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November 27, 2013

Call for Applications: The HRP Visiting Fellows Program

Posted by Mindy Roseman

The Human Rights Program invites applications from advocates and/or practitioners to be in residence for a period of one or two semesters, to take a step back and conduct a serious scholarly inquiry into the field of human rights. Our fellows come from all around the world: Africa, Europe, Latin America, and occasionally the US and beyond. They are usually scholars with a substantial background in human rights, or experienced activists.

For the academic year 2014-15, we are particularly – though not exclusively – interested in applications from scholars and practitioners interested in producing scholarship related to the UN treaty bodies: the ten committees and the treaties they monitor.

A residential appointment at the Human Rights Program offers considerable benefits to scholars and practitioners. We provide shared office space and access to a computer and wireless network. Visiting Fellows have full access to the extensive research and library resources of Harvard University. Fellows may audit classes and interact and engage with faculty as well as with other visiting scholars in fellows programs across the university.

Visiting Fellows are expected to participate in a number of activities, the most important of which is the bi-monthly visiting fellows colloquium. Attendance is required of Visiting Fellows. Chaired by the Human Rights Program’s Co- Director, Professor Gerald Neuman, the colloquia offer Visiting Fellows the opportunity to share their work among colleagues, Harvard Law faculty, law (LLM) students, and the occasional visitors.

The deadline for applications is February 13, 2014.


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November 22, 2013

A Step Closer to Basic School Infrastructure for South African Students

Posted by Melissa Shube, JD '15

After soliciting feedback from hundreds of South African students and parents, Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have submitted comments on the South African Minister of Basic Education’s second draft of minimum regulations for public school infrastructure. While the submission recognizes that the Minister’s draft represents important progress, EE and EELC raise significant concerns with respect to the draft’s long timeline for implementation. As Moto Singulakka, a Grade 10 learner at Oscar Mpetha High School in the Western Cape, asked, “What about now? Where are the learners going to learn?”

A child stands in a school room in South Africa. The room is bare, with scaffolding exposed and wood paneling falling apart behind him.
Photo courtesy of Equal Education Law Centre

The legacy of Apartheid is still palpable in South Africa’s education system, where many rural and township schools lack basic infrastructure to provide students with a safe environment conducive to learning. Binding norms and standards will help promote equality in education for South Africa’s historically disadvantaged students by requiring all public schools to meet minimum thresholds in relation to physical facilities.

Recognizing that adequate norms and standards are desperately needed, EE has been campaigning for over three years for the development, release, and improvement of these norms. We at the International Human Rights Clinic have for the past year provided legal support to this campaign, which is based on student concerns about a range of infrastructure challenges, including overcrowded and collapsing classrooms, unsanitary toilets that make students sick, inadequate water supply, insufficient electricity, and a painful dearth of science labs, libraries, computer access, and sports fields. Mbali Cezula, a student from iQonce High School in the Eastern Cape, explained that there is a “lack of proper classrooms in my school. There are few buildings [and] some look like township slums. They are not safe as they could fall anytime.”

The regulations for school infrastructure are long overdue. A 2007 amendment to the South African Schools Act of 1996 empowered the Minister to implement binding norms and standards for public school infrastructure. However, such regulations were never released, despite the department’s 2010 proclamation that “[e]quity in the provision of an enabling physical teaching and learning environment is therefore a constitutional right and not just a desirable state.” After a sustained public advocacy effort, EE, assisted by the Legal Resources Centre, filed suit to compel the Minister to act. A year ago, in November 2012, Minister Angie Motshekga agreed to settle the case and to release norms as part of the settlement. Her first set of draft regulations, made available for public comment in January 2013, were “disappointingly vague on substance.”

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November 19, 2013

We’re Hiring!

Posted by Cara Solomon

Clinical Advocacy Fellow Position

International Human Rights Clinic

Harvard Law School

The International Human Rights Clinic gives second and third year law students the opportunity to work on human rights issues with clients and communities facing a broad range of challenges around the world. Through supervised practice, students learn the responsibilities and skills of human rights lawyering. The Clinical Advocacy Fellow is a legally-trained practitioner with experience in human rights. The Fellow will work with clinical supervisors to develop legal projects and manage student teams. Clinical projects include field investigations and advocacy efforts around the world, drafting human rights reports, preparing model legislation, litigation in national and international fora, advocacy and policy initiatives, and negotiating treaty protections to advance human rights.

The Fellow, under the supervision of the Clinical Co-Directors, will oversee several clinical projects and assist in supervising a team of students enrolled in the Clinic in the fall, winter, and spring terms. The Fellow will work closely with a current clinical supervisor or supervisors to develop several projects each term that will expose students to the practical realities of human rights work. The Fellow will participate in regular meetings with a team of students to guide and review their work and advise them on strategic and tactical questions that arise during the course of the clinical projects.

Enthusiasm and interest in student development and training is vital. The Fellow will be required to initiate and cultivate working relationships with non-governmental organizations in the field and to evaluate student work product. The Fellow will collaborate with clinical supervisors in ensuring the quality of student work product.

The Fellow may also be requested to assist in supervising student work during field travel that ordinarily occurs in January and March, as well as at other times throughout the term. This travel will require availability for periods between seven and twenty days.


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November 13, 2013

Clinic and Human Rights Watch Urge International Talks on ‘Killer Robots’

Posted by Cara Solomon

Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty is in Geneva today at the annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, making the case for a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots.” By her side are two students from the International Human Rights Clinic: Lara Berlin, JD ’13, and Ben Bastomski, JD ’15.

The Clinic has been working closely with Human Rights Watch (HRW) for more than a year on the threat of fully autonomous weapons, which would have the ability to identify and fire on human targets without intervention. Today, they released their latest joint paper on the topic and urged international talks to begin. Thanks to Bonnie, Lara, Ben, and Elina Katz, JD ’14, for their work on the paper.

For more information, read the HRW press release below.


UN: Start International Talks on ‘Killer Robots’

Conventional Weapons Meeting Provides Opportunity for Action

(Geneva, November 13, 2013) – Governments should agree this week to begin international discussions in 2014 on fully autonomous robot weapons, with a view to a future treaty banning the weapons, said Human Rights Watch today.

Human Rights Watch, together with the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, issued a report making the case for a pre-emptive ban to government delegates attending the annual meeting in Geneva of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

“As technology races ahead, governments need to engage now in intensive discussions on the potential dangers of fully autonomous weapons,” said Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Deliberations about killer robots need to include nongovernmental groups, and be underpinned by a clear sense of urgency and purpose if they are to result in concrete action.”

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November 12, 2013

In Memoriam: Detlev Vagts, Professor of International Law

Posted by Henry J. Steiner, Founder, Human Rights Program, Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law, Emeritus

The recent death of Professor Detlev Vagts has saddened all of us who knew him. He will be remembered and his life and work celebrated at a memorial service to be held at Harvard Law School tomorrow. Since I’ve known Detlev as a friend for a half century and collaborated with him on a coursebook, I was asked to speak at that service. My present remarks have a particular relevance for the Human Rights Program and those associated with it.

Detlev was principally known within the school and the larger scholarly community for his exceptional work in the fields of public international law, transnational law, and corporate law. Within that broad domain, his work gave particular attention to transnational business transactions and economic regulation, comparative law with an emphasis on Germany and more broadly Europe, and professional ethics. My brief observations here, however, concern his deep and ongoing commitment to the field of international human rights in its postwar development, and to human rights in general.

One can almost say that Detlev was born with a deep historical sensibility. His ancestry included distinguished, influential historians on both his parents’ sides. Surely he could have become an academic historian. He chose, however, law- briefly its practice, and for decades as an academician. But the historical sense and perspective was never far from the surface of his discussions with his students or colleagues, or of his writing. In some articles, it was the dominant perspective.

Never was that sensibility clearer than in the influence of the historical events of his own lifetime. Detlev’s parents fled Germany, his home country, and immigrated to the United States soon after the Nazis came to power in 1933 and started to impose their savagery and ideology. That Nazi period of 12 years of rule became an object of his intense study. So much of Detlev’s recurrent browsing through the library stacks seemed to come up with more information about the period. A few of his articles explored it through topics such as the transformed character of international law under Nazi rule.

Perhaps it was inevitable with a consciousness influenced by such early-life horrific events that the values of human respect and decency and the recurrent risks of humanity’s descent into barbarousness played so prominent a role. His conversation and writing ranged over issues as diverse as betrayal of the humanitarian laws of war, systemic corruption of fair legal process, and slim protection of individual privacy. Whatever its patent inadequacies, its surrender to practical and power politics, and its lack of backbone, the human rights movement drew his keen interest and support. The ideal aspirations at the core of its message were his own ideals.

In his last nine years as a professor emeritus, Vagts seemed to me to write and argue more forcefully for his convictions. For one example, he looked carefully at and criticized the various tendencies in U.S. domestic and foreign policy to protect against the world’s manifest threats and actions through excessive measures that did unnecessary damage to human rights. He argued for the greatest care in reducing or qualifying rights, whether to due process or to liberties of action, that the postwar human rights movement had brought to public consciousness.

Detlev joined the law school faculty during the postwar years when liberal internationalism had emerged as an important creed animating many of the teachers of international, transnational and comparative law. Well aware of the creed’s shortcomings and sometimes problematic premises, he explored its promise and problems and often took the same broad direction: work towards an international rule of law, multilateral cooperation and regulation, the willingness of states to contain their sovereign interests and powers within the strictures of the rule of law, the hope that through the evolving international norms, institutions and rhetoric a better world would emerge with a lesser likelihood of return to the dark, bitter periods that had marred human history. Detlev’s work made its strong contribution to such broad ideals and concrete goals.

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November 6, 2013

Clinic Files Amici Curiae Brief In One of First ATS Cases to Reach Appeal Since Kiobel

Posted by Betsey Boutelle, JD '14

The International Human Rights Clinic filed an amici curiae brief yesterday on behalf of legal historians in one of the first major Alien Tort Statute (ATS) cases to reach a court of appeals since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co in April.

The case, Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Technology, Inc., alleges that employees of CACI, a private military contractor, participated in the torture and degrading treatment of detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004. The four plaintiffs in the case were detained in Abu Ghraib during that time and allege that they suffered abuses at the express command of several CACI employees operating in the prison.

In June, a Virginia district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims. The court believed that Kiobel foreclosed ATS liability for international law violations committed outside the United States—even when the defendants are American. The Al Shimari plaintiffs have now appealed to the Fourth Circuit, arguing that Kiobel’s limit on extraterritorial ATS claims does not apply, because their case involves U.S. defendants operating in American-controlled territory.

Six professors of legal history signed the amicus brief, arguing that the history and purpose of the ATS clearly indicates that the Founders would have allowed claims against U.S. citizens. Jurisprudence dating back to the 17th century shows that sovereign nations were expected to provide a remedy when their subjects committed violations of the law of nations, wherever the wrongs occurred.

The Founders knew the consequences of condoning violations by U.S. actors. Failure to provide redress could cause conflict and even war, and thus threaten the young nation. The ATS was one important mechanism to help avoid conflict and to bring the fledgling Republic in line with the expectations of the community of nations. In the brief, amici argue that to exclude violations by U.S. actors, wherever they might occur, would contravene the aims of the Founders when they enacted the statute.

The brief was signed by professors of legal history William R. Casto (Texas Tech University School of Law), Martin S. Flaherty (Fordham Law School), Nasser Hussain (Amherst College), Stanley M. Katz (Princeton University), Michael Lobban (London School of Economics), and Jenny S. Martinez (Stanford Law School).

Six people sit around a conference room table.
From left: Ariel, Betsey, Avery, Tyler, Oded, and Lynnette

Led by Clinical Professor Tyler Giannini and Poppy Alexander, JD ’12, clinical students Betsey Boutelle, JD ’14, Avery Halfon, JD ’15, Lynnette Miner, JD ’14, Ariel Nelson, JD ’15, and Oded Oren, JD ’15, all contributed many long hours to the effort.

November 5, 2013

This Thursday, Nov. 7: Reproductive Rights Around the Globe

Event Notice


“Reproductive Rights around the Globe: A Panel Discussion”

12:00-1:00 p.m.
WCC 1023

Please join us for a discussion of selected topics in the field of international reproductive rights. Expert panelists will address a range of issues, including:

-In gamete donor identifiability v. anonymity (I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Faculty co-Director, Petrie-Flom Center)

-The politics of evidence and expertise in domestic and international abortion litigation (Aziza Ahmed, Associate Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law, and Visiting Scholar, Petrie-Flom Center, Spring 2014)

-The use of international fora, including courts and treaty bodies, to advance reproductive rights (Mindy Jane Roseman, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School, and Academic Director, Human Rights Program)

The panel will be moderated by Elizabeth Bartholet, Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School.

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November 4, 2013

Clinic Contributes to Independent Task Force Report on Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the ‘War on Terror’

Posted by Cara Solomon

An independent panel of military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts released a report today, “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the ‘War on Terror,'” examining how doctors and psychologists, as well as U.S. military officials and intelligence agencies, were involved in the cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of detainees.

Book cover for, "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror," shows a man walking away in a blue lit city.

Deborah Popowski, Clinical Instructor at the Human Rights Program and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, co-authored a chapter in the report, “Health Professional Accountability for Acts of Torture Through State Licensing and Discipline,” along with Kate Nicholson, Shuenn (Patrick) Ho, and Pooja Nair.

The chapter begins:

“No health professionals employed by or contracted with military and intelligence agencies have been held accountable for any acts of torture and other forms of mistreatment of post-9/11 detainees, either by those agencies or by civilian disciplinary boards. The costs of non-enforcement are great: non-enforcement undermines professional standards, erodes public trust, and undercuts deterrence of future misconduct. Lack of consistent enforcement also compromises protection of health professionals who face institutional pressure to violate their ethical obligations. By contrast, attention to accountability signals to licensees and those who employ them that the profession and institutions designed to ensure adherence to ethical obligations take violations seriously. Moreover, it empowers health professionals to resist demands by commanders to engage in acts that violate their professional responsibilities and to report abuse when they believe it has occurred.”

In addition to being a contributor, Deborah is also a member of the 19-member task force that brought together a range of perspectives to produce the report. The Institute on Medicine as a Profession along with the Open Society Foundations supported the initiative.

The Human Rights Program has been working for several years on the issue of accountability for health professionals involved in torture. Learn more about our focus on professional misconduct complaints here.

More coverage of the report:


The Guardian

November 1, 2013

Monday, Nov. 4: Combating the Tragic Faw in Global Governance, Human Rights and International Law

Event Notice

Monday, November 4, 2013

“Combating the Tragic Flaw in Global Governance, Human Rights and International Law: Canada and the Canadian Champions”

11:00 – 1:00 p.m.

CGIS Knafel, 1737 Cambridge Street, Room K450

Please join Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs for a talk by Errol P. Mendes, a Visiting Fellow with the Human Rights Program, and a lawyer, author, and professor at the University of Ottawa. Mendes has been an advisor to corporations, governments, civil society groups and the United Nations, where he assisted in the development of the UN Global Compact. He has acted as a human rights Tribunal and Boards of Inquiry adjudicator in Canada, as an international arbitrator on several occasions, served in the highest levels of the Canadian federal public service in the Privy Council Office of the Government of Canada, and most recently served as a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court. His areas of expertise include private and public sector governance and social responsibility, international law, constitutional law, and human rights law and policy.

Please RSVP to [email protected] or call 617-495-3671.


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