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January 4, 2021
Trusted to listen: Nicolette Waldman ’13 dedicates her career to documenting human rights violations
Posted by Dana Walters
After her first interview in Afghanistan, Nicolette Waldman ’13 realized she had found the career she was meant to pursue. It was the summer after her first year at Harvard Law School, and Waldman had a fellowship with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to research torture of conflict-related detainees. The man she was meeting had escaped from an Afghan prison. He had never been interviewed before, and she could tell he was nervous. A newly minted law student, she was nervous too.
“As the questions went on, he realized that he could lead and all I wanted to do was listen,” she said. “I had thought that interviewing was going to be more adversarial. But this was a shared process where we were both trying to get at what had happened to him. I felt like my role was to be a partner.”
Since graduating from HLS less than a decade ago, Waldman has, by now, interviewed hundreds of people. Some have survived the horrific abuses. Others have committed such abuses themselves. From death camps in Syria to conflicts in Gaza and Somalia, she has documented some of the worst moments of the last few decades. Still, she vividly recalls that first interview in Afghanistan, and how it set a course for her future trajectory.
“There’s something instinctual about knowing when your rights have been violated. It’s incredibly meaningful to sit across from someone and bear witness to their story and to have that individual trust you to tell that story to the world,” she said. “Human rights interviewing is a very niche type of documentation, but I think if it’s done right it can make survivors feel like they’re not alone,” she added.
Waldman (née Boehland) grew up in rural, northern Minnesota and studied English Literature and International Affairs at Lewis & Clark College. After college, she worked for Human Rights Watch and Save the Children. She realized that law school might give her the right tools to make the impact she sought, although it would be deeply difficult to take a step back from the world in which she had already immersed herself. The HLS International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) helped bridge that gap, allowing Waldman to work in the field, in post-conflict zones and under close supervision, as part of her legal education.Continue Reading…
March 12, 2019
In February 2019, OPIA Wasserstein Fellow Lillian Langford JD’13 spent a few days in residence at HLS, where she gave a talk co-sponsored by the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative on “Sustainable Justice: Lessons from Twenty Years of Domestic War Crimes Prosecutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina” (video linked in title) that reflected on her career and current role as Head of Rule of Law for the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
During law school, Lillian was an active member of the International Human Rights Clinic; after graduating, she was awarded a Henigson Fellowship in Human Rights. Following her recent visit to HLS, she spent a few moments reflecting to the Human Rights Program (HRP) on that experience, her career to date, and giving advice to future advocates interested in a path like hers. Read her Q&A below, and don’t forget to apply for the Henigson (and the Satter) Fellowships in Human Rights. Applications are due March 15! Continue Reading…
November 16, 2017
MSI Integrity, a non-profit organization that the International Human Rights Clinic helped to incubate, has released a comprehensive tool to evaluate multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs), which are voluntary efforts that bring together industry, civil society, and governments to fill governance gaps.
The MSI Evaluation Tool was developed collaboratively by MSI Integrity and the Clinic through a five-year process of extensive research, practical pilot-testing, and global consultation with the public and experts on MSIs. It provides a framework to evaluate multi-stakeholder initiatives and the effectiveness of their institutional design, structure, and operational procedures. The tool began as a clinical project, and was carried forward by Amelia Evans, LLM ’11, who went on to found the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity, or MSI Integrity.
May 26, 2017
Dear Class of 2017,
CONGRATULATIONS! You made it!
And you did it not just with intelligence, but with heart, which makes it all the better. So today, we send you off with two things: Gratitude, for all that you brought to our community, and hope, that you work with humility and heart to strengthen all the other communities you make your home.
We also want to send a special shout out to Mana Azarmi, who won the Outstanding Clinical Student Award from the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA). Our very own Kenna Graziano, Lan Mei, and Loren Voss won the Dean’s Award for Community Leadership. And to the many clinical students who gave more than 1,000 hours of pro bono work during their time at HLS: Sarah Abraham, Mana Azarmi, Roi Bachmutsky, Torrance Castellano, Laura Dismore, Roni Druks, Kenna Graziano, Kelsey Jost-Creegan, Alice Kim, Lan Mei, Michael Perloff, Silvia Ruiz, Leora Smith, Marin Tollefson, Daniel Traficonte, and Danielle Young.
And now, for scenes from our annual commencement party with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and the Food Law and Policy Clinic, with big thanks to Jordana, Gabbie and Katherine for organizing!
September 30, 2016
Alumni Perspective: “The Significance of the al-Mahdi Case and the War Crime of Destruction of Cultural Heritage”
Posted by Cara Solomon
Great work here by Danae Paterson, JD ’16, who co-authored this piece on a historic prosecution that goes right to the heart of cultural identity. The International Criminal Court has since sentenced Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a member of a jihadist group, to nine years in prison for his role in demolishing historic Muslim shrines in Timbuktu, Mali.
The piece, which Danae co-authored with Dr. Paul Williams, co-founder of the Public International Law & Policy Group, was originally published on The Huffington Post under the headline: “Tear it all down: The significance of the al-Mahdi case and the war crime of destruction of cultural heritage.” Danae is currently working as a Law Fellow with Public International Law & Policy Group’s Syria negotiations team.
“The best way to tear someone down is to tear down their culture, tear down everything that is important to them” – Witness MLI-OTP-P-0431 for the Prosecution,Prosecutor v. Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi
In 2012, at least ten revered religious monuments were destroyed in Timbuktu, Mali. The violation of these sacrosanct markers of culture and collective identity by al-Qaeda-backed extremists, dealt a painful and shocking injury to Mali’s Muslim community. For nearly everyone in the community, these UNESCO-designated mausoleums physically embodied Timbuktu’s historic identity as a prominent center of Islamic learning in the 15th and 16th centuries.
July 1, 2016
Moving On: Deborah Popowski to Be Executive Director of NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
Today we have the mixed blessing of announcing that one of our favorite people is moving on: Deborah Popowski, JD ’08, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, is bringing her considerable talents to New York University (NYU) School of Law as Executive Director of its Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.
It comes as no surprise to us that she was chosen for this leadership role. For the past seven years, Deborah has proven herself to be a visionary inside the International Human Rights Clinic, carving out a critical niche for U.S.-based work. In her time here, she led clinical projects on issues ranging from protest and assembly rights to the right to heal for U.S. service members and Iraqis. She also created a clinical seminar, “Human Rights Advocacy and the United States,” with the Human Rights Program’s former executive director, Clinical Professor Jim Cavallaro.
In particular, Deborah distinguished herself in recent years as a national leader in the grassroots movement to hold U.S. health professionals accountable for torture in the national security sphere. Her approach was both innovative and in-depth: through professional misconduct complaints, legislative advocacy, media outreach and academic conferences, she worked with clients to highlight the actions of psychologists at Guantánamo. Continue Reading…
May 27, 2016
Dear Class of 2016,
First of all: CONGRATULATIONS! YOU MADE IT!
Secondly, we want to send a special congratulations to Katie King, whose tireless work with our partners in South Africa on the right to education earned her the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. And to the many clinical students who gave more than 1,000 hours of pro bono work during their time at HLS: Chike Achebe, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, Lauren Blodgett, Daniel Carpenter-Gold, Mira Chernick, Carson Cook, Rebecca Donaldson, Michelle Ha, Anna E. Joseph, Brian Closterboer, Liz Loftus, Lindsay Mullett, Courtney D. Paterson, Brittany Reid, Ariel Simms, Peter Stavros, Matt Thiman, Jillian Wagman, Noorulain Zafar, and Ye H. Zhang.
Lastly, if we missed you at yesterday’s commencement party, here’s what we would have told you: Thank you. Continue Reading…
May 19, 2016
Posted by Gehan Gunatilleke, LLM '10
Seven years ago on this day, the civil war in Sri Lanka came to a brutal end. Since then, a national conversation on transitional justice has gathered momentum, with the current government expected to fulfill its international commitments to establish mechanisms on truth, justice and reparations. As it does so, it will be confronted with a recurring claim advanced by certain actors within the state. Their claim is that the ‘Sri Lankan approach’ to transitional justice is based on ‘forgiving’ and ‘forgetting’.
My own experience as a lawyer and researcher in Sri Lanka has prompted me to reflect on this claim. These reflections inspired “Confronting the Complexity of Loss”, an introspective study that tests this claim by examining the views and opinions of 45 victims and survivors of human rights atrocities from across the ethnic and religious divide. In some ways, its conclusion—that Sri Lankans often differ on fundamental questions of truth seeking, memorialization and accountability—makes intuitive sense.
Imagine, for example, a family around a dinner table grieving the death of a loved one in a DUI incident. We would not expect them to cope in the identical manner. We would not expect them to uniformly forgive the offender, nor unanimously demand his punishment. Some disagreement around that table would hardly surprise us. If we can conceive of a single family producing such diverse views, should we then reduce Sri Lankan victims and survivors to a single narrative?
I started asking these questions early on in my career when I represented victims in cases involving torture, detention and custodial death in Sri Lanka. In one particular case in 2008, I represented the wife of a man who died in the custody of the police. She wanted to know the truth about what happened to her husband. Despite police intimidation and her own family’s discouragement, she sought justice in the form of a declaration that her husband’s fundamental rights had been violated. Her resolute demand for truth and justice left a lasting impression on me, and influenced my understanding of Sri Lankan attitudes to truth and justice.
A year later, as a student in the International Human Rights Clinic, I focused mainly on the rights of detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. That work challenged me once again to reflect on the diversity of victim and survivor narratives. Continue Reading…
April 25, 2016
Posted by Melinda Kuritzky, JD’13 and Nick Renzler, JD’12
When it comes to tobacco, twenty-first century America is very different from the smoke-filled haze that seemed to define much of the twentieth. In today’s United States, smoking rates are at an all-time low, teenagers are no longer confronted with positive messaging about smoking from the adults or advertisements around them, and “smoking sections” at restaurants are all but obsolete.
As millennials growing up in this era, and in this country, we thought the war against tobacco was won, thanks to the tireless efforts of activists, lawyers and public health experts who came before us.
Then we joined a team of lawyers led by Paul Reichler at Foley Hoag LLP seeking to defend Uruguay’s tobacco control regulations against claims brought by Philip Morris International, a multinational tobacco company. That’s when we realized tobacco companies were active as ever: they had simply shifted their marketing focus away from the U.S. and toward exporting the addiction elsewhere—primarily to low and middle-income countries.
To a certain extent, they have succeeded: tobacco consumption kills roughly six million people every year. It remains one of the biggest threats to global public health. But the public health community has fought back, most visibly with a 2003 global tobacco control treaty passed under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). The treaty encourages countries to enact tough new tobacco control measures to protect their citizens’ right to health—measures the tobacco industry has challenged at every turn, using international trade and investment law to sue governments that seek to limit their marketing power.
Such is the case with Uruguay, which historically has struggled with some of the highest smoking rates in South America. After it ratified the WHO treaty, Uruguay became one of the most progressive governments in the tobacco control arena, instituting a marketing ban on brand variants, a deceptive tool used by tobacco companies to falsely suggest that certain variants are less harmful than others. The government also required large, graphic warning labels on every package—80% of the front and back of the package.
True to form, Philip Morris hit back hard with a claim against the government, arguing that Uruguay’s ban on brand variants and its requirement of larger warning labels violated a 1991 treaty that provides certain protections for investments between Uruguay and Switzerland, where the company is headquartered. Philip Morris also claimed that, in cases related to tobacco control measures, Uruguay has denied the company justice in its domestic courts.
After a lengthy exchange of written pleadings and documents, Uruguay presented its oral arguments in this bellwether case last October during a two-week arbitral hearing. Responding to Philip Morris’ claims, we argued, among other points, that there is a human right to health, enshrined in instruments to which both Uruguay and Switzerland are party, and that Uruguay, as a sovereign State, has both the right and duty, in the exercise of its police powers, to protect public health by adoption of reasonable regulatory measures, like the ones challenged by Philip Morris.
From our perspective, the right to protect public health argument seemed uncontestable: tobacco is the only legal consumer product that kills half of its regular users when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer. Indeed, we asserted, it is Uruguay’s duty to enact bona fide, non-discriminatory measures to protect the public against these harms. Given the tobacco epidemic and its damage, it would be irresponsible for governments to do otherwise.
Moreover, because of Big Tobacco’s well-known tactics to obstruct meaningful and effective tobacco regulation (including pursuing the very case we are defending, and others like it), governments should take this right and duty seriously, enacting strong regulation that untangles the web of harm created by decades of tobacco industry deceit.
As Harold Hongju Koh, a member of our legal team, made clear in a recent Harvard Law School talk with his brother, Dr. Howard Kyongju Koh, tobacco control must be viewed as a public health and human rights imperative. Now it is up to the World Bank ICSID Tribunal, which is expected to release its decision in the Uruguay case later this year, to weigh in.
VIDEO BELOW: The Koh brothers’ talk, “Global Tobacco Control as a Public Health and Human Rights Imperative,” on April 4, 2016 at Harvard Law School. For an incisive take on the Uruguay case, and others like it, see comedian John Oliver’s segment on tobacco industry tactics using international trade and investment law that aired last year.
April 15, 2016
Posted by Deval Desai, LLM '09
The following piece, co-authored with Rebecca Tapscott, reflects on a recent roundtable at the International Studies Association in Atlanta with four experts in conducting qualitative research in fragile contexts: clinical director Tyler Giannini; peace and conflict specialists Alain Lempereur and Mareike Schomerus, and development policy expert Alex Berg. The piece originally ran on April 11 on the World Bank’s blog.
For policymakers, fragility and conflict are one of the 21st century’s key development challenges. Fragility is by definition heterogeneous and contextual—which is why qualitative research is such a good tool to help us understand exactly why “there” is so messed up, and what we could or should do to fix it. And so, perhaps logically, we—primarily young, western, tertiary-educated men and women—are doing more and more research. The more research we do, the more professional we become, as we build a core set of skills (i.e. methodologies) to explain the complexity of “there”—its war, crisis, and corruption—to the policymakers who want to fix (i.e. govern) it.
But what if the simple act of doing such research is also an act of governance? What if, when we go there to ask people to tell us their stories, they understand that our questions about security, or health, or livelihoods are just a step in a chain that ends with recommendations for—or against—blue helmets, food aid, or regime change? What if our power to ask questions of research subjects is predicated upon the inflexible idea that “there” is deviant and must be fixed?
These are not new issues. But their context has changed, and thus so have the ways we must think about them. As research has intensified, the practice of doing research has professionalized. At the same time, its ethical norms have not. When it comes to ethics, we continue to vest power in the individual researcher and her sense of what is right: she decides how much to focus on researcher positionality; how much of her research she should bring back to her research subjects; how and when to use her research to speak truth to power. If she is stymied, she can rail against the individual policymakers who haven’t listened to her work, or she can critique them with a theoretical lament about global structures of knowledge and power. These trade-offs allow the researcher to remain simultaneously noble and unaccountable. They are sometimes described as “dirty little secrets”, a phrase which reflects their individual and back-stage nature.
However, as “we” become more professional, there is precedent to revise the terms of these questions. The language of individual choice and structural critique could be replaced by something more systemic, committing us to our role within a class of people who actively participate in processes that govern fragile states. What might this alternative look like?
A few weeks ago, we discussed these very questions in a roundtable at the International Studies Association in Atlanta, with four experts in conducting qualitative research in fragile contexts: peace and conflict specialists Alain Lempereur and Mareike Schomerus, development policy expert Alex Berg, and human rights lawyer, Tyler Giannini. All shared a sense that the relationship between research and politics is hard, and requires a researcher to be self-reflexive about his or her role in the exercise of power in fragile states without succumbing to navel-gazing inaction.
Alain, Mareike, and Alex highlighted many of the challenges inherent in the relationship between the policymaker and the qualitative researcher. They discussed how they’ve decided when to play the role of researcher, and when to don the policymaker’s hat; how to balance the need to tell important stories with the concomitant costs to the stories’ characters (for example, the sunk costs of participating in research, or in some circumstances, political or social costs incurred from associating with a western researcher); and negotiating whether, as a researcher, we are using our subjects—or they are using us.
Tyler presented another view. He told us about how the field of human rights has evolved over the past two decades:
“Human rights names and shames as its core methodology. There is a lot of qualitative storytelling, which has moved onto social media… Increasingly, there’s a call for data and evidence… But our methods [as lawyers] are [sometimes] constrained by [the legal profession’s ethical code]. Above all, we have to first work for the client; and second, we have to have a good faith complaint [for cases]. This is very different from “research mode”. [In a recent project] we had no [plausible] venue to bring a complaint. [Yet] we compiled 1,000 pages of affidavits. These are formal documents—it’s above and beyond taking notes from interviews—the standard is higher. 1,000 pages seemed like a lot, we thought it would make an impression. We wouldn’t have done that 20 years ago.”
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