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Blog: Arms and Armed Conflict

April 22, 2021

Un rapport révèle la complicité du gouvernement haïtien dans des crimes contre l’humanité


Une coalition haïtienne de défense des droits humains et la Clinique de droit de Harvard publient une nouvelle analyse des massacres perpétrés contre les résidents des quartiers défavorisés avec l’appui de l’État haïtien 


(22 avril 2021, Port-au-Prince, Haïti; Cambridge, Massachusetts) — Trois massacres sanglants ayant pris pour cible les résidents des quartiers défavorisés ont été perpétrés avec l’appui du gouvernement haïtien et constituent des crimes contre l’humanité, révèle un rapport publié aujourd’hui par la Clinique internationale de défense des droits humains de la Faculté de droit de Harvard et l’Observatoire Haïtien des Crimes Contre l’Humanité (OHCCH). Le rapport met en évidence des attaques lancées par des gangs lourdement armés qui ont obtenu des ressources et l’approbation d’acteurs étatiques, allant des hauts fonctionnaires de l’administration Moïse à des agents de la Police nationale d’Haïti.  

Image of Haitian citizens marching in protest.

Le rapport, intitulé Massacres cautionnés par l’Etat : regne de l’impunite en Haïti, présente une analyse de trois attaques qui ont été exécutées entre 2018 et 2020 et qui ont coûté la vie à au moins 240 civils. Les massacres ont pris pour cible les quartiers populaires de Port-au-Prince La Saline, Bel-Air et Cité Soleil, des quartiers qui ont tous joué un rôle de premier plan dans l’organisation des manifestations réclamant que le gouvernement rende des comptes sur la dilapidation du fonds petro-caribe et d’autres violations des droits humains qui affligent le pays.  

« L’administration Moïse maintient que ces attaques ne sont que des querelles internes entre gangs armés, mais des preuves indéniables établissent que des représentants du gouvernement de haut niveau ont joué un rôle important dans la planification et l’exécution des attaques, ainsi que pour les dissimuler », affirme Mario Joseph, avocat responsable du Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, l’un des membres de l’OHCCH.  

Le rapport s’appuie sur des enquêtes menées par des experts haïtiens et internationaux en droits humains qui établissent que de hauts fonctionnaires de l’administration Moïse ont soit planifié les attaques, soit offert leur assistance en fournissant aux gangs de l’argent, des armes et des véhicules. Des policiers en civil et des ressources policières ont été utilisés pour exécuter les attaques, au cours desquelles la Police nationale d’Haïti n’est pas du tout intervenue. Lors de chaque attaque, des gangs sont arrivés dans le quartier visé et ont ouvert le feu sur des civils, violé des femmes, incendié et pillé des maisons. Les massacres ont tous été perpétrés par la fédération des gangs armés sanguinaires dénommée G9 en Famille et alliés, dirigée par Jimmy Chérizier qui entretiendrait des liens étroits avec le gouvernement. 

« Nous avons conclu qu’en n’ayant pris aucune mesure pour freiner les attaques initiées par ses subordonnés, ou pour y réagir, le président Moïse se rend responsable de crimes contre l’humanité », déclare Beatrice Lindstrom, l’enseignante clinique de Harvard qui a supervisé la recherche et la rédaction du rapport. « Nous espérons que cette conclusion lance à la communauté internationale un signal d’alarme pour se porter à la défense des droits humains et réévaluer le soutien qu’elle accorde à Jovenel Moïse », ajoute-t-elle.  

Ce rapport est publié dans le contexte d’une crise de la démocratie et des droits humains qui s’intensifie en Haïti. Tout au long de son mandat comme président, Jovenel Moïse a de plus en plus eu recours à des mesures autoritaires pour réprimer la dissidence. Notamment, il a criminalisé certaines formes de protestation populaire pacifique et a mis sur pied une agence de renseignements dans le but de surveiller l’opposition politique. Des attaques contre des civils ont été perpétrées en toute impunité, notamment l’assassinat de citoyens engagés bien connus.  Même si la majorité des experts et des membres de la société civile s’entendent pour dire que le mandat constitutionnel du président Moïse a pris fin le 7 février 2021, le président refuse de quitter son poste et insiste pour qu’un référendum constitutionnel illégal soit tenu avant l’élection de son remplaçant.     

La conclusion du rapport montrant que ces attaques correspondent à la définition de crime contre l’humanité aurait des conséquences importantes sur le plan de la responsabilité. En plus d’imposer à l’État haïtien une obligation internationale de traduire en justice les responsables, cette conclusion permettrait aux Nations Unies et aux tribunaux étrangers de veiller à ce que justice soit rendue. Cela signifie en outre que les auteurs des crimes pourraient faire l’objet de poursuites indéfiniment, puisqu’aucune prescription ne s’applique au crime contre l’humanité. 

« Comme ce fut le cas pour l’ancien dictateur Jean-Claude Duvalier qui a été traduit en justice quelques décennies après avoir quitté le pouvoir, afin d’assumer la responsabilité des terribles conséquences de la répression brutale avec laquelle il avait dirigé le pays. Les auteurs des massacres d’aujourd’hui ne peuvent plus échapper à la justice en invoquant des clauses de prescription », ajoute Mario Joseph.  

Les Nations Unies ont signalé que l’absence d’imputabilité pour les massacres a favorisé un environnement favorable à d’autres carnages. Malgré cet avertissement, une autre attaque présentant des ressemblances frappantes avec les massacres analysés dans le rapport a été perpétrée à Bel-Air au début de ce mois-ci.  

Selon Pierre Espérance, directeur exécutif du RNDDH « les attaques dont fait état ce rapport sont particulièrement brutales et bien documentées, et elles s’inscrivent dans le cadre d’une campagne de violence et d’intimidation généralisée et systématique menée contre les dissidents politiques ». Le RNDDH a documenté au moins 11 massacres au cours de la présidence de Jovenel Moïse.  

Le rapport repose sur une analyse rigoureuse des éléments de preuve qui ont été recueillis par de multiples acteurs haïtiens et internationaux au cours des dernières années, au regard du droit international pénal. Les étudiants de la Faculté de droit de Harvard Joey Bui (JD’21) et Nathalie Gunasekera (JD’21) ont dirigé les recherches et rédigé le rapport sous la supervision de la professeure Lindstrom. 

Read the report in EnglishFrench, and Haitian Creole.

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April 21, 2021

Earth Day 2021: Environmental Justice is a Human Rights Struggle

Posted by Lavran Johnson JD'22

The United States has an environmental human rights problem. Across the country, communities of color and lower socioeconomic status are disproportionately located close to chemical processing plants, power plants, and other industrial facilities and shoulder the burden of domestic environmental contamination. Air and water quality standards frequently fail to protect these communities, leading to detrimental health impacts and continued contamination. Although the situation is improving, state and federal agencies have historically failed to reduce the cumulative burdens on these communities. Most of our environmental laws provide protective regimes based on available technology and economic feasibility. Although these regimes place limits on pollution, they reflect a presumption that industries have a general right to pollute. Industry’s right to pollute is constrained by environmental law; but we need a shift away from industrial rights and towards a human right to a clean environment.

After years working as an outdoor educator, I came to law school to focus on environmental law, committed to finding ways through policy and litigation to better protect the environments that had enriched my life. It was in the classroom — and not outside — where I started to build the connections that drive my current work. My torts class, where we studied Rob Bilott’s prosecution of DuPont for chemical pollution, helped to shift my focus towards work that would protect both the environment and the individual people who rely on it. Later, International Human Rights Clinic Co-Director Tyler Giannini exposed me to some of the many ways that environmental exploitation and human exploitation are entangled, but it was working over the summer on an administrative complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency that really crystallized my understanding: environmental justice is fundamentally a human rights issue. All people should be protected from pollution that poses a serious and permanent risk to their health, and historical deprivation and prejudice should not be allowed to undermine that basic protection.

This spring, I entered the International Human Rights Clinic hopeful that I could gain a better grasp of how rights are understood and leveraged, but unsure whether I would be able to do environmental work. I’ve been very lucky to work with Bonnie Docherty and three excellent team members to prepare recommendations for the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Bonnie, who is the Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection, has worked for decades to highlight the detrimental effects of weapons on both humans and the environment. The TPNW, which Bonnie and previous clinical students helped to shape, reconceptualizes nuclear disarmament by shifting from a tactical focus—one in which states play their nuclear arsenals off each other to maintain geopolitical order—to a humanitarian focus—one in which states must address the ongoing human suffering caused by the use and testing of nuclear weapons. The TPNW, which requires total disarmament, also creates obligations that respond to the legacy of nuclear weapons use and testing through victim assistance and environmental remediation. In places like the Marshall Islands, where many still suffer the effects of the nuclear testing that happens over 60 years ago, these obligations are critical.

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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 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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January 29, 2021

Lockdown and Shutdown: New White Paper Exposes the Impacts of Recent Recent Network Disruptions in Myanmar and Bangladesh

A group of Rohingya refugees stand in a circle, some with mouths agape as they crowd around a photo watching something.
Rohingya refugees watching the reporting on the International Court of
Justice genocide case. Photo by Khin Maung (Kutupalong Camp)


The Cyberlaw Clinic and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School were proud to co-author a new white paper, Lockdown and Shutdown: Exposing the Impacts of Recent Network Disruptions in Myanmar and Bangladesh, in collaboration with Athan, the Kintha Peace and Development Initiative, and Rohingya Youth Association. The report exposes the impacts of internet shutdowns in Myanmar and Bangladesh, highlighting the voices of ethnic minority internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who describe the shutdowns’ impacts in their own words. The co-authors joined to present a webinar to launch the report on January 19, 2021, which you can watch below or on the HRP YouTube channel.

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January 27, 2021

Banning Nuclear Weapons: Milestones and Memories

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

At the stroke of midnight on January 22, 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was transformed from words on paper to binding law. States parties — countries that have have agreed to be bound by the treaty — are now obliged to uphold a ban on nuclear weapons, take measures to ensure the weapons’ elimination, and address the harm caused by past use and testing. Signatory states may not violate its object and purpose.

The TPNW’s entry into force, triggered last October when Honduras became the 50th state to ratify, is a milestone for humanitarian disarmament, a crucial step toward a world free of nuclear weapons, and an uplifting moment in the midst of a devastating pandemic.

This landmark moment also offers an opportunity to look back on negotiations at the United Nations in New York in 2017. The hard work, determination, and collaboration of hundreds of individuals made the TPNW a reality.

My colleague Anna Crowe LLM’12 and I participated in the negotiations with a four-person team from Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. The students included Carina Bentata JD’18, Molly Doggett JD’17, Lan Mei JD’17, and Alice Osman LLM’17.

At a reunion celebration last week, our team reflected on the experience and shared memories that will likely resonate with our fellow campaigners. “Witnessing the treaty’s adoption was overwhelming,” Mei said. “It felt like a key moment in my life. Even though it wouldn’t affect me personally, it was monumental.”

During the four weeks of negotiations, we partnered with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which later received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts. We engaged in advocacy and offered legal advice on a range of topics.

While negotiators devoted much of their attention to the TPNW’s prohibitions on future actions, we focused on the treaty’s positive obligations, affirmative requirements to mitigate the harm already inflicted by nuclear weapons. In partnership with campaigners from Article 36, Mines Action Canada, and Pace University, we argued successfully for obligations on victim assistance and environmental remediation. This group became known as ICAN’s “pos obs team,” after the positive obligations for which we were calling.

Eight individuals smile after the treaty passed. They wear badges and formal clothes.
The “positive obligations” advocacy team, including IHRC students and supervisors, moments after adoption of the nuclear weapon ban treaty on July 7, 2017.
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January 22, 2021

Clinic Celebrates Nuclear Ban Entering into Force

Posted by Dana Walters

Members of the team that supported the 2017 negotiations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons met virtually this week to raise a glass to the treaty entering into force. Pictured: (top, left to right) Bonnie Docherty (Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection at Harvard Law School), Anna Crowe (International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School), Elizabeth Minor (Article 36); (bottom, left to right) Molly Doggett JD’17, Erin Hunt (Mines Action Canada), Lan Mei JD’17.

Today, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons enters into force. What exactly does this mean? All of the treaty’s obligations, from providing assistance to victims of use and testing to banning possession, transfer, use, and other activities related to nuclear weapons, become law. Campaigners around the world, including some of our own at Harvard Law School, put in a monumental effort to make this day happen.

In 2017, the International Human Rights Clinic played a significant role in negotiations that brought the treaty from imagination to reality. Working with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and Article 36, Bonnie Docherty JD’01 and Anna Crowe LLM’12 led a team of students to ensure that the treaty held fast to humanitarian disarmament principles.

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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.

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December 16, 2020

Fall 2020: Online Advocacy and Learning

Posted by Dana Walters

For the Human Rights Program, fall 2020 was different — but no less busy. After a brief stint with remote schooling last spring, faculty, students, and staff committed to shifting their methods of advocacy and learning fully online this fall. Despite challenges, we all found ways of maintaining community and building connection virtually.

The International Human Rights Clinic held two introductory classes and an advanced seminar for third-year JDs. With almost 40 students this fall, projects examined the right to water in South Africa and the United States; killer robots; accountability for human rights violations by corporations and the United Nations; the arms trade treaty and gender-based violence; climate change and human rights; and more.

Fourteen students and a teacher smile on zoom in a grid format. Some have virtual backgrounds. It's a mix of women and men.
Bonnie Docherty (top, second from left) ran an introductory class in the Clinic on Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection.
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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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