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November 27, 2018
Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law Yee Htun was profiled in the Harvard Gazette on November 19, 2018. The article explored Htun’s personal journey fleeing persecution in her birth country of Myanmar and returning there to help advance law reform efforts After years spent in the field working to end sexual violence in conflict, among other issues, she came to the the International Human Rights Clinic in 2016 where she now teaches human rights advocacy and works on projects focused on women’s rights, hate speech, and de-escalation of communal tensions in Myanmar and neighboring countries. As she states:
“We want to show that the law cannot only be a tool for oppression,” said Htun. “What drew me to law was the fact that it is a crucial tool for change and can play a key role in safeguarding democracy and enshrining rights. That’s the lesson I have learned in my personal journey and one that I hope to share with my students and the communities we serve.”
Read the full piece on the Harvad Gazette website.
November 16, 2018
The Human Rights Program invites applications for its Visiting Fellows Program for the 2019-2020 academic year.
About the Visiting Fellows Program
The Visiting Fellows Program gives individuals with a demonstrated commitment to human rights an opportunity to step back and conduct a serious inquiry in the human rights field. Visiting Fellows are usually scholars with a substantial background in human rights, experienced activists, or members of the judiciary or other branches of government.
Typically, fellows come from outside the U.S., and spend from one semester to a full academic year in residence at Harvard Law School, where they devote the majority of their time to research and writing on a human rights topic.
The fellows form an essential part of the human rights community at Harvard Law School, and participate in the Human Rights Program’s Visiting Fellows Colloquium, as well as a number of other activities.
The Human Rights Program provides between four to eight fellows annually with a shared office space, access to computers, and use of the Harvard library system.
In order to profit from the fellowship, fluent spoken English is essential.
For the 2019-2020 year, HRP has a particular interest in research focusing on the topic of indirect discrimination in comparative perspective.
As a general matter, the Human Rights Program does not fund fellows. However, applicants who are nationals of low or middle income countries are eligible to apply for the Eleanor Roosevelt Fellowship, which offers a stipend to help defray the cost of living.
The deadline to submit applications is February 1, 2019. Click here for more information on how to apply or write to Emily Nagisa Keehn, the Associate Director of the Academic Program, at email@example.com.
November 16, 2018
(Geneva, November 14, 2018) – Countries at an upcoming United Nations disarmament conference, faced with evidence of 30 new incendiary weapons attacks in Syria, should agree to strengthen the international law that governs their use, the International Human Rights Clinic said in a report released this week.
The 13-page report, “Myths and Realities About Incendiary Weapons,” counters common misconceptions that have slowed international progress in this area. Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. While often designed for marking and signaling or producing smokescreens, incendiary weapons can burn human flesh to the bone, leave extensive scarring, and cause respiratory damage and psychological trauma. They also start fires that destroy civilian objects and infrastructure.
“The excruciating burns and lifelong disabilities inflicted by incendiary weapons demand a global response,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of conflict and civilian protection at the Clinic. “Simple changes in international law could help save civilian lives during wartime.”
The report details the exceptionally cruel harm caused by incendiary weapons, explains the shortcomings of existing law, and lays out steps countries should take in response. The report, designed as an accessible overview of the incendiary weapons issue, was jointly published with Human Rights Watch.
Countries that are party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) are scheduled to address incendiary weapons at the UN in Geneva from November 19 to 23. Protocol III to this treaty imposes some restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, but it does not provide sufficient protections for civilians.
November 13, 2018
Posted by Thomas Becker
On October 12th, students from the International Human Rights Clinic arrived at the Villa Ingenio Cemetery on the outskirts of El Alto, Bolivia to celebrate the lives of those killed in Bolivia’s “Black October.” Despite the somberness of the drizzly afternoon, the cemetery was adorned with the bright colors of the family members’ aguayos (blankets) and polleras (traditional billowy skirts worn by Bolivia’s Aymara women). Today was a special occasion.
Téofilo Baltazar was one of the family members present at the cemetery. Fifteen years ago to the day, Bolivian soldiers shot and killed his pregnant wife Teodosia while she was praying inside her sister’s home. As Téofilo placed flowers on his wife’s tomb, he stated, “Hasta el último momento lucharé por la justicia.” (“Until the last moment, I will fight for justice.”)
Téofilo, like so many relatives of the roughly 500 casualties during Black October, is Aymara. Historically, the country’s indigenous people have been excluded from justice, but Téofilo and his friends were determined to change this.
In 2007, nine Aymara Bolivians launched a landmark lawsuit in U.S. federal court against Bolivia’s ex-President Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada and ex-Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, who fled to the United States after Black October and have lived here ever since. The case sought to hold both men responsible for the role they played planning and organizing the mass killings that took their family members.
After years of legal obstacles, the lawsuit went to trial in March of this year, marking the first time ever a former of head state was forced to directly face his accusers in a U.S. courtroom. The victims’ family members made history when, after a three-week trial and a week of deliberations, the ten-person jury unanimously held Goni and Sánchez Berzaín liable for the killings and awarded the plaintiffs $10 million. This was the first human rights verdict in the United States against a living head of state.
Unfortunately, in May, a judge overturned the historic jury decision. The judge upheld the defendants’ Rule 50 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, which argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict. This decision forced the families back to court.
Last month, as Bolivians celebrated the lives of those killed in Black October, the plaintiffs submitted an appellate brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit arguing that the district court applied the wrong legal standard for extrajudicial killings and the jury verdict should be reinstated. Additionally, current and former U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, retired U.S. military commanders, and law of war scholars submitted amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs. Early next year, the Defendants will file their opposition brief and Plaintiffs will file their reply; oral argument is expected in spring 2019.
Though the struggle has been long, the families remain steadfast in their fight for justice. It is the memories of their loves ones that keep them going. At the cemetery, Téofilo shared with the Clinic’s students the importance of their victory and its significance for survivors throughout the world. “The jury is the voice of the American people, and the people have spoken. No court can change that. No court can change the message it sends to the world,” he told the students, adding: “But the struggle continues.”
The Clinic and co-counsel from Center for Constitutional Rights, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP, and Schonbrun, De Simone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman, LLP have represented the plaintiffs from the outset in the case. Clinical students Luna Borges Pereira Santos LLM ’19 and Kevin Patumwat JD ’19 traveled with clinical instructor Thomas Becker JD ’08 to Bolivia in October to commemorate 15 years since Black October.
November 6, 2018
Last month, we welcomed writer, activist, and lawyer Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno to HRP for a talk about her new book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia. As the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Maria is at the helm of the leading U.S. organization fighting to end the war on drugs domestically and beyond. Her new book is a narrative non-fiction account of the rise of paramilitaries in Colombia in the late 1990s. With close ties to the cocaine business, the paramilitaries carried out a violent expansion campaign committing atrocities against thousands of people. The story is told through the perspective of three characters—a fearless activist, a dogged journalist, and relentless investigators—whose lives intersect in the midst of this drug-fueled cycle of terror.
This talk was co-sponsored by the Criminal Justice Policy Program, the Harvard Human Rights Journal, and HLS Advocates for Human Rights.
Listen to the full audio of the talk below or on our SoundCloud:
November 1, 2018
Press Statement: Constitutional Law Scholars Respond to Trump’s Threats Against Birthright Citizenship
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, leading constitutional scholars stated that there is no serious scholarly debate about whether a president can, through executive action, eliminate birthright citizenship and contradict the Supreme Court’s long-standing and consistent interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. Gerald L. Neuman, HRP Co-Director and J. Sinclair Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, was one of fifteen authors on this statement.
The full statement reads as follows:
President Donald Trump is reportedly considering an executive order to essentially rewrite the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship. In an interview to be aired later this week, he explains that people are now telling him that he can do this “just with an executive order.” As constitutional scholars who have studied the 14th Amendment, we write to say in no uncertain terms that he is wrong.
The Citizenship Clause—enshrined as Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1868—states simply that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.” The 14th Amendment, adopted in the immediate aftermath of a Civil War that very nearly ripped this country in two, established the foundational principle that all persons are entitled to due process and equal protection under the law. The Citizenship Clause contained therein was meant as a direct rebuke to the infamous decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), in which the Supreme Court held that that people of African descent born on our soil whose ancestors were slaves could not be citizens, even if they were free.
The Supreme Court 120 years ago in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), settled the very issue raised by the president. In that case, the Court held that with certain very limited exceptions, all children born in the United States are natural-born citizens regardless of the citizenship status of their parents. Many decades later in the case of Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), in which the Court upheld the right of all children regardless of alienage to a free public education, the Court analogized its holding on Equal Protection Clause grounds to the settled law on the Citizenship Clause as declared in Wong Kim Ark. Specifically, the Court noted that just as undocumented immigrants are “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” for purposes of the Citizenship Clause, they too are “within the jurisdiction” of a state for purposes of the Equal Protection Clause. Id. at 211 n.10.
There is today no serious scholarly debate about whether a president can, through executive action, contradict the Supreme Court’s long-standing and consistent interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. Instead, as conservative legal scholar James Ho, now a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit nominated by President Trump, wrote more than a decade ago, “a constitutional amendment is … the only way to restrict birthright citizenship.” The executive branch’s own lawyers have long agreed.
It took a Civil War—the bloodiest conflict in American history—to resolve a dispute about what it means to be an American—a person—in this country. The 14th Amendment, including the Citizenship Clause, is the rightly cherished result of that American tragedy.
Signatories included: Muneer I. Ahmad, Yale Law School; Walter E. Dellinger III, Duke University School of Law; Lucas Guttentag, Stanford Law School and Yale Law School; Harold Hongju Koh, Yale Law School; Stephen H. Legomsky, Washington University School of Law; Gerard N. Magliocca, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law; David A. Martin, University of Virginia School of Law; Michael W. McConnell, Stanford Law School; Hiroshi Motomura, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law; Gerald L. Neuman, Harvard Law School; Cristina Rodríguez, Yale Law School; Peter J. Spiro, Temple University Law School; Geoffrey R. Stone, The University of Chicago; Laurence H. Tribe, Harvard Law School; and Stephen I. Vladeck, The University of Texas at Austin Law School.
Find the full press release on the Center for American Progress’s website.
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