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July 21, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: The Tatmadaw Must Be Hit Where it Hurts – Its Wallet

Posted by Chris Sidoti

(Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Just Security series on the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The series brings together expert local and international voices on the coup and its broader context. The series is a collaboration between Just Security and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.This post first appeared on Just Security on July 14, 2021.) 

The Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military that tried to seize outright power in an illegal coup in February, has to be one of the world’s most incompetent armed forces. Since its first coup in the early 1960s, it has turned one of the richest countries in Asia – with a GDP several times higher than some of its neighbours – into what is fast becoming a failed state.

The military has spent decades ruining Myanmar’s institutions and economy, while committing atrocities at will (in conflicts it is mostly losing), including leading genocidal persecution of the Rohingya minority. The army leadership is known to operate by its own baffling internal logic, where numerology and soothsayers are often key to decision making.

We have watched in anguish as security forces killed more than 900 civilians in under six months since the coup began. How can you convince a junta that is as ruthless as it is utterly irrational to abandon its murderous, disastrous policies? Appeals and ultimatums from leaders around the world have had no impact so far. There is, however, something even the Tatmadaw understands: money.

The Myanmar military is a multibillion-dollar enterprise. It has placed itself at the center of the country’s economy through a complex web of commercial interests, which include military-linked businesses and subsidiaries and private crony companies in everything from beer to precious stones. And now, since the coup, it has got its hands on state-owned enterprises too.

Two conglomerates – the Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) – are at the heart of much of this activity. MEHL and MEC, which were both established explicitly to support the military, own over 100 businesses and are affiliated to another 27 companies through corporate structures. The revenue they generate has not only sustained the Tatmadaw’s grip on power. It has also shielded it from scrutiny as it commits atrocity crimes with impunity. In 2019, a U.N. investigation – which I co-led – found that any foreign government or business with commercial links to these companies is at best morally complicit in the Tatmadaw’s crimes, and in some cases even legally so.

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July 14, 2021

Implementing Victim Assistance, Environmental Remediation under Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

In six months, countries that have joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons are scheduled to convene in Vienna for their First Meeting of States Parties (1MSP). That meeting will provide an important opportunity for states parties to begin the process of implementing the treaty’s legal provisions. Given the humanitarian nature of the instrument, they should pay particular attention to Articles 6 and 7, which oblige states parties to assist individuals and remediate the environment affected by past nuclear weapons use and testing.

To help states parties prepare for the 1MSP, the International Human Rights Clinic has released two new fact sheets on implementing victim assistance and environmental remediation under the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons. The fact sheets:

  • Recommend measures states parties should commit to at the 1MSP,
  • Lay out frameworks to guide victim assistance and environmental remediation over time,
  • Provide information on nuclear weapons use and testing and their human and environmental consequences, and
  • Offer lists of resources for further reading.

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July 12, 2021

Testing the Water: Using ‘OPERA’ to Assess How the Right to Water in India Is Protected in a Changing Climate

Posted by Laura Bach

Editor’s Note: This blog was first published by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR). It highlights research being conducted by the Clinic and its partners using ‘OPERA’, an analytical tool developed to aid advocates monitoring progress on economic and social rights. 

As a second-year law student enrolled this spring in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, I joined a team of four focused on analyzing the Indian government’s obligation under international human rights law to ensure equal enjoyment of the right to water by all. Although we were working in partnership with CESR and Nazdeek, a Delhi-based legal empowerment organization—two groups well acquainted with issues of socio-economic rights—the prospect of assessing these rights in the context of climate change felt overwhelming.  

What, specifically, must a government do to meet its human rights obligations? What should be made of government inaction? Is the standard the same for all countries? A related thread followed shortly after that inquiry: Does climate change and its impact on water change this calculus? As someone who went to law school in part as a result of being, well, bad at science, this line of questioning was beyond my comfort zone!       

Luckily for me, CESR’s OPERA framework served as a useful guide, shepherding my team’s research while ensuring we had the flexibility to set many of our own parameters. OPERA—which stands for Outcomes, Policy Efforts, Resources, and Assessment—helps answer exactly these kinds of questions. Grouping them around four dimensions, it prompts researchers to gather information corresponding with the human rights standards in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).  

A team begins by assessing the human rights outcomes experienced by residents of a country. This stage asks: From the perspective of rights holders, what is wrong or problematic? In Delhi, for example, water available for domestic purposes like drinking and cooking is variable, with most populations having water for a few hours a day. Water is less available to certain communities, like those living in informal settlements, who are not connected to pipes and must rely on tanker trucks, community taps or wells, which provide an irregular supply of water that is more expensive. The effects of climate change, such as increases in temperaturehigh-intensity rainstormsfloods, and droughts, further reduce water availability. It is diminishing the levels of water in municipal reservoirs and contaminating surface and groundwater sources. It can also make the resource more costly, because that reduced supply meets increased demand as temperatures continue to rise.  

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June 17, 2021

The Myanmar Puzzle: Thinking through Sanctions and Support

The International Human Rights Clinic was pleased to co-sponsor an event in the Asia Center’s Asia: Beyond the Headlines event series on, “The Myanmar Puzzle: Thinking through Sanctions and Support.” We were joined by panelists:

Moe Thuzar, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, National University of Singapore Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences; Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

Kelley Currie, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program, Center for a New American Security; former  U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and the U.S. Representative at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch

The event was moderated by James Robson, James C. Kralik and Yunli Lou Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations; Victor and William Fung Director of the Harvard University Asia Center.

Panelists discussed the ASEAN response to the coup, what the international community can do to support democracy in Myanmar, and how economic sanctions could impact the Myanmar military.

The Clinic has also been co-sponsoring a series with Just Security exploring the implications of the coup in Myanmar. Read all the posts in our Beyond the Myanmar coup series.

June 17, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: Don’t Let the Light of Education Be Extinguished

Posted by Soe San

(Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Just Security series on the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The series brings together expert local and international voices on the coup and its broader context. The series is a collaboration between Just Security and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. This post first appeared on Just Security on June 16, 2021). 

Just over a year ago, the National League for Democracy (NLD) government in Myanmar was in the midst of instituting fundamental changes to a previously lifeless education system. It foreshadowed a new era for students in Myanmar. In the preceding decades, military rule had undermined any innovation in schooling. Military leaders’ fear of student-led uprisings repeatedly resulted in draconian policies, including the closing or relocation of universities outside the cities, strict control of curricula, and the shortening of the academic year. Part of the NLD’s plan to continue to revamp education also offered a move away from an antiquated system of rote learning. The reforms were encouraging schools and universities to instead adopt student-centered teaching models and focus on elevating critical and independent thinking.

Echoing experiences felt across the globe, the COVID pandemic brought abrupt and unforeseen challenges to the NLD government’s education agenda, however. And like so many others, the NLD adapted—for example, as large class sizes prevented the full reopening of schools, the government laid the foundation for virtual learning around the country. Alongside high hopes for the vaccine rollout in Myanmar, the school bell was waiting to welcome back students and teachers for the 2021 school year and usher in the reforms that the government had been planning.

This cautious optimism came to a grinding halt when Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar military, staged a coup d’état on Feb. 1, 2021. The coup has had an undeniable impact on every part of society in Myanmar. The education arena has been no different. For students and teachers, it has meant grave interruptions to what was an already a difficult year for schooling. From contested reopening plans to internet outages and the reemergence of ethnic violence, the fear of backtracking to an educational system that hampered Myanmar’s students for decades affects all involved in education. The chaos of the ongoing struggle for power threatens learning outcomes for a whole generation of Myanmar’s youth, while also undermining the careers of thousands of teachers and professors. To ensure the welfare of our students and teachers, we must not lose sight of the important developments undertaken by the NLD government and continue both foreign and domestic investment in education. We must not let the light of hope that comes with education be extinguished.

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June 11, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: The Views of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Posted by Jessica Olney and Shabbir Ahmad

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Just Security series on the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The series brings together expert local and international voices on the coup and its broader context. The series is a collaboration between Just Security and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. This article was first posted to Just Security on June 10, 2021).

This installment reflects conversations with Rohingya residents of refugee camps in Bangladesh about the coup in Myanmar. Camp residents’ views were collected by Shabbir Ahmad and other members of a team of Rohingya researchers during a recent community feedback collection project. The opinions expressed here are the views of the authors and camp residents, not those of any institution with which the authors are affiliated.


The Rohingya community of Myanmar has been isolated and persecuted for decades, leading to waves of mass displacement, isolation, and resistance. The situation of the Rohingya deteriorated further into crisis after the National League for Democracy (NLD) took power in 2015, starting with a 2016 crackdown and culminating in the massive 2017 violence that displaced over 700,000 people.

Refugees in Bangladesh believe the situation could worsen even further under the current junta, creating new risks for the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar and indefinitely delaying any prospect of a safe repatriation for those displaced. According to one camp resident: “The democratic government didn’t do well for us Rohingya. However, the current conditions will be even worse for us, and maybe for everyone in Myanmar.” According to another, “We Rohingya people don’t expect anything positive to come from the military coup. We know very well that the Myanmar Army is merciless and doesn’t feel afraid of committing injustice.” The greatest fear for many camp residents is that repatriation at a large scale will be impossible as long as Myanmar remains under the control of the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw. In recent comments, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing affirmed these concerns, reiterating once again that the Tatmadaw does not recognize the identity of the Rohingya people or their right to return home. As long as the junta remains in place, there is little possibility of forging solutions to the outstanding political, legal, and justice questions surrounding the Rohingya crisis.

But there is another dimension of the coup in which an unanticipated, positive change has emerged: There has been a wave of social and political reconciliation between Rohingya and other Myanmar people. Though the situation remains formidable both for Rohingya in Myanmar and for those who seek to return from Bangladesh, certain social and political fault lines that have been present throughout Myanmar’s recent history seem to be shifting.

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June 9, 2021

Harvard Human Rights Journal on Indirect Discrimination and Religion

Grounded in an April 2020 symposium hosted by the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, the latest issue of the Harvard Human Rights Journal focuses on indirect discrimination on the basis of religion. HHRJ’s Volume 34, Issue 2 (Summer 2021) invited scholars who attended the private workshop to explore the concept in more detail, exploring issues in a comparative and international manner. The April event was hosted by Gerald Neuman, HRP Director and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School, who also contributed an essay to the journal on the “normative background to prohibitions on indirect discrimination” and “the current state of indirect discrimination law domestically and internationally.”

Other essays in the series explore the nuances between indirect discrimination and reasonable accommodation, the inclusion of religion in public education to promote tolerance, and the difference between the right to freedom of religion and the right against religious discrimination. Expert contributors included Tarun Khaitan, Professor of Public Law and Legal Theory at Wadham College, Oxford University; Rashad Ibadov, Assistant Professor of Law at the School of Public and International Affairs, ADA University, and a former HRP Visiting Fellow; and Sarah Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights at Columbia Law School; among others.

Two commentaries round out the issue. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher and Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, spoke to how the theory of indirect discrimination might be applied to the lived realities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and other gender diverse (LGBT) persons; and Yuval Shany, Hersch Lauterpacht Chair in Public International Law at Hebrew University, wrote about the choices made by national and international human rights bodies in employing guarantees of religious freedom and prohibitions of indirect discrimination as alternative bases of protection.

Read the full issue on the HHRJ website.

For the last two years, HRP has hosted three private workshops focused on indirect discrimination and other factors. Most recently, workshops explored indirect discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) and indirect discrimination arising from the pandemic, with a discrete focus on SOGI.

Learn more about the 2020-2021 workshops here.

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June 9, 2021

IHRC Issues Statement on Haiti’s Constitutional Referendum

The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, NYU’s Global Justice Clinic, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School issued a statement on June 8, 2021, calling on the U.S. government to heed civil society’s demand and cancel the planned constitutional referendum in Haiti. The referendum, which will ask Haitian people to vote “yes” or “no” on a new Constitution, is illegal. It is the most recent, bold effort by President Jovenel Moïse to consolidate power and comes on the heels of dozens of presidential decrees that undermine checks on the executive. Haitian civil society has widely denounced the referendum, noting its illegality and emphasizing the impossibility of holding a vote under the current administration. International actors are increasingly recognizing the illegitimacy of the referendum, and the danger to democracy that it poses.  However, continued technical support and provision of aid to the government of Haiti to hold elections means that international actors, including the United States government, are tacitly supporting the unconstitutional vote. With long experience working in solidarity with Haitian civil society, and building off our February statement, the clinics urge the U.S. government to urgently and publicly call to cancel the referendum.

Read the statement in English.

Read the full statement in Kreyòl.

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June 7, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: The Emerging New Politics of Gen Z

Posted by Saw Kapi

(Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Just Security series on the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The series brings together expert local and international voices on the coup and its broader context. The series is a collaboration between Just Security and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. This article was first published on June 3, 2021.)

From the terrible situation that has followed the Myanmar military’s attempt to seize power on Feb. 1 has arisen a new politics – one that the country has never seen before and one that has emerged thanks to the younger generation, Generation Z. In fact, the military’s attempt to take over power and the subsequent atrocities committed by the Tatmadaw soldiers have changed not only Myanmar’s political landscape but fundamentally transformed its political psyche.

Young people and their drive have moved the country beyond the conventional framework articulated by many in the generation before them. Gen Z has shown a willingness to seek solutions during this historic moment that not only resist the Tatmadaw (the official name of Myanmar’s military) but articulate an inclusive political vision for the country. With this generation’s leadership, there has been an unprecedented level of political awareness inside the country on two fronts: why the different ethnic nationalities have been struggling for decades for a more democratic society in a federal political framework – accompanied simultaneously by the collective acceptance among the various political forces that Myanmar’s military is the chief barrier to peace and stability in the country. These developments represent a seismic shift in political views across society.

The country and the international community have recognized the leadership Gen Z has given to the movement, and this should continue. Given that the youth, rather than the politicians, were the ones who organized themselves and the early days of protests, any political leadership in this movement should include Gen Z and the new political thinking of these young people. And any support for the movement, either from the international community or domestic sources, should invest in further developing Gen Z’s leadership aptitude.

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June 4, 2021

HRP Awards 2021 Post-Graduate and Summer Fellowships

The Human Rights Program is pleased to present recipients of its 2021-2022 post-graduate and 2021 summer fellowships. This year, we have awarded Satter Human Rights Fellowships to three remarkable 2021 Harvard Law School graduates: Brooke Davies JD’21, Emily Ray JD’21, and María Daniela Díaz Villamil LLM’21. Made possible by a generous gift by Muneer A. Satter JD’87, this 12-month post-graduate fellowship is designed to support and promote human rights defense in response to mass atrocity or widespread and severe patterns of rights abuse.

Two current Harvard Law School students — Amre Metwally JD’22 and Kirin Gupta — will also undertake summer internships in human rights with funding from HRP. As guidance from Harvard University evolves and the world continues to reckon with the pandemic, summer fellowships will be undertaken remotely. Learn more about our post-graduate and summer fellowship recipients below.

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