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December 21, 2016
Posted by Fernando Ribeiro Delgado
Inter-American Court of Human Rights Critiques “Over-Incarceration” and Prison Building in Brazil
Landmark Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex Rulings Also Innovate on Rights of LGBT Prisoners; Prisoners with Disabilities; and Anti-Corruption Measures
Sounding the alarm on mass incarceration, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently ordered officials in Brazil to adopt an emergency plan to reduce overcrowding at the abusive Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex in Recife, Pernambuco. Noting that it “shared the concern expressed by several Brazilian authorities…with respect to the tendency toward ‘over-incarceration’ [‘super encarceramento’] witnessed over the past decade throughout the country, and with particular intensity in Pernambuco,” the Court also demanded other measures that can promote decarceration. These include the hiring of public defenders and the listing of the legal grounds for the detention of each prisoner at the Complex.
Currently, the Complex holds some 7,000 men in space designated for less than 2,000. The Court gave the state 90 days to comply, with Brazil’s federal prosecutor’s office (Ministério Público Federal – MPF) tapped to monitor implementation.
The ruling marks a major advance for the civil society petitioning coalition comprised of the Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões – SEMPRI, Pastoral Carcerária, Justiça Global, and the International Human Rights Clinic. For years, the coalition has urged authorities to redress overcrowding through decarceration measures. Brazil today has the world’s fourth largest prison population, with over 600,000 detained. In its resolution, the Court warned that “until the tendency [toward over-incarceration] is reversed,” state policies promoting prison construction “will not be sufficient” to deal with the problem.
There is growing recognition in Brazil that its turn toward mass incarceration is unwise and unsustainable. Earlier this year the head of Brazil’s federal penitentiary department (Departamento Penitenciário Federal – DEPEN) declared, “incarceration does not reduce criminality.” Over the past 25 years, the country has seen a 575 percent increase in the prison population.
The Court’s decision also innovated on other legal issues. Pointing to a wave of sexual violence and other abuses against LGBT persons at the prison Complex, the Court ordered the state to “adopt specific measures to protect the personal integrity and life of groups in situations of vulnerability.” Other novel points of the decision include measures protecting the rights of prisoners with disabilities and a demand for evidence demonstrating the existence of judicial oversight of the prison. Continue Reading…
December 20, 2016
VIDEO from recent events: Free speech cases in African courts; The legacy of the Armenian Genocide; The #ThisFlag movement in Zimbabwe
Posted by Emily Nagisa Keehn
In November, the Human Rights Program held a number of events with global thought leaders on pressing human rights concerns, spanning freedom of expression, women’s rights under Islamic law, human rights in Latin America, and the movement for human rights in Zimbabwe. Below, we offer brief recaps of the events and links to videos and presentations.
On November 3rd, Nani Jansen Reventlow, fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, spoke about litigating free speech cases in the African regional courts. Reventlow was previously the head of the Media Legal Defence Initiative’s global litigation practice, and led litigation that resulted in the first freedom of expression judgments at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the East African Court of Justice. She described the pathways and challenges to litigation in the African regional courts, and the promise that these courts hold for issuing progressive rulings for freedom of expression and human rights. Her talk can be seen at the bottom of this post.
On November 10, Malaysian activist and Muslim feminist Zainah Anwar spoke to clinical students via Skype on the topic of women’s rights activism in Muslim contexts and her work currently leading the Musawah global movement for equality in the Muslim family. We also hosted a book talk that day by Alexis Demirdjian, trial lawyer with the International Criminal Court and author of “The Armenian Genocide Legacy.” Demirdjian discussed law and the Armenian Genocide, including judicial explanations and legal remedies, in a talk moderated by Harvard Law School Professor Alex Whiting. Watch the video below.
On November 15th, Saudi blogger and activist Hala Aldosari discussed women’s rights in the laws of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, focusing on women’s legal capacity in the law and the latest developments in the personal status laws of these countries. She also spoke briefly about her own activism experience, pushing for the Saudi Women-2-Drive campaign and the Campaign to End Male Guardianship in Saudi Arabia. Her talk was co-sponsored by HRP and the Islamic Legal Studies Program: Law and Social Change.
On November 16th, HRP welcomed back our former colleague, James Cavallaro, now President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, where he is the Founding Director of the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Stanford Human Rights Center. Cavallaro, the former Executive Director of HRP, discussed the future of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, examining the recent funding crisis which threatened the institutional stability and reach of the Commission. He also considered potential consequences of shifting U.S. policy under the new administration for human rights in Latin America.
Lastly, on November 21st, HRP and the Harvard African Law Association hosted Evan Mawarire of the #ThisFlag movement. He discussed the historic protests that swept across Zimbabwe, calling for an end to government repression and desperately needed economic reform. Mawarire reflected on the personal challenges he faced once he found himself leading this movement, including being detained and charged with “attempting to overthrow the government,” and his later escape to the U.S. You can listen to his revealing talk below.
Thanks to all of our speakers in recent weeks- and the entire semester- for providing critical insight into pressing issues in the human rights community.
December 15, 2016
Posted by Emily Nagisa Keehn, Anna Crowe and Yee Htun
It is now well trodden discourse that the election of Donald Trump, like the rise in nationalist movements in Europe, is both creating and reflecting paradigmatic shifts in the way we view global institutions. These shifts point to pressing concerns for the international human rights project. The xenophobic, rights-abusive platform of the Trump campaign put the human rights community on notice, and we have assumed a defensive stance to protect the potential roll-back of hard-won progress. In the era of Trump, we believe the U.S. human rights community must continue to draw on international human rights law as an advocacy and accountability tool, partnering with international movements and actors to stop rhetoric from becoming reality.
For U.S. scholars, lawyers, policymakers and activists committed to the defense of human rights, the rhetoric and fledgling policies of the incoming administration have raised strategic and existential questions. In this new era, we are examining and debating critical concerns about the state and utility of international human rights law, and questioning where to place our resources. For those of us working within law schools, we face added questions from students, some of whom feel a crisis of conscience about where best to stake their social justice careers. From our perspective we must continue to invest in international human rights.
To begin with, we must dispel with the false dichotomy that pits domestic rights against the international human rights regime. International human rights norms are implemented by domestic actors and often embedded in national constitutions. And human rights abuses are not a phenomenon that ‘happens’ abroad, violating the rights of ‘others’ who are unconnected to us. The systemic interlinkages in our globalized world make us common rights-holders, in issues spanning trade and the environment, to counter terrorism. The international system exists as a failsafe for local and domestic efforts. No domestic space is a paradigm of human rights virtue and we all benefit from the scrutiny of global institutions.
Granted, international human rights law has limited power in U.S. courts, but it is not impotent. We have seen its persuasive function in important Supreme Court Cases such as Lawrence v Texas, which struck down the sodomy law in Texas, and Roper v Simmons, which abolished capital punishment for people under 18. There is further work to do in pushing back against American exceptionalism by both diffusing international norms, and keeping human rights language and knowledge alive, in the U.S. legal community and judiciary – if anything, U.S. human rights activists have perhaps prematurely given up on the project of making international human rights law enforceable in U.S. courts.
History shows that human rights violations carry reputational risks, and have tangible costs for national security and the U.S.’s geopolitical position. For instance, the Bush-era war on terror and the torture memos made the U.S. an outlier to established international law, damaged its moral authority, and fanned the flames of conflict.
During this period of what may be a redux in U.S. human rights ‘deviance’, we must fight to limit damage to the integrity of human rights norms. This requires our continued engagement with global institutions mandated with international human rights law protection, to prevent and seek accountability for any new violations, and to protect against the dismantling of important gains. This could include backslides in progress under international U.S. leadership in the areas of LGBTQI rights, women’s health and reproductive rights, and a strengthened UN Human Rights Council. Protecting gains also means safeguarding against cuts in U.S. government support for human rights defenders around the world who are working with vulnerable people in hostile environments.
Finally, we must demonstrate heterogeneity and dissent in U.S. voices in international settings, and avoid brain drain and the deskilling of the U.S. human rights community. For humanistic and principled reasons, concern for human rights should not follow national borders or be driven by nationalist impulses. This cuts to the core of our group identity as a human rights constituency, committed to the foundational principles of universal application of human rights for all.
Today’s shifting ground and the risks of a regressive trajectory present an opportunity to re-double efforts and promote the resonance of international norms domestically. Now, more than ever, work needs to be done to bring the U.S. into a larger comparative framework. Human rights actors are needed in both domestic and international institutions to serve as critical, reinforcing bridges between these two arenas.
December 13, 2016
Gerald Neuman, Co-Director of HRP, Intervenes as Amicus in U.S. Supreme Court Cross-Border Shooting Case
Posted by Emily Nagisa Keehn
Last week Professor Gerald Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program, filed an amicus curiae brief in the United States Supreme Court, arguing that the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protected the right to life of a Mexican teenager killed by a Border Patrol agent firing across the border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez. Neuman was the principal author of the brief in Hernandez v Mesa, written on behalf of a dozen prominent scholars of constitutional law.
The brief explains how the Supreme Court’s “functional approach” to the extraterritoriality of constitutional rights, articulated in the Guantanamo detainee case Boumediene v. Bush (2008), should apply in these cross-border shooting situations. It also invokes international human rights principles restricting the use of lethal force. The brief reflects Neuman’s longstanding advocacy on the rights of foreign nationals in U.S. law.
December 12, 2016
Clinic and HRW Document Increase in Incendiary Weapons Attacks; Call for Stronger International Restrictions
Increase in Incendiary Weapon Attacks
Stronger International Restrictions Needed
(Geneva, December 12, 2016) – The mounting use of incendiary weapons, which cause horrific wounds to civilians, should prompt countries to strengthen the law restricting them, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today at a diplomatic meeting about these and other weapons.
The 30-page report, “Time to Act against Incendiary Weapons,” documents civilian harm from incendiary weapons used in Syria since 2012, focusing on their increased use during the past year’s joint operations by Syrian government and Russian forces.
“Governments that care about protecting civilians should condemn incendiary weapon attacks and call for an end to the use of these exceptionally cruel weapons,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. “Governments should also take action to strengthen international law on the weapons by committing to substantive discussions next year.”
The Clinic co-published this report with Human Rights Watch, for which Bonnie Docherty is also a senior researcher.Continue Reading…
December 9, 2016
Formalize ‘Killer Robots’ Talks; Aim for Ban
Fully Autonomous Weapons on Disarmament Conference Agenda
(Geneva, December 9, 2016) – Governments should agree at the upcoming multilateral disarmament meeting in Geneva to formalize their talks on fully autonomous weapons, with an eye toward negotiating a preemptive ban, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 49-page report, “Making the Case: The Dangers of Killer Robots and the Need for a Preemptive Ban,” rebuts 16 key arguments against a ban on fully autonomous weapons.
Fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems and ‘killer robots,’ would be able to select and attack targets without meaningful human control. These weapons and others will be the subject of the five-year Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) from December 12-16, 2016.
“It’s time for countries to move beyond the talking shop phase and pursue a preemptive ban,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. “Governments should ensure that humans retain control over whom to target with their weapons and when to fire.”
The report is co-published with Human Rights Watch, for which Docherty is also senior arms researcher.Continue Reading…
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