December 2, 2020

Incendiary Weapons Through a Humanitarian Disarmament Lens

Posted by Erin Shortell JD'21

On August 26, 2013, 18-year-old Muhammed Assi stood in the courtyard of a Syrian school talking with five classmates. Suddenly, an incendiary bomb landed in the middle of the group of students, immediately killing all but Muhammed.

“The intensity of the explosion threw me a distance of about three to four meters from where the missile struck,” Muhammed said. “We were surrounded by the fire. I used my hands to hit my head to try to snuff out the fire.” Other students screamed in horror, many badly burned and calling out for help, and dead bodies lay in the schoolyard. Muhammed recalled, “Time seems to stop when these things happen to you… [W]ords can’t describe my feelings, but I saw the fire completely surrounding me from everywhere, and when the breeze blew, it fed oxygen into the incendiary substance and made it burn even stronger.”

In a new report entitled, “They Burn Through Everything”: The Human Cost of Incendiary Weapons and the Limits of International Law, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) detail the human suffering inflicted by incendiary weapons. These weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. Protocol III to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) imposes some restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, but it has failed to adequately protect civilians like Muhammed. While CCW states parties have expressed concerns about the use of incendiary weapons for years, the report urges them to formalize these discussions at their Review Conference next year and to strengthen Protocol III.

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December 1, 2020

Supreme Court Hears Case on Child Slavery in Cocoa Industry


Clinic Submits Amicus Curiae Brief on Behalf of Legal Historians


Today, Dec. 1, the Supreme Court of the United States hears oral arguments in a pair of corporate human rights cases against U.S. based chocolate companies Nestlé and Cargill for their role in aiding and abetting child slavery in West Africa. The plaintiffs, six survivors of kidnapping, trafficking, and forced labor, make use of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a provision of the First Judiciary Act of 1789 that allows foreign nationals to pursue accountability for law of nations violations in U.S. Courts. In examining the cases, the Supreme Court will consider the question of corporate liability under the ATS for the third time – this time focusing on whether or not the ATS permits cases against U.S. domestic corporations at all.

In October, the International Human Rights Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of legal historians in the case against the chocolate companies. The brief includes newly uncovered historical documents from George Washington’s first administration which clearly demonstrate how the founders intended the ATS to apply to violations committed by U.S. subjects. The documents include an opinion by Thomas Jefferson and affirm that the ATS was intended for the very purpose at issue in the current cases: to provide options for redress to foreign nationals whose rights have been violated by U.S. subjects.

A clinical team – Emily Ray JD’21, Jasmine Shin JD’21, Allison Beeman JD’22, and Zarka Shabir JD’22 – under the supervision of Tyler Giannini, Clinic Co-Director worked with the amici on the brief. Amici on the brief were Professors Barbara Aronstein Black, Nikolas Bowie, William R. Casto, Martin S. Flaherty, David Golove, Eliga H. Gould, Stanley N. Katz, Samuel Moyn, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.

The International Human Rights Clinic staff have played a major role in ATS litigation for decades, including in landmark corporate cases such as Doe v. Unocal and Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. Since 1980, the law has been a critical means of holding perpetrators accountable for abuses such as extrajudicial killing, torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity when redress might otherwise be unavailable elsewhere. Still, in recent years, the law has been curtailed and challenged.

You can listen to the oral argument here.

Learn more about the case in the Nestlé & Cargill v. Doe symposium on Just Security and the case preview on SCOTUSblog. Read about all eighteen amicus briefs filed in support of the survivors of child trafficking on the Corporate Accountability Lab’s blog, and dive into Daniel Golove’s article exploring the significance of the new evidence the Clinic relied on in its brief supporting plaintiffs.

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November 16, 2020

Training the next generation of international women’s rights advocates

Posted by Dana Walters

Six women sit around a table smiling for the camera. They are in professional attire and working on computers.
In Fall 2017, Waheedi traveled with a student team to Geneva to work with activists on advocating for women’s rights at the international level. From left to right: Hyshyama Hamin, Robin Tholin ‘19, Sarah Marsso, Salomé Gómez Upegui, Zainah Anwar, and Waheedi.

Since joining Harvard Law School, Salma Waheedi, a clinical instructor and lecturer on law in the International Human Rights Clinic, has devoted a major part of her teaching and clinical legal practice to training students to become effective international women’s rights advocates. A native of Bahrain and a U.S.-trained attorney with a background in constitutional and Islamic Law, Waheedi has led advocacy and social justice-oriented legal projects in partnership with women’s rights activists in Muslim communities. To change the lived experiences of women most acutely, Waheedi and her partners have focused on family law reform.

A woman with curly hair and a green shirt poses for a head shot.
Salma Waheedi joined Harvard Law School in 2016 as a joint fellow in Islamic Legal Studies and the International Human Rights Clinic. Today, she is a clinical instructor and lecturer in law in the International Human Rights Clinic and associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World.

Salma Waheedi joined Harvard Law School in 2016 as a joint fellow in Islamic Legal Studies and the International Human Rights Clinic. Today, she is a clinical instructor and lecturer in law in the International Human Rights Clinic and associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World.

“Despite its huge impact on women’s lives, it’s an area that receives relatively little attention in human rights circles,” Waheedi said. “We are talking about a system of laws that govern all aspects of women’s private lives, including marriage, divorce, child custody, matrimonial property, inheritance, as well as freedom of movement and work and protection from violence.”

Advocating for family law reform in Muslim legal contexts presents a unique set of challenges and sensitivities. In the majority of Muslim legal systems, Shari’a—Islamic Law—is a part of the constitutional order and often forms the foundation of Muslim family laws. Many of these laws are based on interpretations that entrench gender-based discrimination and fail to protect women’s rights in the family sphere.

Waheedi’s practice focuses on lending legal support to women’s rights advocates working with their local communities, as well as international coalitions working to foster cross-regional collaborations. One key example is Musawah, a global movement advocating for justice and equality in the Muslim family. Musawah takes strong positions against child marriage, forced marriage, and polygamy and calls for equality in spousal rights, custody rights, access to divorce, and inheritance rights. It advocates for these changes through a holistic framework that integrates progressive Islamic legal interpretations, human rights principles, local constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, and the lived experiences of Muslim women.

“Many current legal provisions are no longer tenable given the lived realities of Muslim women today,” Waheedi said. “Muslim feminist scholarship aims to create a paradigm shift by emphasizing the need to return to the core principles of the Quran, such as justice, equality, and dignity for all, as a basis for an alternative rights-based reading of Islamic legal sources that responds to the contemporary needs of the Muslim family.”

To help conceptualize current reforms and outdated laws, Musawah and Waheedi’s student teams have put together a comprehensive Muslim family law mapping project. The project is a resource for researchers and academics to look comparatively across 31 countries with Muslim majorities or minorities. Importantly, the initiative also outlines positive developments for women’s rights in the Muslim world, celebrating successes, as well as marking lessons for how to continue to advocate for change.

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November 9, 2020

Incendiary Weapons: Human Cost Demands Stronger Law

Clinic, HRW Argue Legal Loopholes Must Close to Prevent Further Civilian Suffering

(Geneva) – The horrific burns and life-long suffering caused by incendiary weapons demand that governments urgently revise existing treaty standards, Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic said in a report jointly published today.

The 45-page report, “‘They Burn Through Everything’: The Human Cost of Incendiary Weapons and the Limits of International Law,” details the immediate injuries and lasting physical, psychological, and socioeconomic harm of incendiary weapons, including white phosphorus, used by parties to recent conflicts. Countries should revisit and strengthen the international treaty governing these weapons, which burn people and set civilian structures and property on fire, Human Rights Watch concluded.

“While victims endure the cruel effects of incendiary weapons, countries endlessly debate whether even to hold formal discussions on the weapons,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch and associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at the International Human Rights Clinic. “Countries should recognize the long-term suffering of survivors by addressing the shortcomings of existing international law.”

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November 4, 2020

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity UN Mandate: Virtual Consultation on 2021-2023 Work-Plan

Individuals sit around a U-shaped conference table speaking.

The UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (IE SOGI) will convene an open consultation with State and non-State stakeholders to consolidate the mandate’s approaches and priorities for the remainder of the IE SOGI’s tenure. This consultation will serve as the main channel through which the IE SOGI will collect views and inputs to inform the preparation of his work plan for 2021-2023.

The consultation will start with a general segment during which the IE SOGI will introduce his draft work plan. Thereafter, participants will be invited to present their views and provide inputs to the discussion.

The online consultation will take place through the Zoom platform, on Friday, November 20 at 15:00 – 18:00 (CET) / 09:00 – 12:00 (EST). Registration is required to attend the meeting.

Guiding Questions for the Consultation:

The following questions may guide contributions from participants at the consultation:

  1. Are the narratives of impact depicted in the document an adequate portrayal of the mandate’s added value?

  2. Does the document include all necessary dimensions, principles and approaches necessary to ensure an intersectional, balanced and inclusive programme for the mandate?

  3. Are the thematic priorities identified in the document duly reflective of the best added value by the mandate to all stakeholders in their work of addressing violence and discrimination based on SOGI?

  4. As currently planned, are the activities and products an adequate response to the needs of stakeholders? Should different activities and products be considered?

  5. The document includes certain commitments of interacting with global processes (v.g., Beijing + 20). Are there any other global, regional, or local processes the interaction with which should be included in the document as well?

The consultation will be open to States, UN agencies, programmes and funds, regional human rights mechanisms, National Human Rights Institutions, members of civil society organizations, academic institutions, corporate entities, and all other interested stakeholders. The consultation will be held in English.

Read the Draft Work Plan under consultation at this link.

Register now to attend the virtual consultation!

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October 29, 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on LGBT persons: online launch

UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz to provide public highlights from report to UN General Assembly

Six individuals of different races and ethnicities and genders wearing different colors are presented illustratively in a circle wearing masks.

Please scroll down for translation into French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (IE SOGI), presented his report on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBT persons to the UN General Assembly on Oct. 29, 2020.

On November 10 in a public webinar, he will present key findings of his report and engage in further conversation with all interested stakeholders on how to respond and recover from the pandemic. The event will take place on Zoom and be livestreamed to the IE SOGI’s Facebook page.

Check the starting time in your region and register now to attend one of the sessions:

The events will also feature UN representatives as guest speakers. After the presentations, there will be a Q&A (questions and answers) session with the audience for which participants will be able to submit questions through the moderator during the event.

Background:

This year, humankind faces an unprecedented global challenge, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities prevalent in all regions of the world. Since March, the IE SOGI has conducted extensive research and consultations with over 1,000 individuals from more than 100 countries, which led to the conclusion that COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on LGBT persons. During the event, he will present his key findings and discuss his recommendations to ensure that response and recovery from the pandemic adequately address the needs of LGBT persons, as we all aspire to build a better world.

You can download a summary of the report and the full report at the linked text below:

Disclaimer:

The mandate of the Independent Expert supports freedom of expression and opinion of the widest variety within a frame of mutual respect during its events. The mandate of the Independent Expert has a policy of zero tolerance for hate speech: a dedicated team will monitor comments and questions raised during the event. Hate speech will be filtered and participants responsible for it will be removed from the session.

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October 20, 2020

Killer Robots: Precedent for a Ban Treaty


Shared Concerns, Desire for Human Control Should Spur Regulation

A symbolic illustration of a man warding off a missile coming from a  person's mind.
(C) 2020 Brian Stauffer for Human Rights Watch.

(Washington, DC, October 20, 2020) – A treaty to ban fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” is essential and achievable, the International Human Rights Clinic said in a report released today.

The 25-page report, “New Weapons, Proven Precedent: Elements of and Models for a Treaty on Killer Robots,” outlines key elements for a future treaty to maintain meaningful human control over the use of force and prohibit weapons systems that operate without such control. It should consist of both positive obligations and prohibitions as well as elaborate on the components of “meaningful human control.”

“International law was written for humans, not machines, and needs to be strengthened to retain meaningful human control over the use of force,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. “A new international treaty is the only effective way to prevent the delegation of life-and-death decisions to machines.”

The report was co-published with Human Rights Watch, for which Docherty is senior arms researcher. HRW coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

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October 16, 2020

“Deep Shame Within the Ranks of UN Staff”

Assessing the UN’s Haiti Cholera Response 10 Years On

By Joey Bui JD’21

In 2010, a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission caused an outbreak of cholera in Haiti, resulting in the deaths of over 10,000 Haitians. On Oct 8, 2020, ten years after the outbreak began and amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, key experts joined the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School for a webinar to discuss the ongoing failure of the UN to adequately answer to Haitian victims and what lessons the rights organization should learn moving forward.

It was a rare occasion in which a UN official spoke publicly with Haitian and foreign advocates who have been extremely critical of the UN’s response. During the event, former UN officials provided an inside look at the UN’s failures in Haiti, and expressed shame about the UN’s response. The panel also identified key takeaways for the UN to adopt in order to prevent a repeat in the future.

The virtual panel, which was a part of Harvard Worldwide Week and was co-sponsored by seven different Harvard centers and groups, included Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian human rights lawyer at Bureau des Avocats Internationaux who has led efforts to seek justice for victims, as well as Haitian doctors who have worked on the frontlines of the outbreak, Dr. Inobert Pierre of St. Boniface Hospital and Dr. Marie Marcelle Deschamps of GHESKIO. Presenting perspectives from the UN were Josette Sheeran, the UN Special Envoy for Haiti; Andrew Gilmour, the former Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights; and Philip Alston, the former UN Special Rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights.

Eight individuals on zoom during a webinar.
From left to right, top: Beatrice Lindstrom, Philip Alston, Louise Ivers; Middle: Marie Deschamps, Mario Joseph, Andrew Gilmour; Bottom: Inobert Pierre, Josette Sheeran.
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October 13, 2020

Building Momentum: IHRC and ASP Launch Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Detention Settings

Posted by Zac Smith JD'21

Sexual violence is all too common in conflict and post-conflict settings, causing horrific physical and psychological damage and preventing peace building efforts. As recognized in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467 (2019), all individuals are at risk of sexual violence in conflict, and detention settings are a particular context of risk, especially for men and boys. 

Taking up Resolution 2467’s call to increase international attention and coordination on the issue, the All Survivors Project and the International Human Rights Clinic partnered to author the Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in Detention Settings. Drawing from existing sources of international law and authoritative guidance, the document’s ten principles and accompanying commentary outline the international community’s responsibility to prevent and respond to CRSV. 

A red cover with a yellow block illustrating a cage with humans sitting on bars.

On Wednesday October 7, academic experts, policy makers, and diplomats came together at a virtual side event to the UN Human Rights Council to officially launch the Principles and highlight their significance. (Watch a recording of the event here.) Moderator Lara Stemple, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies and International Student Programs and Director of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at UCLA School of Law, prefaced the conversation by underlining the driving motivation for the All Survivors Project’s work — including these principles — that “human rights protections must be afforded to all people, regardless of their individual characteristics.” Panelists included Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, who supervised the Clinic’s work on the project; HE Premila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict; Professor Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and  leader of a recently completed global study of children in detention; and Sophie Sutrich, Head of Addressing Sexual Violence for the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

The event began with opening remarks from representatives of three states that have championed CRSV prevention. Situating the place of the Principles in wider efforts to cultivate international peace and prosperity,Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland and Ambassador Peter C. Matt of Liechtenstein underlined their importance and timeliness. As Ambassador Lauber observed, “the Principles are clearly intended to be of practical use, as they contain specific recommendations for implementation.”Ambassador Tine Mørch Smith of Norway explained that “the physical hurt suffered from conflict related sexual violence does not discriminate between male and female victims.”She committed that CRSV prevention, including a focus on men and boys, would be a priority when Norway takes its seat as a non-permanent Security Council member in 2021.

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October 13, 2020

Godfrey Odongo Joins HRP As Visiting Fellow

The Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School is pleased to welcome Godfrey Odongo, Senior Program Officer with the Human Rights Program at the Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, a US-based private foundation, to join HRP as a Visiting Fellow this fall. With Harvard Law School continuing to operate remotely this year, Odongo will engage with the human rights community at Harvard Law School virtually. He will use his time as a visiting fellow to research the new frontiers of human rights advocacy and activism in the age of populism, the covid-19 pandemic and contemporary challenges to the legitimacy and effectiveness of human rights.

In his current role, Odongo manages funding portfolios for an ecosystem of key civil society and institutions advancing human rights norms in multiple contexts. He has previously served as a regional research expert on East Africa with Amnesty International; in a program advisory role with Save the Children-Sweden; and as a research fellow with the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights at the University of the Western Cape and at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. An advocate of the High Court of Kenya, he holds a doctorate in international human rights law from the University of the Western Cape, a master’s in law in human rights from the University of Pretoria, and a bachelor’s law degree from Moi University.

Odongo spoke with HRP about his work and what he hopes to achieve this semester as a Visiting Fellow.

A man wearing a gray suit and tie smiles against a gray background.

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