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October 31, 2012

Tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. 1: Bedouin Rights in Israel/Palestine

Event Notice

November 1, 2012

“Indigenous Challenge to Legal Doctrine: Bedouin Rights in Israel/Palestine”

A Talk by Oren Yiftachel and Ahmad Amara

12- 1 pm

3007 Wasserstein

Professor Oren Yiftachel, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Ahmad Amara, Palestinian human rights lawyer and PhD candidate at New York University, will discuss a recent challenge launched in court (the ‘al-Uqbi case’) against a longstanding Israeli ‘empty Negev’ legal doctrine which has made it all but impossible for traditional land holders to gain legal ownership. The current challenge relates to global debates on issues of indigenous rights, customary law, legal pluralism and transitional justice.

Amara and Yiftachel co-edited a forthcoming book, “Indigenous (In)Justice,” which will soon be published by the Human Rights Program and distributed by Harvard University Press.


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October 29, 2012

Reforming the Justice System for Rape Survivors in Pakistan

Posted by Zainab Qureshi, LLM '12

Last March, a 13-year-old girl named Ayesha was gang-raped by three men in the small village of Ratta Amral, which is situated on the rural outskirts of the city of Rawalpindi. I was many thousands of miles away when it happened, finishing up my LLM degree at Harvard Law School. I had always wanted to work in human rights litigation—women’s rights, in particular. But even I had never heard of Ayesha’s case.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan.

This is not surprising. Even as sexual violence continues to escalate in Pakistan, only a small proportion of reported incidents of rape get much attention, let alone result in convictions. From the moment the rape survivors and their families file a complaint with the police, they face immense pressure to recant their statements and resolve the matter “out of court.” The pressure comes not only from the accused, but from the family of the accused—and often in connivance with the police, the prosecutors, and the judges.

In Pakistan, because rape is considered an offence committed against the state, a case cannot be settled between the parties out of court, for example, in exchange for compensation. Still, “out of court settlements” do exist in these cases; they are simply brokered by the accused and the state agents. Judges then rely on these settlements to exercise their power (under Section 265-K, Code of Criminal Procedure) to acquit the accused at any stage of the trial, provided the probability of a conviction is slim or non-existent.

This is exactly what happened to Ayesha, as I found out when I returned home to Pakistan to work for the law firm of Raja Muhammad Akram & Co. The firm had taken on her case, and for good reason: Ayesha’s case illustrated everything that was wrong with the justice system for women in Pakistan.

Shortly after the rape, facing isolation in her village and inaction by the police, Ayesha tried to commit suicide. Finally, the media became interested, and the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, through a suo moto action, took notice of the police negligence and apathy, ordering an investigation.

But when the case was at trial in the District Courts, Ayesha’s family was coerced into an “out of court settlement” with the accused parties, pressured by both the police and a jirga (informal village council) constituting of members of their community. The Prosecutor General then accepted the settlement as a basis for dropping the charges against the accused parties.

To address the prevalence of such miscarriages of justice in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, our firm filed a petition, titled Salman Akram Raja and Another v. Government of Punjab and others, under the public interest jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The petition asked, first of all, for the issuance of direction to the Prosecutor to proceed with action against the accused parties (including the negligent police officers), which the Supreme Court accepted, directing the District Courts to resume the trial.

The second part of the petition ran into more resistance. It asked for the issuance of directions to the lower courts, police, and prosecutors for the institution of safeguards to insulate rape survivors and their families from pressures to enter into “out of court settlements” with the accused.

The safeguards we proposed are based upon extensive research on the successful conduct of rape trials in comparative jurisdictions. They include establishment of rape crisis cells at police stations; mandatory DNA testing and preservation of DNA samples in rape cases; in camera trials, placing of screens between the survivor and the accused in court; and allowing survivors’ statements to be recorded through videoconferencing.

After several delays and adjournments, the entire petition was finally accepted by the Supreme Court on October 4. However, the final order remains pending.

The trial of the accused parties is underway in the District Courts, and the accused—along with the jirga members, who coerced the family to enter into the settlement—are currently in remand, a form of imprisonment during trial. During the last hearing, one Supreme Court Justice fittingly commented: “What has happened to Ayesha can never be reversed. However, we can extract something positive from this case by ensuring that such miscarriages of justice do not reoccur.”

For media coverage of the case, click here for an article in Dawn and here for an article in the Express Tribune.

Zainab Qureshi, LLM ’12, is an associate at the law firm of Raja Mohammad Akram & Co. in Lahore. She is also an independent consultant on maternal mortality litigation in Pakistan for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

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October 26, 2012

Announced at HRP Event: UN to Investigate Civilian Deaths from Drone Strikes

Posted by Cara Solomon

At a packed event co-sponsored by HRP and the Harvard National Security and Law Association, Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, announced a UN investigation yesterday into civilian deaths from drone attacks, as well as other forms of targeted killings conducted during counter-terrorism operations.

In his remarks, Emmerson took aim at the Obama administration for neither confirming nor denying the existence of the U.S. drone program- while publicly trying to justify the legality of drone strikes.

“In reality the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability,” he said, according to the prepared remarks. “There are now a large number of law suits, in different parts of the world, including in the UK, Pakistan and in the US itself, through which pressure for investigation and accountability is building.”

He pointed to figures from the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism that suggest at least 474 civilians have been killed in Pakistan alone, and that 176 children are reported among the deaths. (For more on civilian deaths from drones, here is a joint report recently released from Stanford University and New York University, “Living Under Drones.”)

Emmerson also delved into the U.S. presidential elections, particularly around the issue of waterboarding, which Obama believes is torture. Mitt Romney has said he does not believe it is torture.

“Let us be clear on this,” Emmerson said. “Secret detention is unlawful as a matter of international law.  Water-boarding is always torture.  Torture is an international crime of universal jurisdiction. The torturer, like the pirate before him, is regarded in international law as the enemy of all mankind.  There is, therefore, a duty on States to investigate and to prosecute acts of torture.”

Mindy Roseman, Academic Director for HRP, said she was struck by the substance of his speech. The event has already made international news.

“Emmerson’s announcement is bold and courageous, and at the very least should renew interest in holding the US government accountable for military actions, such as drone strikes, ostensibly undertaken to stop terrorism,” she said.

Here is a selection of media coverage of Emmerson’s speech:

The Guardian
The Washington Post
The Harvard Crimson
Common Dreams

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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.

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October 23, 2012

Docherty’s Testimony Highlights Flaws in Canadian Bill on Cluster Munitions

Posted by Melinda Kuritzky, JD '13

Hearings continued this week in Canada on a controversial bill that would significantly weaken the international ban on cluster munitions. Senior clinical instructor Bonnie Docherty was among several weapons experts in Ottawa last week to argue that the bill, as written, would undermine the treaty, known as the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and call into question Canada’s credibility on disarmament issues.

In her testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Docherty contended the proposed legislation to implement the treaty falls far short of both the convention’s humanitarian goal and the standards set by other countries.

Two men stand in a grassy and straw-covered field, collecting remains of a 12-year old who was killed by a submunition.
Two men collect the final remains of 12-year-old Rami `Ali Hassan Shebli, who was killed by a submunition in Halta, Lebanon, six years ago this week. Photograph by Bonnie Docherty.

The Convention strives to eliminate cluster munitions and the suffering they cause by imposing an absolute ban on the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of the weapons. It also requires countries to clear cluster munitions left after an armed conflict and to provide assistance for victims of past use.

One hundred and eleven countries—including Canada—have joined the convention; 77 are full parties bound by all its obligations.  Before Canada can ratify, it must pass legislation detailing how it will implement the Convention.

Bill S-10 creates broad exceptions to the ban on cluster munitions that apply during joint military operations with allies that have not joined the treaty, notably the United States.  In her testimony, Docherty told senators, “The bill contains major loopholes that would allow Canadians to assist with the use of cluster munitions that could kill civilians.”  The bill even allows Canadian soldiers themselves to use cluster munitions if they are on secondment to the United States.

Docherty, who has done extensive field research on cluster munitions over the past decade, also described the civilian suffering caused by cluster munitions.  She told the senators of one particular civilian victim—12-year-old Rami from Lebanon.  On October 22, 2006, his brother was throwing pine cones at him, and when Rami reached for something to throw back, he accidentally picked up a submunition. Before the boy could toss the weapon away, it exploded, killing him instantly. Docherty and her team from the Clinic arrived at the scene just a few hours later.

“While we have much work ahead in our campaign to amend the bill, the hearing provided us the opportunity to highlight the flaws of the bill to the people who can fix them,” Docherty said about her testimony. “I had a lively exchange with several senators, some of whom seemed quite concerned about the threat cluster munitions—and these loopholes—pose to civilians.”

Docherty’s testimony built off a brief jointly submitted to the Senate Committee by the Clinic and Human Rights Watch. In the brief, Docherty and her team of clinical students—Sean Imfeld, Melinda Kuritzky, and Kenny Pyetranker—make specific recommendations for how Bill S-10 should be amended to conform to the spirit and letter of the disarmament treaty. In particular, the brief urges the Senate to remove any exceptions to the absolute ban on cluster munitions and ensure that Canadian troops and government officials never, even during joint military operations, assist with their use.

Cluster munitions are large weapons that contain dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions.  They cause civilian casualties during attacks, because they spread over a broad area and cannot distinguish between soldiers and civilians in populated areas, and afterwards, because many do not explode on impact.

Melinda Kuritzky, JD ’13, is a member of Docherty’s team and a student in the Clinic’s Advanced Skills Training for Human Rights Advocacy seminar.

October 22, 2012

If We Could Ask the Candidates One Question, It Would Be…

Posted by Amelia Evans, LLM '11

It’s impossible to turn on the radio, walk into a coffee shop, or even sit down at the dinner table without hearing talk of the latest U.S. presidential debate topics.  But amidst the analysis of bird-counts and who has the largest binder full of ladies, certain issues are clearly being silenced in the election—and in U.S. political discourse altogether.

On the day of the final presidential debate, I asked staff at HRP and HIRC: if you had the chance, what question would you put to the candidates tonight?  Here’s what some of them said.

Tyler Giannini:  “When will Guantánamo be closed?”

Meera Shah: “Governor Romney, you’ve stated that you would make U.S. military and foreign aid to Egypt conditional on its respect for human rights. Do you intend to hold other recipients of U.S. aid, such as Israel, which gets $3.1 billion annually in U.S. aid, accountable to the same standards?  President Obama, how will you promote respect for human rights in countries receiving U.S. aid?”

Cara Solomon: “What is the one issue you care deeply about but do not mention on the campaign trail—and why?”

Phil Torrey: “One of the greatest powers a President has is nominating judges to serve in the federal judiciary.  Currently, there is an alarming number of vacant federal judge positions, which severely hampers individuals’ access to justice.  What is your strategy for addressing this problem, and based on what criteria would you nominate federal judges for confirmation?”

Yennifer Pedraza:  “As a recent college graduate, I’m concerned about my future.  The presidential campaigns have focused much of their attention on small businesses.  Yet, in a world where a bachelors degree is necessary to get even a basic job, my loans and interest rates are overwhelmingly high, so a small business is far from my mind and beyond my scope of opportunity.  What are you going to do to help current students and graduates who are paying off loans with interest rates ranging from seven to ten percent?  How will you help these individuals get to a place where they can envision a future without debt, as home owners, with the ability to financially support a family?”

Mindy Roseman: “What is your position on the Helms amendment, which prohibits U.S. foreign assistance to go to any organizations that work to legalize or provide services related to abortion?”

Fernando Delgado:  “Though the United States is a diverse nation, it has a political system dominated by only two parties.  Many citizens express frustration with this dearth of viable electoral choices.  What steps, if any, would you take to encourage a move away from two-party system in the United States?  For instance, would you support the modest electoral reform of instituting a two-round voting system with a multi-party first round and second round run-off between the top two candidates?  In several multi-party democracies around the world, a two- round electoral system encourages citizens to vote for candidates who actually best represent their views by eliminating the fear that a vote for an independent or small party candidate would be irrelevant to the outcome of the election or ‘wasted.’  Citizens could save their ‘strategic’ voting between the two front-runners for the second round run-off.”

Bonnie Rubrecht: “For nearly two decades, the Violence Against Women Act has protected undocumented immigrant women from abuse by American citizens.  Now its reauthorization is stalled in Congress.  If this act is allowed to expire, what protections will be provided to the women who are currently covered under it?”

And me?  I would ask something raised by one of our clinical students, Sean Hamidi, last week: “I am hearing a lot about ‘the very wealthy’ and even more about ‘the middle-class,’ but I am hearing absolutely nothing about ‘the people living in poverty.’  Why?”

Amelia Evans, LLM ’11, was the 2011-2012 Global Human Rights Fellow.  She is currently preparing to launch a new organization, the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity.

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October 10, 2012

Today, October 11: Documentary and Discussion of Doctors’ Role in Torture of U.S. Detainees

Event Notice

“Doctors of the Dark Side”

A Screening and Panel Discussion

6- 8:30 pm

Langdell 225 North

Event poster shows an illustration of two military men crouched over a detainee in a black box while a man in a white coat meant to suggest a psychologist peers across the landscape from the side.

Doctors of the Dark Side exposes the scandal behind the torture scandal — how psychologists and physicians implemented and covered up the torture of detainees in US controlled military prisons. The stories of four detainees and the doctors involved in their abuse show how essential doctors have been to the torture program. Director Martha Davis spent four years investigating the controversy and produced the documentary with an award-winning team.

Deborah Popowski, Clinical Instructor with the Human Rights Program, makes an appearance in the film, and will lead a panel discussion afterward with Martha Davis and Dr. Trudy Bond, an Ohio-based psychologist, of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology.

This event is being co-sponsored by HLS Advocates for Human Rights and Harvard Law Documentary Studio.

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October 9, 2012

Today, Wednesday, Oct. 10: Alex Whiting on the International Criminal Court

Event Notice

Wednesday, October 12, 2012

“Is the International Criminal Court Succeeding?”

12- 1 pm

Wasserstein 2009

Event poster shows an image of the International Criminal Court building.

Please join us for a talk with Alex Whiting, Assistant Clinical Professor at HLS and Prosecution Coordinator with the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague, The Netherlands. Previously, Whiting was Trial Attorney and Senior Trial Attorney in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), The Hague, The Netherlands.

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October 1, 2012

Update: Kiobel Transcript, Plus Media Coverage of the Case

Posted by Cara Solomon

For all of you Kiobel watchers, here’s the transcript for this morning’s argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. We’ll post Tyler and Susan’s take on the questioning as soon as we can.

Esther Kiobel wears a pants suit, holding a sign outside the Supreme Court that says, "Help the oppressed bring shell to justice for genocidal activities in Niger Delta."
Esther Kiobel speaks in front of the Supreme Court today. (Photo Credit: Too Big To Punish?)

In the meantime, here’s some media coverage of the case, some of it published before the arguments and some of it published afterward. We were particularly pleased to see Desmond Tutu’s opinion piece in USA Today, which has clearly been making the rounds.


Desmond Tutu, USA Today: “Will U.S. Rule for Rights of South Africans?”

Jodie Kirshner, The Christian Science Monitor: “Supreme Court Case Tests U.S. Leadership in Human Rights”


The New York Times: “Justice Under the Law of Nations”

The New York Times: “October Term 2012”


L.A. Times: “Supreme Court Weighs Whether Foreign Victims Can Sue in U.S.”

Slate: “Torture Inc.”

SCOTUSblog: “Argument Recap: In Search of an ATS Compromise”

Reuters: “Supreme Court May Narrow Law in Human Rights Cases”

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