see here.

At February’s oral argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., counsel for the petitioners responded to questions about extraterritoriality by citing the incident in Sierra Leone that led to the well-known 1795 opinion of Attorney General William Bradford. That exchange appears to have sparked the Supreme Court’s request for supplemental briefing on whether the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) applies to acts that arise on foreign territory. History, including the so-called Bradford Opinion, provides strong evidence that the ATS does apply to conduct occurring on foreign soil.

History has long been a critical part of ATS jurisprudence, given that the statute dates to 1789. Sosa guides that any ATS cause of action must be for violations of the law of nations as universally recognized as eighteenth-century paradigms, such as piracy. The text and purpose of the statute, the common law of the era, and the Bradford Opinion provide the relevant insight into the Justices’ current question about claims that arise in foreign lands – and indicate that there would have been no territorial limit on the ATS at the time of the statute’s enactment.

The Framers of the ATS were common-law lawyers, and the law of nations was part of the common law of the time. They would not have embraced a bright line, categorical exclusion of all claims arising on foreign territory – whether in a case between two aliens or some other combination of defendant and plaintiff. Instead, the Framers would have been familiar with fashioning remedies to realize the statute’s broad remedial purpose, providing relief in U.S. courts to aliens who suffered violations of international law. Indeed, as Justice Stephen Breyer noted at oral argument when he quoted from the 1666 English Skinner case, courts of the day were familiar with fundamental notions of justice and crafted common-law remedies for violations “odious and punishable by all laws of God and man.”

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