April 6, 2021

Court Upholds $10 Million Judgment Against Bolivian Leaders for 2003 Massacre


April 6, 2021, Miami — Yesterday, a federal judge rejected an attempt by Bolivia’s former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, to vacate a $10 million damages award against them for the massacre of unarmed Indigenous people in 2003. A jury found the former officials liable under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) in April 2018, after a month-long trial that included six days of jury deliberations. The trial marked the first time in US history that a former head of state sat before his accusers in a US human rights trial. In an unusual move, a month later the trial court set aside the jury verdict and entered its own judgment holding the defendants not liable based on insufficient evidence. In August, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The defendants filed a second motion to vacate the jury verdict and damages award. Yesterday, on April 5, 2021, the trial court rejected that request. 

“This news brings me so much happiness,” said Hernan Apaza , whose sister Roxana was killed by Bolivian soldiers in 2003. “We held on to hope for so many years despite so many obstacles for justice. Finally, those who committed these egregious crimes will be held accountable. “

In September and October 2003, acting under the authority of Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, the Bolivian military killed 58 of its own citizens and injured more than 400, almost all of them from indigenous communities, during a period of civil unrest known as the “Gas War.” Among those killed were an eight-year-old girl, a pregnant woman (whose fetus also died), and elderly people. After the massacre, Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín fled to the United States, where they have lived since. Former military commanders and government officials who acted under the authority of the two men were convicted in Bolivia in 2011 for their roles in the killings. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín were indicted in the same case but could not be tried in absentia under Bolivian law.

The appellate court held that plaintiffs provided sufficient evidence that “soldiers deliberately fired deadly shots with measured awareness that they would mortally wound civilians who posed no risk of danger. None of the decedents were armed, nor was there evidence that they posed a threat to the soldiers. Many were shot while they were inside a home or in a building. Others were shot while they were hiding or fleeing. ” The appellate court vacated the lower court’s judgment and remanded the case to the district court to decide whether the jury verdict should be reinstated under the proper standard. 

Yesterday, the district court ruled in favor of family members of those killed in the massacre, reinstating the $ 10 million jury verdict. The court held that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence that the deaths constituted “extrajudicial killings” under international law and that the defendants were responsible for those killings under the doctrine of command responsibility. The appellate court had also ordered a new trial on plaintiffs’ related wrongful death claims, because the district court had abused its discretion in admitting certain evidence that was favorable to the defendants. The trial on those wrongful death claims is pending.

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April 5, 2021

In Memoriam: Christof Heyns


Christof Heyns, a towering figure in the human rights community, passed away on March 28, 2021. Professor Heyns was Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria. In 2012, he was one year into his term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, when he came to HRP as a Visiting Fellow. He focused his research on the legal framework concerning the death penalty, the use of force by the police during demonstrations, and armed drones; he contributed immensely to the intellectual life of the university.

Professor Heyns touched many lives — at HLS and beyond. Past and current members of HRP who knew or worked closely with him pay tribute below.

As a Human Rights Program Visiting Fellow in 2012, Christof Heyns helped organize and spoke at, “The Death Penalty: Hanging by a Thread?” Heyns, who was U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions at the time, center, speaks as Lloyd Barnett, Member of the Inter-American Inst. on Human Rights, left, and Juan Mendez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, right, look on. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
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March 30, 2021

HRP Hiring Academic Program Associate Director


The academic program of the Human Rights Program (HRP) at Harvard Law School (HLS) is seeking an Associate Director who will play the lead managerial role in innovating, implementing, and overseeing the program’s daily operations and all activities. The Associate Director, in partnership with the Faculty Director, will establish and execute the program’s strategic vision and plans. Please apply via HLS Human Resources.

Job-Specific Responsibilities


As an Associate Director, you will: 

– Assume primary responsibility for management functions, including strategic communications, personnel management, fundraising and development, and financial oversight and management
– Manage the program’s activities, including a speaker series, planning conferences, directing the visiting fellows program, and overseeing the summer, winter, and post-graduate fellowships;
– Advise students and internal and external communications, including developing content for the website and social media as well as engaging as a liaison with other parts of HLS and the University;
– Supervise the Program and Communications Coordinator, who provides support on all of the above activities and operations, including bookkeeping and administrative responsibilities; and
– Contribute substantively to the program’s activities, which may include research, publishing, and convenings on topics of interest to the Associate Director.

Basic Qualifications


Bachelor’s degree with 8 or more years’ experience in international human rights as an academic or practitioner, as well as supervisory and management experience.Candidates holding a JD will be considered with 5 or more years’ experience in the field.

Additional Qualifications and Skills


We are looking for people who have: 

– A solid foundation of executive management experience, that includes strategic planning and development oversight;
– Strong organizational, interpersonal, and communications skills, along with the ability to supervise staff;
– Exceptional research and writing skills, along with knowledge of NGOs; and 
– Work experience outside of the United States and competence in one or more languages in addition to English is a plus.

Please apply via the HLS Human Resources page.

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March 24, 2021

Clinic, Stimson Center publication provides guidance on arms exports and preventing gender-based violence

Posted by Zarko Perovic JD'22 and Anna Crowe

Today, the Clinic launched a new publication on arms exports, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and gender-based violence (GBV) with the Stimson Center. The publication contains a questionnaire and explanatory guide that aims to help governments screen arms exports for those that could contribute to GBV, an assessment the ATT requires. The publication builds on the Clinic’s prior work in this area with the NGO Control Arms, including advocacy, trainings with export officials, and authoring interpretive guidance on human rights law, GBV, and the ATT.

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March 24, 2021

An Academic Home for a Global Mandate: UN Expert Mentors Harvard Students, Promotes LGBT Rights

Posted by Dana Walters

Internationally, Victor Madrigal-Borloz is known as a determined advocate for the rights of LGBT individuals. As the United Nations Independent Expert on the protection from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), his mandate comes directly from the UN Human Rights Council. Through thematic reports, official country visits, keynote speeches, and behind-the-scenes organizing and advocacy, he diligently works to promote a rights-respecting reality for LGBT individuals.

At Harvard Law School, where Madrigal-Borloz has spent the past two years as the Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher with the Human Rights Program (HRP) and has hired research assistants from across the University to aid him in his work, he has undertaken another role: mentor.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz stands in front of a podium in Wasserstein Hall. He wears a suit and tie and is speaking. He stands in front of a chalkboard.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz first visited Harvard Law School in February 2019 to give a talk about his mandate.
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March 23, 2021

Condemning Anti-Asian and Pacific Islander Violence and Discrimination

Posted by International Human Rights Clinic Staff

Silence in the face of anti-Asian violence and discrimination is unacceptable. We in the International Human Rights Clinic are horrified by the killings, attacks, and harassment against Asians and Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent that have only multiplied during the pandemic. We condemn the escalation of violence and hate speech against Asian and AAPI people in our country, community, and the world.

The scapegoating, dehumanization, and stigmatization must stop, from our leaders on down. As human rights lawyers, we know that there is much work to be done to dismantle the systemic racism and impunity that undergirds acts of hate against Asian and AAPI people. We commit to doing our part to seeing change through, starting with employing contextual and intersectional approaches to human rights lawyering and teaching, as well as supporting our students as they experience or confront systemic inequity and racism.

Count us among those demanding racial justice. Acknowledging the role that each of us must play to make justice and equality a reality, we urge our community to join in action.

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March 18, 2021

When War Criminals Run the Government: Not Too Late for the International Community to Vet Sri Lankan Officials

Posted by Sondra Anton JD'22 and Tyler Giannini

(Editor’s Note: This is the latest in a series on the spotlight placed on allegations of war crimes and other abuses in Sri Lanka during the February 22 to March 23, 2021, session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The series includes voices from former U.N. officials, international NGOs, human rights litigators, and researchers. Find links to the full series, as installments are published, at the end of the first article, Spotlight on Sri Lanka as UN Human Rights Council Prepares Next Session.)

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s deliberations over yet another resolution on Sri Lanka this month has cast renewed attention on repeated failures to achieve any semblance of accountability for past atrocities, and on the deteriorating human rights situation over the past year following the return to power of accused war criminal Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president. The lack of accountability and concerns about future violations have rightfully received the bulk of the attention. But there is another question worth bringing to the fore – namely, how did an alleged war criminal return to power – and relatedly, should the human rights system have done more to prevent such individuals from taking official power again?

These inquiries are centered around the legal concepts known as “vetting” and “lustration,” and they deserve increased attention. It is not just the election of Rajapaksa. Since his return to power, after having served as the defense minister who commanded the violent final phase of the country’s decades-long war that killed countless civilians, he has appointed a slew of other compromised individuals who face “credible allegations” of international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Rajapaksa, for example, immediately appointed his brother, former wartime President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as prime minister, and named other relatives and family associates to top cabinet positions. The large number of individuals with credible allegations against them who now occupy top positions in the government raises concerns about militarization of the government. It also all but eliminates any chance that those who suffered violations will obtain justice in the near term for the crimes committed against them.

The appointments involve so many high-level positions that they have even been described by Yasmin Sooka from the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) as “amount[ing] to a coup by stealth.” And had efforts to vet or ban alleged war criminals from public service been robustly in place, Sri Lanka would likely look very different today.

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March 16, 2021

WATCH: The Impact of COVID-19 on LGBT Persons Webinar


In his recent report to the United Nations General Assembly, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, addressed the particular impact of COVID-19 on LGBT persons, communities, and populations, highlighting social exclusion and violence, as well as institutional drivers of stigma and discrimination. Madrigal-Borloz, who is also the Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher at the Human Rights Program, joined HRP on February 18, 2021, for a discussion of his findings, which also includes recommendations and identifies good practices aimed at creating a COVID-19 response and recovery free from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This event was organized by the Human Rights Program and co-sponsored by the HLS LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics.

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March 11, 2021

Rayhan Asat LLM’16: Her Brother’s Keeper


HLS Advocates for Human Rights is proud to present the Spotlight Series, a forum for essays and opinion pieces written by Harvard Law School students and alumni calling attention to pressing domestic and international human rights issues. If you are a Harvard Law student or alumnus/a and would like to contribute a piece to Spotlights, please contact Sondra Anton ([email protected]) or Ikram Ais ([email protected]). 

The views and opinions expressed in Spotlight pieces are those of the authors or interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HLS Advocates for Human Rights, the International Human Rights Clinic, or the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.


On March 9, 2020, HLS Advocates for Human Rights hosted “Surveilled, Detained, Disappeared: Repression in Xinjiang,” a panel discussion on the oppression of Uyghur and other Turkic and Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region.  At the event, Rayhan Asat (LLM ‘16), the first Harvard Law School graduate of Uyghur origin, shared publicly for the first time that her brother, Ekpar Asat, had been forcibly disappeared after returning to China from a U.S. State Department-sponsored trip to Washington, D.C as part of the International Visiting Leaders Program (IVLP).

Rayhan was in the final weeks of her LLM program at HLS when Ekpar came to the United States to participate in the IVLP.  Ekpar visited her during this trip and promised her that he’d be back in a few months’ time to attend her graduation ceremony with their parents.  Unfortunately, that was the last time that Rayhan saw her brother.  Her parents canceled their trip to the U.S., and she never heard from Ekpar again. Nearly four years later, Rayhan learned that her brother had been sentenced by the Chinese government to fifteen years in prison for “inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination,” despite Ekpar’s track record of “continuous effort in cultivating ethnic harmony, and greater understanding between the Han and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang Province of China.”

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March 10, 2021

In Memoriam: Gustave Hauser JD ’53


Gustave Hauser JD ’53 passed away on February 14, 2021. Along with his spouse, renowned international lawyer Rita E. Hauser JD ’58, he has been a constant friend of the Human Rights Program. Gustave Hauser was a pioneer in the communications industry, particularly cable television. Rita Hauser served as US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, and she currently chairs the Advisory Board of the International Crisis Group. Together, they have been dedicated supporters of the Law School and the University, and their generous philanthropy has been fundamental to HRP. In sadness, and with deep appreciation we are grateful for being part of their extraordinary life together.

Read HLS’s tribute to Gustave Hauser at Harvard Law Today.

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