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November 20, 2015
Posted by Staff and Faculty of the Human Rights Program
Last night, the Harvard University community came together in solidarity for the national #studentblackout demonstration. This morning, we woke up to find black tape slashed across the portraits of black professors. We are devastated—for our colleagues, for our students, for our community, and for a world that in so many ways does not acknowledge that #blacklivesmatter.
Our doors are open for anyone in our community who wants to talk about this, and about how we can partner together for change- today and every day.
Below, a portrait of Prof. Randall Kennedy surrounded by notes of love and support from the HLS community. As Harvard police began its investigation into the vandalism this morning as a hate crime, these notes appeared around the portraits of every black professor at HLS.
Below, images from the student protest the night before (taken by Gabbie Follett, HRP program assistant).
November 19, 2015
Company’s Remedies for Rape in Papua New Guinea Deeply Flawed
Legal experts at Columbia and Harvard law schools find major deficiencies with remedies given by multinational company to women raped by its security guards
Geneva & New York, November 19, 2015—A controversial process created by one of the world’s largest gold mining companies to compensate women for rapes and gang rapes in Papua New Guinea was deeply flawed, said human rights investigators and legal experts at Columbia and Harvard Law Schools in a study released today.
The three-year study of Barrick Gold’s remedy mechanism at its Porgera gold mine found that the effort to provide packages to 120 rape survivors was flawed from the start and fell far short of international standards.
“These are some of the most vicious assaults I have ever investigated,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, one of the lead authors of the report, and the Director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Institute. “The women and local communities had to struggle for years just to get the company to admit what happened.”
Most women were offered less than $6,000 USD each in compensation, and were also given some counseling and healthcare. Knuckey continued, “They had been suffering for far too long, and deserved much more.”
For several years, security guards at the Porgera mine physically assaulted and sexually abused members of the community. It was only after repeated pressure by local and international groups that the Canadian mining company finally acknowledged the sexual violence and launched an internal investigation in 2010. The company created a remedy mechanism to handle claims by survivors two years later.
The legal investigators interviewed dozens of survivors for the 129-page report, Righting Wrongs?, which found that, in this situation, the women should not have had to sign away their legal rights to sue in order to receive remedies. In addition, the process excluded survivors of many other, non-sexual assaults by company guards, and had insufficient outreach, so some survivors did not know about the mechanism in time to bring their cases. The report also says that inadequate security measures were put in place for survivors, and that some women have reported being threatened and beaten up by family members when their rapes were discovered.
“If remedy mechanisms are to have any chance of addressing egregious violations, they must take on the gross power imbalance between a company and survivors,” said Clinical Professor Tyler Giannini, one of the lead authors and Clinical Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. “Many of the women signed the company’s agreements because they felt that they simply had no other choice.”
The importance of power was highlighted again this year, when eleven women who obtained U.S.-based lawyers refused to accept the company’s packages, and were given confidential settlement packages believed to be about ten times greater than the amount given to the roughly 120 women who used Barrick’s process. Upon learning this, the lesser-compensated survivors came together to demand more. The company quickly more than doubled their packages, which are still far less than what those who had U.S. lawyers received, and women in Porgera continue to demand that they should receive equitable packages.
The report found that there were some positive features of the mechanism, but that necessary safeguards such as consultation and prior engagement with the survivors and robust legal counsel for the women were either unimplemented or poorly implemented.
“When a company creates and controls the process on its own, there’s an inherent conflict of interest,” said Giannini. “Survivors should be involved early in the process, and on equal footing throughout, so that they do not feel forced into compensation packages that fall seriously short.”
Rather than company-created models, the report suggests an approach that brings companies, survivors, and communities into the joint design of the remedy process. This approach centers the survivors in the process from the outset, and can help address power differentials. The report also calls on the company to provide additional remedies to the 120 women so that their agreements are in line with the amounts received by the eleven women represented by U.S. attorneys; void all legal waivers signed by women; provide remedy to individuals who faced other security guard abuses, including physical assaults; and to provide urgent security protection to women who are currently at risk.
The remedy mechanism is one of the first to be created after the release of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, which set out the responsibilities of companies for human rights. The Porgera mine has been open since 1989. Barrick Gold became majority-owner and operator of the mine in 2006. Since then, the clinics have actively investigated the situation at the mine. The Columbia and Harvard human rights clinics presented the report this week in Geneva at the 4th Annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights.
Sarah Knuckey, Director, Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic: + 1 (917) 685 9098 | [email protected] (Geneva/NYC)
Tyler Giannini, Director, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School: + 1 (617) 669 2340 | [email protected] (Boston)
Clinical Advocacy Fellow, Amelia Evans, LLM ’11, supervised a research trip that contributed to this report. In addition, numerous students, including Flora Amwayi, JD ’13; Skawenniio Barnes, JD ’14; Marie Cita, JD ’14; Krizna Gomez, LLM ’13; Reeba Muthalaly, LLM ’14; Tamaryn Nelson, MPA ’14; Kiri Toki, LLM ’16; and Helen Zhang, JD ’16, contributed to the report.
The report is available at: www.rightingwrongsporgera.com
November 13, 2015
Posted by Susan Farbstein
Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, faces the imminent threat of execution next week despite being convicted and sentenced through a deeply flawed process. Our partners at Akin Gump are working with Chowdhury’s family to call attention to his case, in the hopes that increased international scrutiny might lead to a different outcome.
Chowdhury was tried and convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh, a body established by the ruling Awami League to prosecute those accused of committing international crimes during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. A variety of international human rights organizations and experts have roundly criticized the ICT, which began operating in 2010, for failing to uphold basic fair trial and due process standards.
For example, Human Rights Watch has characterized the trials as “deeply problematic, riddled with questions about the independence and impartiality of the judges and fairness of the process.” The International Commission of Jurists has identified “serious procedure flaws at all stages: pre-trial release has been routinely and arbitrarily denied; witnesses have been abducted and intimidated; there have been credible allegations of collusion between the Government, prosecutors and judges.” In an exhaustive study commissioned by the International Forum for Democracy and Human Rights, Geoffrey Robinson also documented a range of procedural concerns related to treatment of alibi evidence, burden of proof, use of judicial notice, time and facilities to prepare the defense, hearsay evidence, and capacity of the judges. And the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions and on the independence of judges and lawyers have spoken out against multiple irregularities, including complaints from defense witness and lawyers about “an atmosphere of hostility, intimidation and harassment.”
Chowdhury’s case brings these general concerns into stark focus, as his trial suffered from numerous flaws that violated fundamental due process standards. For example, the tribunal denied Chowdhury’s defense team the opportunity to submit exonerating evidence to show that he was not present in Bangladesh at the time of his alleged crimes. The ICT did not allow multiple defense eyewitnesses to testify and failed to consider affidavits from other key witnesses, including a former U.S. Ambassador and a former Pakistani Prime Minister. The Bangladesh Supreme Court recently rendered a decision refusing to admit this substantial evidence; Chowdhury’s final review hearing is scheduled for November 17th.
Both Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have rightly warned that, “given serious concerns about the fairness of trials conducted before the Tribunal, the Government of Bangladesh should not implement death penalty sentences.” Perpetrators of international crimes should be held accountable for their heinous acts. But prosecutions—like Chowdhury’s—that fail to meet international fair trial standards cannot deliver the justice that survivors and victims deserve, and only serve to undermine the rule of law.
For more information, please click here.
November 10, 2015
Posted by Susan Farbstein
Twenty years ago today, Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other members of the Ogoni Nine were hanged in Port Haurcourt, Nigeria. Saro-Wiwa was a writer, environmental activist, and outspoken critic of Shell’s destruction of Ogoniland. He accused Shell of waging an ecological war against the Ogoni, co-founding the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to protect their rights and protest the devastating effects of Shell’s oil exploitation on their land.
In response, Nigeria’s military junta falsely accused him of murder and then created a special tribunal — which violated international due process standards — to prosecute and sentence him to death. In 2009, Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle a case in which it was accused of collaborating with the Nigerian government in Saro-Wiwa’s execution.
On this anniversary, it would be nice to document how much has changed in the Niger Delta over the last two decades — how pollution from oil extraction has been reduced, how Shell has cleaned up past spills, how the Ogoni no longer suffer from poisoned waterways, fishing areas, and surface soil. Unfortunately that article can’t be written, because the devastation continues.
Although Shell was forced out of Ogoniland in 1993, it remains responsible for leakages, gas flaring, and oil blow-outs from approximately 5,000 kilometers of its pipelines that still run through the area. Hundreds of spills occur annually across this old and poorly maintained pipeline network, ruining drinking wells, agricultural fields, forests, and fisheries that the Ogoni depend on for their food and their livelihood. Shell acknowledges spills leading to more than 55 million liters of oil leaked in the Delta in recent years — and these numbers likely understate the true scale of the damage. (By comparison, on average there were 10 spills annually across the whole of Europe from 1971 to 2011; the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska accounted for approximately 41 million liters lost.)
The most comprehensive study on the impact of oil pollution in Niger Delta, produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2011, documented appalling levels of ongoing contamination. The UNEP also found that Shell had failed to properly clean up spills at more than 60 locations across Ogoniland. In response, Shell assured its critics that, since 2011, it has addressed the pollution identified in the UNEP report.
But a recent study by Amnesty International (AI) and the Centre for the Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) flatly contradicts Shell’s claims. In locations where Shell asserts it has cleaned up and remediated past spills — and where Nigerian government regulators have certified sites as clean — AI and CEHRD found water-logged areas with an oily sheen, land that was black and oil-encrusted, and soil that was soaked and visibly contaminated with crude. They conclude that Shell has not improved its methodology for addressing oil spills and still fails to adequately clean up its pollution.
To truly commemorate Saro-Wiwa, the struggle for social and environmental justice and a clean Niger Delta must continue. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent pledge to fast-track implementation of the UNEP’s recommendations is commendable but insufficient. Shell must improve its approach to oil spill remediation, properly clean up the Delta, and compensate communities for past harms. And the Nigerian government must create an effective oversight, regulation, and accountability process for the oil industry, one that addresses the underlying causes of pollution in the Delta, including the maintenance of oil infrastructure and a re-examination of the spill investigation process.
Shell’s unapologetic attitude and unchanged behavior are an insult to human rights and all that Ken Saro-Wiwa represents. The Nigerian state and Shell might have hoped that killing Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues would end the struggle. We owe it to him to prove them wrong.
Susan and a team of clinical students participated in litigating Wiwa v. Shell, which charged Shell with complicity in the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other non-violent Nigerian activists, and successfully settled in 2009.
November 10, 2015
Ramp Up Action to Ban Killer Robots
Blinding Lasers Prohibition Offers Precedent
(Geneva, November 9, 2015) – Governments should agree to expand and formalize their international deliberations on fully autonomous weapons, with the ultimate aim of preemptively banning them, Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School said in a joint report released today. These weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems or killer robots, would be able to select and attack targets without further human intervention.
The 18-page report, “Precedent for Preemption,” details why countries agreed to preemptively ban blinding laser weapons in 1995 and says that the process could be a model for current efforts to prohibit fully autonomous weapons. Countries participating in the annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) will decide by consensus on November 13, 2015, whether to continue their deliberations on lethal autonomous weapons systems next year.
“Concerns over fully autonomous weapons have pushed them to the top of the international disarmament agenda, but countries need to pick up the pace of discussions,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at Harvard Law School, and senior Arms Division researcher at Human Rights Watch, which is a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Governments can take direct action now with commitments to ban weapons with no meaningful human control over whom to target and when to attack.”
The report calls on countries to initiate a more robust process through creation of a group of governmental experts on fully autonomous weapons under the CCW.
Artificial intelligence experts, roboticists, and other scientists predict that fully autonomous weapons could be developed within years, not decades. The preemptive ban on blinding lasers, which is in a protocol attached to the conventional weapons treaty, shows that a prohibition on future weapons is possible.
“The prospect of fully autonomous weapons raises many of the same concerns as blinding lasers did two decades ago,” said Docherty, lead author of the new report exploring the history of the prohibition on lasers that would permanently blind their victims. “Countries should adopt the same solution by banning fully autonomous weapons before they reach the battlefield.”
The report shows that threats to the principles of humanity and dictates of public conscience, as well as notions of abhorrence and social unacceptability, helped drive countries to ban blinding lasers. Fully autonomous weapons present similar dangers.
Countries were further motivated by the risk of widespread proliferation of blinding lasers to parties that have little regard for international law, a risk echoed in discussions of fully autonomous weapons, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School clinic said. As with blinding lasers 20 years ago, a ban on fully autonomous weapons could clarify and strengthen existing law without limiting the development of related legitimate technology.
The groups acknowledged notable differences in the specific legal problems and technological character of the two weapons but found that those differences make banning fully autonomous weapons even more critical.
In other publications, the Clinic and Human Rights Watch have elaborated on the challenges that fully autonomous weapons would face in complying with international humanitarian law and international human rights law and analyzed the lack of accountability that would exist for the unlawful harm caused by such weapons.
Several of the 121 countries that have joined the CCW – including the United States, United Kingdom, China, Israel, Russia, and South Korea – are developing weapons systems with various degrees of autonomy and lethality. The countries party to the treaty held nine days of informal talks on lethal autonomous weapons systems in 2014 and 2015, but they should now ramp up their deliberations, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic said.
Docherty and Steve Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch, will present the report at a side event briefing at 2 p.m. on November 9 in Conference Room XI at the United Nations in Geneva. At the end of the week, Goose will assess the meeting’s decision on fully autonomous weapons, joined by other Campaign to Stop Killer Robots representatives, at a side event briefing at 1 p.m. on November 13 in Conference Room XI.
“Precedent for Preemption: The Ban on Blinding Lasers as a Model for a Killer Robots Prohibition” is available at:
NOTE: Mana Azarmi, JD ’16, Federica du Pasquier, MA ’16, and Marium Khawaja, LLM ’16, contributed research to this report.
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on fully autonomous weapons, please visit:
For more information on the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, please visit:
For more information, please contact:
In Geneva, Bonnie Docherty (English): +1-617-669-1636 (mobile); or [email protected]
November 9, 2015
“After Roe: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate”
Please join us for a book talk with Prof. Mary Ziegler, Stearns Weaver Miller Professor of Law at Florida State University College, for a discussion of After Roe: The Lost History of The Abortion Debate (Harvard University Press, 2015). After Roe uses more than 100 oral history interviews and extensive archival research to challenge the conventional legal and historical account of social-movement reactions to Roe v. Wade. In studying the decade after Roe, the project explores reasons for the contemporary polarization of the abortion wars. Prof. Ziegler is a 2007 graduate of Harvard Law School.
Co-sponsored by HLS Law Students for Reproductive Justice. Books will be available for purchase.
November 8, 2015
Posted by Roni Druks, JD '17, and Sharon Yuen, LLM '16
Today, Myanmar held its first contested general election in 25 years — one that will have major implications for human rights. As vote counting starts, everyone is waiting to see whether the current ruling party, the military-backed United Solidarity and Development Party, or the National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, will win control of the parliament. There is a long history between military-backed parties and the NLD, dating to 1990, when the NLD won a landslide victory that was never recognized. In 2010, after decades of military rule, the country held elections again, leading to a USDP victory in parliament and the appointment of former general Thein Sein as president. But the NLD boycotted the 2010 vote, which was largely considered illegitimate.
Today, as the USDP, NLD, and other parties face off, seats in both the upper and lower houses of the national legislature, as well as at the state and division levels, are at stake. Despite concerns about whether the election will be free and fair, the key question is whether the NLD or USDP will win a victory and be able to control parliament—either alone or in a coalition. The winning party should control the selection of the next president, who will have a major influence over the course of human rights in the country over the next few years.
The outcome of the election will prove especially crucial since the president and newly elected parliament will bear responsibility of advancing a challenging peace process. Although the Myanmar government signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with eight ethnic armed organizations on October 15, 2015, the agreement remains neither nationwide nor a ceasefire. (For more on that, see the recent piece by our fellow clinic student, Roi Bachmutsky, JD ’17). Fighting has continued in several ethnic areas, raising concerns about the displacement of ethnic communities and other human rights violations.
Beyond the elections, Myanmar’s human rights record was under scrutiny this past Friday through the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is evaluating Myanmar’s progress on human rights since 2011. Regrettably, Myanmar appointed Lt. Gen. Ko Ko to head the committee responsible for Myanmar’s UPR process. Ko Ko has a long track record of alleged involvement in human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity as the International Human Rights Clinic previously documented in a four-year investigation.
The Clinic made a UPR submission in March highlighting that the Myanmar government has not taken any steps to investigate the allegations against Lt. Gen. Ko Ko. In a major development, more than 500 groups from Myanmar (who must remain anonymous for fear of retaliation) have signed a petition calling for international action to hold Lt. Gen. Ko Ko accountable due to inaction at the national level. In response, the Clinic, along with eight other organizations, released a statement echoing the need for an end to impunity.
Whether on the election front, in its peace process, or on issues of accountability, it is a pivotal time in Myanmar. Along with the world, the people of Myanmar wait to see whether a new chapter for human rights is on the horizon or whether it will be more of the same.
November 6, 2015
Curb Use of Incendiary Weapons
Seize Diplomatic Opening to Strengthen International Law
(Washington, DC, November 5, 2015) – Countries should take concrete steps to strengthen international law governing incendiary weapons, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School said in a joint report released today, ahead of a diplomatic meeting devoted to incendiary and other weapons that will be held in Geneva November 9-13, 2015.
The need is urgent in light of new reported uses of incendiary weapons, which cause excruciatingly painful burns that are difficult to treat and can lead to long-term psychological harm and severe disfigurement.
The joint report with Human Rights Watch, “From Condemnation to Concrete Action” provides a five-year review of developments related to incendiary weapons. It lays out evidence of recent use, including in Syria and Ukraine, as well as allegations of use in Libya and Yemen in 2015. It also examines the evolution of countries’ policies and positions regarding the use of incendiary weapons.
“Countries have been voicing concerns and condemning use of incendiary weapons for five years, but it is time for more tangible progress,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor with the Clinic and senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Countries should seize the opportunities at upcoming diplomatic meetings to strengthen the law curbing the use of these exceptionally cruel weapons.”
A protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, an international treaty, regulates the use of incendiary weapons. But it has significant loopholes that have undermined its effectiveness and failed to deter ongoing use, the report said.
At their annual meeting in Geneva next week, countries that are party to that treaty should agree to initiate discussions to review current law. Such discussions would lay the groundwork for efforts to amend the law at the 2016 review conference, a major diplomatic gathering held every five years.
The Clinic will present its findings at a side event at United Nations in Geneva 2 to 3 p.m., November 9, in Conference Room XI.
“From Condemnation to Concrete Action” is available at:
For more Human Rights Watch publications on incendiary weapons, please visit:
For more information, please contact:
In Boston, Bonnie Docherty (English): +1-617-669-1636 (mobile); or [email protected]
NOTE: Sarah Abraham, JD ’17, Lauren Blodgett, JD ’16, Danae Paterson, JD ’16, contributed research to the report.
November 5, 2015
Yesterday, Anna Crowe, clinical advocacy fellow, and Danae Paterson, JD ’16, took part in a roundtable discussion in Amman, Jordan, on civil documentation – in this context, birth, marriage, and death registration – for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
A recent International Human Rights Clinic report, “Registering Rights,” examines the processes, challenges, and significance of civil documentation for Syrian refugees living outside camps in Jordan. Civil documentation plays a crucial role in securing legal identity within a society, helping to prevent statelessness, and protecting a range of human rights.
November 5, 2015
International Human Rights Organizations Call for Accountability of Myanmar’s Minister of Home Affairs
Tomorrow is Myanmar’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) hearing in Geneva. Today, a coalition of groups issued a statement calling for accountability for Lt. Gen. Ko Ko, the head of Myanmar’s UPR process:
International Human Rights Organizations Call for Accountability of Lt. Gen. Ko Ko, Myanmar’s Minister of Home Affairs
November 5, 2015
We, the undersigned organizations, call for Lt. Gen. Ko Ko, Myanmar’s Minister of Home Affairs and Minister for Immigration and Population, to be held accountable for his involvement in human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. On November 6, 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council will review Myanmar’s human rights record during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva. Regrettably, the Myanmar Government has appointed Lt. Gen. Ko Ko to head the committee responsible for its UPR process.
Hundreds of civil society organizations in Myanmar have signed a petition expressing their concern about Lt. Gen. Ko Ko’s role in the UPR process, as well as the current impunity at the national level that exists for his involvement in abuses. They have called on the international community to take concrete steps to hold him accountable.
Lt. Gen. Ko Ko has a well-documented track record of human rights violations. He led Myanmar’s Southern Command during a military offensive in Kayin State from 2005-2008. According to a report released by the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, there is sufficient evidence against him to satisfy the standard required to issue an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for his command over soldiers that intentionally attacked, killed, tortured, enslaved, and forcibly transferred civilians.
In his current position as the Minister of Home Affairs, Lt. Gen. Ko Ko has also been implicated in human rights abuses, including violations of the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. For example, strong evidence exists that the Myanmar Police Force, which is under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, has repeatedly used unlawful and excessive force against peaceful protesters. In November 2012, Lt. Gen. Ko Ko was accused of authorizing riot police to use white phosphorus munitions to disperse peaceful protesters—mostly monks and villagers—at the Letpadaung Copper Mine, resulting in severe chemical burns of more than 100 people. In March 2015, the police again used excessive force in the town of Letpadan against unarmed protesters calling for reforms to the National Education Law.
The Human Rights Council has called upon the Myanmar Government to take all necessary measures to ensure accountability and end impunity for violations of human rights. This recommendation also was made during Myanmar’s previous UPR in 2011 and has been reiterated in advance questions for the forthcoming UPR this year. Similarly, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, recommended in both her March and October 2015 reports that the Government address impunity for human rights violations committed by security personnel.
In light of Lt. Gen. Ko Ko’s track record, we call on the Myanmar Government to remove him as the head of its UPR process, and to initiate a prompt, independent, and thorough investigation into the allegations of his involvement in human rights violations and international crimes. The international community should lend support to any investigation and prosecution. If the Myanmar Government does not pursue accountability in a prompt and effective manner, the international community should initiate its own investigation into Lt. Gen. Ko Ko’s responsibility for human rights violations and international crimes, and governments should pursue appropriate legal action against him if he enters their territory under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Burma Campaign UK
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
Global Justice Center
International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School
US Campaign for Burma
World Organization Against Torture
November 5, 2015
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