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February 19, 2020

Visiting Fellow Anton Burkov Wins Case Before European Court of Human Rights


On February 5, 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered its judgment in Kruglov, et al. v Russia (no. 11264/04 and 15 other applications), and ruled that the searches of lawyers’ apartments and offices in connection with criminal cases against their clients was illegal.  Human Rights Program Visiting Program Fellow Anton Burkov represented one of the applicants in the case, attorney Alexey Silivanov.

Headshot of Alexey Silivanov with ECHR Navigator logo
Attorney Alexey Silivanov appealed to the European Court of Human Rights after his apartment was searched without his permission.

The judgment concerned searches carried out between 2003 and 2016, all but two of which were based on court warrants. In some of the searches, the investigating authorities seized items such as computers, hard drives, or documents. While the European Convention on Human Rights does not guarantee lawyer-client privilege as such, Article 8 of the Convention guarantees the right to respect for private and family life, the home and correspondence. The Court found that the searches of the lawyers’ homes and offices and the seizure of electronic devices containing personal information lacked sufficient justification, and that there were no safeguards to protect attorney-client confidentiality. As a result, the Court found violations of Article 8. The judgment has important implications for victims of similar searches in Russia.

Dr. Burkov has developed an online teaching platform called ECHR navigator, the logo of which is above.

For details please refer to the full judgment in English and in Russian.

Dr. Anton Burkov is the founder of ECHR-Navigator, an online teaching platform on strategic application to the ECHR which you can learn more about on Facebook. He is a Fulbright Fellow at Harvard Law School and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Human Rights Practice Program of the University of Arizona.

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February 13, 2020

Despite Progress, Work Remains to be Done on Explosive Weapons Political Declaration


By Bonnie Docherty


Efforts to protect civilians from the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in towns and cities took a step forward this week when more than 70 countries met in Geneva to discuss draft elements of a new political declaration.

According to a new paper co-published by the International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch, the text is a good foundation for further work, but several areas need to be strengthened in order to maximize the protection of civilians.

Explosive weapons, such as airdropped bombs, rockets, and missiles, produce a pattern of immediate and reverberating effects when they are used in populated areas. In addition to killing and injuring civilians at the time of an attack, they can damage critical infrastructure, which in turn interferes with essential services such as health care and education. The problem is exacerbated if the weapons have a wide area effect due to inaccuracy, a large blast or fragmentation radius, or the delivery of multiple munitions at once.

In their new paper, the Clinic and Human Rights Watch call on countries to commit to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. They also recommend that the declaration include strong commitments on assistance for victims, data collection and sharing, and follow-up meetings to review progress.

This week’s gathering, held at the United Nations in Geneva, represented the second round of consultations in an Irish-led process that began last November. Ireland plans to hold negotiations of the declaration at the next meeting on March 23-24 and to invite states to Dublin to endorse the final instrument in late May.

The Clinic has been actively involved in efforts to reduce the suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas since 2011. Through its field research and legal analysis, it has supported the campaign for a new political declaration on the topic.

The recent Clinic-Human Rights Watch analysis of the draft text was produced by Bonnie Docherty, the Clinic’s associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection, and clinical students Jillian Rafferty, JD/MPP ’20, and Parker White, JD/MPP ’20. Docherty and White also participated in the consultations in Geneva.

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February 7, 2020

Gerald Neuman files amicus curiae brief to US Supreme Court on review of expedited removal


Gerald Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School, recently filed an amicus curiae brief to the US Supreme Court in a case about the habeas corpus rights of refugees. The case involves the power of federal courts to review decisions about deporting recently-arrived refugees who have been refused protection and are being returned to their home countries.      

Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam concerns Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a Tamil who fled his home country of Sri Lanka in fear for his life. Soon after arriving, Thuraissigiam was denied asylum in the United States and immigration officers ordered his removal.

The case challenges statutory limits on judicial review of “expedited removal” decisions against noncitizens who have recently entered the United States. Expedited removal – an executive procedure recently expanded by the Trump administration – provides very minimal opportunity for individuals to present their claims.  The Ninth Circuit held that the denial of any judicial review of the legality of the removal decision violated the Suspension Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That clause prohibits the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, except during invasion or rebellion. The Government seeks to overturn the Ninth Circuit holding, and more broadly to undo existing precedent on the right to habeas corpus for migrants facing removal. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and a decision is expected in the spring.

The amicus brief of seven leading Scholars of Habeas Corpus Law demonstrates, on the basis of history and precedent, that the Suspension Clause protects noncitizens against unlawful detention and removal. It shows how the statutory limits on judicial review of expedited removal are radically inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus.

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February 6, 2020

Groups Ask Human Rights Experts to Intervene in UN Response to Haiti Cholera


Three years after admitting its responsibility for cholera, UN continues to violate victims’ rights


February 6, 2020 (New York, NY; Cambridge, MA; Port-au-Prince, Haiti) — Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, Haiti-based human rights law firm Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), and its U.S.-based partner organization, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), filed a formal complaint last week asking UN experts to investigate human rights violations linked to the UN’s response to introducing cholera to Haiti. The complaint is a request to the UN “Special Procedure” system, a group of UN-appointed human rights experts charged with reporting and advising on human rights issues worldwide.

In 2016, after years of denial, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly apologized for the UN’s role in introducing cholera to Haiti and launched a “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti,” a $400 million plan to eliminate cholera and provide “material assistance” to those most affected by the disease. The epidemic has killed 9,789 people and sickened 819,000 since 2010, and Haiti remains vulnerable to cholera due to inadequate investments in water, sanitation and health systems.

 “Three years after admitting it was responsible for cholera, the UN continues to unconscionably violate victims’ right to reparations and deny its legal obligations,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the BAI.  Since 2010, BAI and IJDH have worked to advance cholera victims’ struggle for justice, including by filing 5,000 claims with the UN and a class action lawsuit in U.S. federal court.

Earlier this week, Foreign Policy revealed that the UN’s lawyers waged “an extraordinary internal campaign” to keep the Organization from accepting full responsibility for cholera. In his parting email, the outgoing Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, slammed UN leadership for failing to honor cholera victims’ rights, calling it “the single greatest example of hypocrisy in our 75-year history.”

The complaint filed last week documents serious deficiencies in the UN’s response under Secretary-General António Guterres’ leadership that violate the right to effective remedy protected under human rights law. Major findings include:

  • The UN refused to fund the New Approach through its regular budget, instead relying on charitable donations that have raised only 5% of the $400 million promised. 
  • The UN made key decisions about the New Approach without victim input. Victim groups organizing for cholera justice were sidelined and labeled a “risk” by the UN Development Programme.
  • The UN is denying victims direct compensation for the devastating harms they suffered, in violation of both human rights law and its own legal framework.
  • The UN has done little to prevent similar health disasters in the future, with internal UN audits showing that the UN continues its unsafe sanitation management in peacekeeping missions around the world.

“We are appealing to UN Special Procedures to protect victims’ rights to remedies for the harms they suffered. This is as urgent for the countless families who lost loved ones and struggle to survive as it is for the UN’s own legitimacy,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, who led a team of students in drafting the complaint.

UN Special Procedures previously took up the cholera issue in a joint allegation letter in 2014, raising concerns that the UN was denying cholera victims access to legal remedies. Efforts to persuade the UN to change course culminated in a highly critical 2016 report from the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston. This engagement amidst an extraordinary mobilization of cholera-affected communities and allies played a key role in prompting the UN to eventually admit its role in the outbreak.

“UN Special Procedures are the eyes and ears of the human rights system.  We are calling on these experts to again take action to protect the integrity of the UN human rights system by holding the UN to its commitments and the rights it claims to protect and promote world-wide,” said IJDH Legal Advocacy Director Sienna Merope-Synge.

A full copy of the 32-page complaint can be found here. Harvard Law School Clinical students Steven Jiang JD ’21, Gigi Kisela JD ’21, and Saranna Soroka JD ‘20 contributed to the drafting of the complaint.

Media Contacts:

Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney
Bureau des Avocats Internationaux
T: +509 3701 9879 | E: mario@ijdh.org
(Kreyol, French, English)

Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor
International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School
T: +1 617 495 1654 | E: blindstrom@law.harvard.edu
(English, Kreyol)

Sienna Merope-Synge, Legal Advocacy Director
Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
T: +1 917 864 6901| E: sienna@ijdh.org
(English, French, Kreyol)

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