January 15, 2020

Visiting Fellow Alum Spotlight: Christof Heyns


As we advertise our 2020-2021 Visiting Fellowship application, we are looking back and celebrating alums of the program. Christof Heyns is Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria. At the time of his HRP Visiting Fellowship, he was also the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions. Reflecting on his time as a Visiting Fellow, Professor Heyns corresponded with HRP in a short Q&A reprinted below.

Through its Visiting Fellows Program, the Human Rights Program (HRP) has sought to give individuals with a demonstrated commitment to human rights an opportunity to engage with the human rights community at Harvard Law School (HLS). Scholars and practitioners interested in applying should submit their materials by January 31, 2020. Learn about this year’s cohort and past Visiting Fellows to explore the range of research Visiting Fellows have engaged in while at HLS.


Q&A with Christof Heyns

Christof Heyns speaks at a panel discussion on the UDHR in 2018.
Christof Heyns, Member of the Human Rights Committee and former Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at a Panel discussion to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the UDHR and the 25th anniversary of the VDPA during of the of the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council. 28 february 2018. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré


HRP:
Could you describe your Visiting Fellow research project?

Heyns: I was a visiting fellow in 2012, and worked mostly on issues concerning article 6 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], protecting the right against arbitrary deprivation of life. I was one year into my term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and was working among other things on the legal framework concerning the death penalty, the use of force by the police during demonstrations, and armed drones.

HRP: How did your fellowship contribute to your research goals and long term work plans?

Heyns: The fellowship presented an ideal opportunity to focus in detail on these topics, and to start preparing reports that I subsequently submitted to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council. We organised an expert meeting at HLS on the death penalty at the time, for reports that the Special Rapporteur on torture and I were preparing on the death penalty. But [HLS] was also the place where I formed my most enduring ideas on where I wanted to go with the mandate. Stephen Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard, had just published his book on the decline of violence, and I got to meet him, and to discuss the implications of his findings for my work. He also participated in the seminar we had organised on the death penalty.

HRP: What stands out to you as particularly valuable about the Visiting Fellowship Program at HRP? What did you enjoy most about your time in Cambridge?

Heyns: The intellectual environment could not be more stimulating. This applies to the topics on which I work directly, but also more generally. I found after a few weeks that I had to ration myself in terms of the number of talks and events that I could attend per day, to ensure that I was able to get to my own work! I have kept many of the links I established there and in fact continue to work with HLS students on a number of projects.

Christof Heyns Photo: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0. No modifications have been made.

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January 14, 2020

2019 HRP Summer Fellow Reflection: Angel Gabriel Cabrera Silva, SJD Candidate

Cabrera Silva spent Summer 2019 at Colectivo Emancipaciones, in Morelia, Michoacán, México


Summer fellowships for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience. During the summer of 2019, HRP funded five HLS students to intern abroad at nongovernmental organizations for up to eight weeks. At the conclusion of their internships, students returned to HRP with a deeper appreciation for the type of work required of human rights practitioners. Over the course of the next month while our summer fellowship application is open, we’ll be excerpting portions from their fellowship reports to provide a glimpse into the kinds of experiences open to human rights students at Harvard Law. 


As an SJD candidate studying grassroots mobilizing in human rights, Angel Gabriel Cabrera Silva wanted to immerse himself in a social justice organization working in partnership with indigenous communities. He joined Colectivo Emancipaciones, an NGO that advocates on behalf of indigenous rights. In order to express its democratic goals, the Colectivo organizes itself into non-hierarchical “commissions.” Angel joined the “Litigation Commission” and the “Community Council’s Commission.” In the former, Cabrera Silva worked on strategic litigation on behalf of indigenous communities. In the latter, he worked with communities on socio-political organizing.

He described his work as follows:

“Currently, the Colectivo Emancipaciones is working alongside Community Councils of the towns of Pichátaro, San Felipe de los Herreros, Arantepacua, and Santa Fe de la Laguna to intervene in a legislative process that intends to regulate their budgetary autonomy. The axis of this strategy is to preemptively organize the social and political aspects of a process for free, prior, and informed consultation that will be reclaimed after (and if) this bill is discussed by Congress. As such, my task was to attend meetings with the various Councils, brief them about the legal elements of the strategy, listen to their opinions, and collaboratively think about how to articulate the organizational aspects (like when and how would it be easier to organize a politically efficient process of free, prior, and informed consent).”

Cabrera Silva plans to return to some of the communities that Colectivo partnered with later in his SJD to do fieldwork. Over the summer, he was particularly impressed with the community commitment of the NGO. He explained that working at Colectivo Emancipaciones provided “a clear example of how the outcomes of human rights work change when advocates have direct political commitments to specific social movements (rather than abstract normative commitments or indirect commitments with donors).”

At Colectivo, he said, “the role of lawyers was never to upkeep any norm or to advise the communities about the proper legal avenue to get a favorable decision. Instead, the lawyers were constantly reviewing the political and social usefulness of any legal action. The constant contact with community councils meant that the Colectivo was always in touch with what material solutions were needed, and their work revolved around that aspect. In fact, the very structure of the Colectivo (organized in a Commission) seems to have been learned from the way the Community Councils organize themselves.”

Angel further elaborated on how the funding structure of the NGO provided a positive influence on its culture, saying: “The fellowship also gave me a lot of insights into how NGOs are sometimes influenced by external sources of funding. The Colectivo Emancipaciones has an internal policy of not accepting any money that might condition their work. In this sense, they have almost no external donors. They mostly fund themselves through their own professional independent practice. They have also established collaborative academic research projects as a means to embolden their alliance with the communities. This mode of practice has an important influence on the power dynamics between the Colectivo, communities, and the individual members of the Colectivo, which are much more horizontal and open for reflection.”

Overall, the internship gave Cabrera Silva the opportunity to re-examine what skills are important in human rights work. “Normally, I would think that having expertise in the latest development of international standards and knowing all the international procedures was one of the most important advantages of a human rights lawyer. However, I realize how little this technical knowledge might matter in contrast to developing the skills that relate to political strategizing, community organizing, and even inter-personal support.”


Interested in learning more about HRP Summer Fellowships? Schedule an advising appointment with Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, and apply to join our 2020 cohort today! Please note that you do not need to have a confirmed placement organization before you apply for the 2020 HRP summer fellowship pool. Applications are due February 1, 2020!

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January 7, 2020

Visiting Fellow Alum Spotlight: Jimena Reyes

As we advertise our 2020-2021 Visiting Fellowship (VF) application, we are looking back and celebrating alums of the program. Jimena Reyes, Americas Director at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), joined HRP during the Spring 2018 semester as the Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow. The profile below ran in our 2017-2018 Annual Report.

Through its Visiting Fellows Program, the Human Rights Program (HRP) has sought to give individuals with a demonstrated commitment to human rights an opportunity to engage with the human rights community at Harvard Law School (HLS).

Scholars and practitioners interested in applying should submit their materials by January 31, 2020. For the upcoming cycle, HRP will be considering applications for resident Visiting Fellows on semester-long or academic-year-long stays, as well as applications for short visits of several days or more.

Find out more about how Jimena spent her semester at HRP below, and learn about this year’s cohort and past Visiting Fellows to explore the range of research VFs have engaged on while in residence at HLS.


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December 20, 2019

HRP Looks Back On A Busy Semester: Fall 2019

By Dana Walters

It was another productive and busy semester at HRP. Before we sign off for Harvard’s winter break, we wanted to share some highlights from the fall.

HRP hosted dozens of events, including standing room-only talks with Jane McAdam, Scientia Professor of Law and Director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW, and Ben Saul, Challis Chair of International Law at the University of Sydney and the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University.

The Academic Program was thrilled to welcome UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz to HRP, as he began his 18 month residency at HLS. In addition to working with research assistants and engaging with the human rights community on campus, Madrigal-Borloz gave one public lecture this semester previewing his 2019 report to the United Nations General Assembly.

The Clinic’s Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative hosted Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in 2018. Thurlow spoke to a rapt crowd about her experiences following the explosion, and why it is important to continue to advocate against such weapons. A photo exhibition accompanied the event, documenting the historical consequences of nuclear weapons and the humanitarian reasons they should be banned.

In project news, the long-awaited Mamani appeal was argued before the 11th Circuit in Miami, Florida. Mamani et al v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín is a federal lawsuit seeking accountability against the former Bolivian president and defense minister for extrajudicial killings committed in 2003. Students, supervisors, and plaintiffs traveled to Miami for the oral argument, which HLS highlighted on Instagram stories throughout the day of November 19, in a feature called #HLSClinicsInAction. You can view IHRC’s contributions on our Instagram profile page under the highlight section, “ClinicsInAction.” 

Plaintiffs, students, and staff stand around kindling on the beach to give thanks prior to the appeal.
Prior to the Mamani hearing, plaintiffs Eloy and Etelvina Mamani led IHRC students and supervisors in a traditional pachamama ceremony on the beach in Miami, Florida.

Beyond its litigation efforts, the Clinic got to work on a typically wide range of issues. We welcomed two new clinical instructors, Beatrice Lindstrom and Aminta Ossom, and welcomed back a third, Thomas Becker. Together, our team oversaw sixteen projects reaching all corners of the globe, including one project examining rights in an era of climate change, and another focused on securing remedies for those affected by the cholera outbreak caused by the UN in Haiti in 2010.

As is often the case, clinicians traveled around the world this semester, often bringing students with them. Anna Crowe, Clinic Assistant Director, traveled with a clinical student to Namibia to run a training on implementing the Arms Trade Treaty, with special consideration for preventing gender-based violence. Yee Htun, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, traveled with a team of students to Myanmar, where she worked with 18 law schools on strengthening their human rights curriculum. Bonnie Docherty, Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection in the Clinic, traveled to Geneva (among other places), where she and her clinical team released three publications — on explosive weapons in populated areas, incendiary weapons, and killer robots — in one week.

In addition to enrolling nearly 50 students this term, IHRC staff and faculty taught three clinical seminars, three reading groups, and one first-year seminar in the College. One of those clinical seminars, Human Rights Careers: Strategic Leadership Workshop, led by Susan Farbstein, Clinical Professor and IHRC Co-Director, explored barriers to women’s leadership broadly and encouraged students to cultivate their own personal leadership styles. Tyler Giannini, Clinical Professor and HRP and IHRC Co-Director, taught two seminars, including an intensive Business & Human Rights Litigation Workshop.

Beyond the Clinic, Gerald Neuman, HRP Co-Director and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, taught Human Rights and International Law and a seminar on Human Rights in the UN Treaty Bodies. Neuman also joined with other law professors in filing an amicus curiae brief to the US Supreme Court in a pair of cases involving the standards for judicial review of deportation decisions.

HRP also further enhanced the community of human rights scholars on campus and hosted two visiting fellows, Sandra Fahy, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Sophia University, Tokyo, and Adejoké Babington-Ashaye, Senior Counsel at the World Bank, both of whom will continue on through the spring.

HLS Advocates for Human Rights, the student practice organization housed within our Clinic, continued a strong run as they prepared to enter their 15th year in 2020. With 73 active members, they partnered with international NGOs to work on eight different projects. This fall, for example, students supported the Global Legal Action Network to conduct international humanitarian law analyses of selected airstrikes conducted in Yemen and completed initial assessments using open source evidence analysis.

With bittersweet feelings, HRP also said goodbye to our beloved program assistant, Emma Golding, who departs for Emory University in the winter to begin an accelerated nursing program. The community won’t be the same without her.

HRP’s offices will be closed from December 24, 2019 through January 1, 2020. We wish everyone a happy new year and look forward to getting back to work in January!

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December 18, 2019

Emma Golding Leaves International Human Rights Clinic, Embarks on Nursing School

By Dana Walters

Headshot of Emma Golding

After making her mark on the International Human Rights Clinic, Program Assistant Emma Golding left her position in early December. She begins nursing school at Emory University in January. As her colleague and friend, I will miss her generous spirit, compassionate nature, and perceptive intellect. However, I could not imagine a person more suited to enter the healthcare field.

Emma was constantly a surprise, with wide-ranging interests and skills. She could take professional headshots and design websites, while simultaneously conversing about food anthropology and solving crossword puzzles. At only 24 years old, she had been an editorial assistant, faculty assistant, legal secretary, bartender, waitress, hostess, busser, catering manager, circus performer, au pair, natural history and ecology educator, and Audubon Society counselor. She graduated from UMass Amherst in three years with a double major. She was one of the most self-sufficient people I knew. Every task she approached, she did so wholeheartedly.

In the Clinic, Emma was often the first individual students and staff interacted with as they entered our wing. She generated an easy positivity and warmth, qualities that were instrumental in establishing a community-oriented spirit over the past couple years. Students were often found milling about her desk, asking for advice on schoolwork and life. She presented everyone with a friendly face, even while juggling the demands of assisting eight clinicians, three classes, and multiple reading groups. A people-person with savvy judgment, she always stayed focused and easygoing in an atmosphere punctuated by a thousand interruptions. As my collaborator in communications, she showed an intuitive and creative approach to design and editorial. Her ability to parse complicated ideas and grasp difficult concepts will serve her well as she mediates between patients, healthcare professionals, and insurance companies.

Working with Emma has been a joy and a privilege, and while we are sad to say goodbye, we at the Clinic are thrilled to see her take this next step in her professional life. There is no doubt that she will be an excellent nurse and add tremendous value to the field.

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December 16, 2019

2019 HRP Summer Fellow Reflection: Ji Yoon Kang JD’20

Kang spent summer 2019 at the International Rescue Committee

Summer fellowships for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience. They provide rich professional, personal, and intellectual opportunities. During the summer of 2019, HRP funded five HLS students to intern abroad at nongovernmental organizations for up to eight weeks. At the conclusion of their internships, students returned to HRP with a deeper appreciation for the type of field work required of human rights practitioners. Over the course of the next few months while our summer fellowship application is open, we’ll be excerpting portions from their fellowship reports to provide a brief glimpse into the kinds of experiences open to human rights students at Harvard Law. 

Ji Yoon Kang JD’20 worked at the Thai-Myanmar border for 12 weeks this summer in the Legal Assistance Center at the Mae Sot office. Interning for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Kang wanted to work for an organization that provides direct legal services to vulnerable populations. In the process, he hoped to understand how access to justice and rule of law fit into the overall humanitarian response plan in protracted emergencies.

The border, right now, is just such an emergency. The IRC estimates that there are 114,000 displaced peoples living in Thailand from Myanmar after decades of violence, ethnic tensions, and political and economic upheaval.

At the IRC, Kang worked directly with refugees, in many cases conducting educational workshops in the camp and in the surrounding communities. In a non-exhaustive list of the tasks Kang took on last summer, he designed and led a training on durable solutions for camp-based assistants (refugees who volunteer in their community); designed a community consultation workshop to develop community protection strategies; monitored the camps’ alternative dispute resolution proceedings; designed “know your rights” trainings; among many other projects.

Kang describes his experiences with candor in his final report:

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December 6, 2019

2020-2021 Visiting Fellowship Application Now Open

Through its Visiting Fellows Program, the Human Rights Program (HRP) has sought to give individuals with a demonstrated commitment to human rights an opportunity to engage with the human rights community at Harvard Law School (HLS). Each year, the Visiting Fellows Program forms a critical part of creating a human rights community at HLS. For the 2020-2021 academic year, HRP invites scholars and practitioners with substantial experience in human rights to apply to the Visiting Fellows Program.

Applicants may come from a range of backgrounds and with varying academic and professional experiences in the field of human rights. Visiting Fellows commonly come from academic institutions, but a number of fellows have also come from the judiciary and other branches of government. Typically, fellows have come from outside the United States and are individuals with extensive experience. Mid-career applicants are also common, and on occasion, fellows have included more junior individuals in the field with the capacity and interest to develop as teachers or advocates.

For 2020-2021, HRP will be considering both applications for resident Visiting Fellows on semester-long or academic-year-long stays, and applications for short visits of several days or more. Longer times in residence offer an opportunity to step back and conduct a serious inquiry in the human rights field, pursuing academic research and writing at HRP. Shorter engagements provide a chance for more focused interactions with the HLS community, including advising on academic publications and careers as well as training on particular human rights skills and careers in the field.

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December 4, 2019

CJA, IHRC experts urge Bolivian Government to abide by international legal obligations


On November 26, 2019, experts in international law urged the Bolivian Government to abide by its international legal obligations to protect the freedom of assembly and prohibit the excessive use of force against civilian protesters. In a statement signed by a former president and a former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission, two former and the current UN Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, two former UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Conditions, as well as leading scholars in international law, the experts made clear what the Bolivian Government’s obligations are under international law.

Since October 20, 2019, there have been reports of deaths and injuries resulting from Bolivia’s social conflict. “In recent weeks, however, there has been a marked increase in the number of reported deaths attributed to security forces policing protests,” said Thomas Becker, Instructor at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. “The escalation in the use of lethal force by the Bolivian military and security forces is extremely concerning.”

In their statement, the experts highlighted that Bolivia’s international legal obligations require it to ensure that security forces responding to protests only use lethal force to protect life and only as a last resort. Indiscriminately firing into a crowd of protesters is never allowed.

The experts also raised concerns about the Bolivian Government’s apparent attempt to institute impunity measures through Supreme Decree 4078, which was issued on November 15, 2019. The decree purports to immunize “personnel of the Armed Forces participating in the operations to reestablish internal order and stability” for all actions undertaken in response to the current protests in the country. Under international law, domestic measures that attempt to create such impunity for gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, are invalid.

“The Inter-American Court has held time and again that actions seeking to create impunity for gross human rights violations are incompatible with the American Convention. Governments and their security forces should know that they are not above the law despite domestic measures attempting to immunize them, and the Supreme Decree should be rescinded,” said Claret Vargas, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability.

Read the full statement from the Center for Justice and Accountability here.

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December 4, 2019

Human rights seminar tackles barriers to women’s leadership


In the classroom, Clinical Professor Susan Farbstein JD ’04 encourages students to develop personal leadership styles

Susan Farbstein sitting at a table talking to a group of students
Credit: Lorin Granger
This fall, Harvard Law School Clinical Professor Susan Farbstein ’04 is teaching “Human Rights Careers: Strategic Leadership Workshop,” a seminar focused on advocacy and leadership for students interested in careers in human rights or social justice.

By Dana Walters

Susan Farbstein JD ’04, clinical professor of law and co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), stands with chalk in hand under a blackboard bearing the word “inspirational.” For the third session of “Human Rights Careers: Strategic Leadership Workshop,” Farbstein has kicked off the discussion by asking students to identify qualities of effective leaders. Adjectives like “empathetic” and “selfless” are enthusiastically shouted across the room.

Throughout the conversation, students are outspoken about considering words like “nurturing”—often traditionally associated with women—along with words like “assertive” and “decisive”—characteristics traditionally coded as masculine, according to “What Makes a Leader?”, an article assigned for class that day. With Farbstein at the helm, the seminar aims to accomplish two goals: to explore the strategic considerations critical to protecting and promoting human rights across the globe, and to investigate the barriers that women face in professional settings, especially in the human rights field.

“The further along I’ve advanced in my profession, the more I’ve become aware of the ways that one’s identity can be both a huge benefit and a huge obstacle,” Farbstein said. Over a 15-year career, she has practiced and taught in the areas of transitional justice, accountability litigation, community lawyering, and economic, social, and cultural rights. Now after working her way into a leadership position at Harvard Law School, she is “trying to make a small intervention for a necessary discussion,” she says. “I want to create space for a conversation that I wish had been taking place more often when I was in law school.”

Alongside Salomé Gómez Upegui LL.M. ’18 and current S.J.D. student Regina Larrea Maccise, Farbstein curated materials on women’s leadership and considered how this topic might be integrated into existing elements of an International Human Rights Clinic seminar, “Advanced Skills Training for Human Rights Advocacy.” Farbstein previously co-taught the class with Tyler GianniniHuman Rights Program and clinic co-director and clinical professor of law. Scenarios and readings in the seminar enable students to target entrenched, structural challenges—inequality, corporate power, climate change—as they prepare to enter the workplace after graduation. The seminar has changed frequently over the years, with students’ interests informing the direction of the class. Throughout, Farbstein and Giannini have always asked students to consider leadership and its interaction with identity.

Over the last year, however, Farbstein realized that she wanted to focus more deeply on the issue of women’s leadership. “It’s so clear from a variety of recent events and public conversations—around unconscious bias, the #MeToo movement, the Kavanaugh hearings, the electability of a woman as president—that we’re struggling with how to achieve true gender parity in our society, including in the workplace,” said Farbstein. “I wanted to do something to respond to this particular moment by bringing those conversations very thoughtfully and intentionally into the classroom and into a field—human rights—where my students aspire to build their careers.”

Woman writing on a chalkboard.
Credit: Emma Golding
For the third session of “Human Rights Careers: Strategic Leadership Workshop,” Farbstein kicked off the discussion by asking students to identify qualities of effective leaders.

For the third session of “Human Rights Careers: Strategic Leadership Workshop,” Farbstein kicked off the discussion by asking students to identify qualities of effective leaders.

Farbstein worked with Gómez Upegui and Larrea Maccise to develop four new sessions for the advanced seminar. An introductory session frames the idea of women’s leadership using an intersectional lens, while later classes dissect themes like workplace culture, bias and stereotypes, harassment, and microaggressions within institutional and human rights contexts.

In the first of these four new sessions, Farbstein assigned readings that address the grim statistics around harassment, diversity, and bias. McKinsey’s 2018 Women in the Workplace review, for instance, describes how microaggressions impact a woman’s ability to function in the workplace, with 40 percent of black women surveyed indicating that colleagues routinely question their judgment in their areas of expertise. A Forbes piece on the widespread gender bias faced by female lawyers notes that male law firm partners earn 44 percent more than female partners and that women are more likely to be interrupted when speaking, including at the Supreme Court, where nearly 66 percent of all interruptions are directed at the three female justices.

“To be a working woman is always an act of rebellion,” said Fabiola Alvelais JD ’20 in response, reflecting on the ways the system simply fails to support professional women.

Beyond exposing the sheer scale of the problem, the statistics serve an additional purpose: They allow Farbstein to engage with her class’s needs and approach the material flexibly, depending on students’ comfort levels. “If they need to stay at a general and abstract level, the numbers are there for them to discuss and reflect on. And if they are comfortable going deeper, which they have been, it gives students who have experienced or encountered gender discrimination in some form the feeling that they’re not the only one out there,” Farbstein said. The statistics hold personal stories within them.

Farbstein’s classroom has a casual intimacy. In part, this is a result of the relaxed tone that she sets and the deep bonds that she develops with her students. The International Human Rights Clinic itself has a community-oriented spirit, and students in the advanced seminar have all spent at least one, and often several, prior semesters together, working on clinical teams or in introductory advocacy seminars.

Students in Susan Farbstein's workshop.
Credit: Emma Golding
Students in “Human Rights Careers” describe Farbstein as a professor who fosters an inclusive and comfortable environment. From left: Fabiola Alvelais JD ’20, Jillian Rafferty JD ’20 and Daniel Moubayed JD ’20.

Student Monica Sharma JD ’20 echoed many of the same words her classmates used to define good leadership when asked to describe Farbstein, in particular noting the way she actively listens to students and lets discussions evolve naturally. Sharma described the advanced seminar as unique, a place where one can formally “consider your power as a Harvard student or as a lawyer.” The discussion, while academic, is inclusive and comfortable, allowing students to draw on their own experiences as well as the readings.

“When you’re talking about ethics or morality, personal narrative comes into play,” Sharma said. “We like to dissociate the law from human experience in a lot of ways, but this class helps you to confront both as they exist in reality and in your work.”

Early in the semester, student Daniel Moubayed JD ’20 had already found it personally enriching to be brought into the conversation on women’s leadership. “Too often those conversations happen in informal environments. It’s critical that we’re doing this inside the classroom and in a professional setting with a cross section of students,” he said.

In her own teaching, Farbstein seamlessly integrates legal expertise with lived experience. She recognizes that students are not blank slates: they have histories and subjective perspectives that contribute to the debate.

“Part of being a good human rights practitioner is sometimes being vulnerable, drawing on your own life experiences without prejudging the experiences of others, and engaging with the emotions that people carry with them,” Farbstein said. She added, “It’s good practice for students to consider: what is your comfort level when you start to enter this kind of territory?”

For Gómez Upegui, the work she did with Farbstein demonstrated how endemic and culturally rooted the difficulties are, creating situations in which women are dispersed across organizations, lack support networks, and are isolated as they attempt to confront significant challenges.

Still, the breadth of research did not adequately address the marginalization Gómez Upegui, who is Colombian, has witnessed in the legal and human rights fields. “There’s a tremendous lack of intersectional content out there,” she said. “We found endless amounts of work in the business sector and much in the corporate law sector within a white feminist context. Once we narrowed to look at the human rights and social justice fields, the literature winnowed. And we had to fight to find research addressing the lives of women of color or women of low socioeconomic status.”

Susan Farbstein sitting with students around a table
Credit: Lorin Granger
“These students are each going to be leaders in their own way, and I can already see our conversations informing their decisions and actions,” said Farbstein (center). “Hopefully they will be inspired, and also better equipped, to create more opportunities for women leaders in human rights, and in the legal profession more broadly.”

In addition to the seminar, Farbstein is leading a project in the clinic that investigates gender equity in the human rights field. The team aims to unpack the barriers women human rights advocates face in their professional advancement. Over the course of the year, they will interview a variety of practitioners to provide qualitative evidence to support their findings.

Sharma, who is also a member of Farbstein’s project team, said that engaging with the movement on a self-referential level was vital. She noted that the way lawyers jump to find remedies can often lead to institutional and systemic problems.

Reflecting on the larger importance of the clinical project, Sharma said, “Sometimes in human rights, there is an idea that you sacrifice yourself to the work. Things get lost in the drive to fulfill the mission. It’s important to take a good look and ask, ‘Do organizations practice as they preach?’ I really believe that if you make an atmosphere supportive and encourage diversity of thought, then the work itself will be better.”

The clinical team has already identified factors that may impede gender equity in the human rights field—from the tightly-knit network of practitioners and organizations, to the notion that this is already a progressive space, to a mission-driven “martyr” culture that fosters a sense of selfless dedication to the cause. These initial ideas have, in turn, found their way into the classroom as students consider such obstacles as well as potential strategies to overcome them.

Farbstein hopes that her seminar will help students imagine the kinds of leaders they want to become. “Human rights practitioners talk a lot about how to make the movement more effective and inclusive, but this class is a very concrete step in the right direction,” she said. “These students are each going to be leaders in their own way, and I can already see our conversations informing their decisions and actions. Hopefully they will be inspired, and also better equipped, to create more opportunities for women leaders in human rights, and in the legal profession more broadly.”

You can also read this piece on Harvard Law Today, published December 3rd, 2019.

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December 3, 2019

2020 HRP Summer Fellowship Application Now Open

Summer fellowships for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School (HLS) human rights experience and provide rich professional, personal, and intellectual opportunities. Many students and alumni/ae who are committed to human rights were introduced to the field through an internship. Interns work for at least eight weeks with nongovernmental or intergovernmental organizations concerned with human rights, exclusively outside the United States.

The Summer 2020 application is NOW OPEN to returning JDs or SJDs at HLS. Learn more about the process on our Application Timeline webpage and apply online via this application form.

Last summer, students had a range of experiences across the globe, from studying human rights-based climate change litigation at Amnesty International in London to working with community lawyers on indigenous rights for the NGO Colectivo Emancipaciones in México. Over the next couple months, HRP will be showcasing 2019 summer fellows with excerpts from their final reports. Follow along at our blog and email hrp@law.harvard.edu with any questions.

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