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Blog: Human Rights and the Environment

October 20, 2016

Tomorrow, Oct. 21: “Addressing Climate Displacement Globally and Locally”


October 21, 2016


“Addressing Climate Displacement Globally and Locally”


A Panel Discussion

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
Milstein West

Please join us for a panel examining challenges at the intersection of climate change, human rights, and displacement. Experts from around the world will discuss international and domestic approaches to dealing with displacement driven by climate change crises, ranging from drought in Somalia to rising tides in Alaska.

The panelists are: Jane McAdam, Scientia Professor of Law and director of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at University of New South Wales (UNSW), and the leader of the UNSW Grand Challenge on Refugees & MigrantsWalter Kälin, a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Bern, envoy of the chairmanship of the Nansen Initiative, and formerly Representative of the United Nations’ Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons; and Robin Bronen, a human rights attorney, senior research scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and co-founder and executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice. This panel will be moderated by Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic.

This event is part of a three-day, mostly closed-door conference sponsored by the International Human Rights Clinic, the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic.

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October 19, 2016

Tomorrow, Oct. 20: A conversation with Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, on climate change displacement

Event poster shows a headshot of Mary Robinson wearing a red blazer over a black shirt and pearls.

October 20, 2016


Climate Change Displacement: Finding Solutions to an Emerging Crisis


A conversation between Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland;
President of the Mary Robinson Foundation- Climate Justice; UN Special Envoy on El Niño and Climate and HLS Dean Martha Minow

3:00- 5:00 p.m.
Milstein West

Please join us for a conversation between Mary Robinson and Martha Minow on the topic of climate change, human rights and displacement. Ms. Robinson is formerly the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, as well as the former UN Special Envoy on Climate Change.

This conversation is part of a three-day, mostly closed-door conference sponsored by the International Human Rights Clinic, the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic examining challenges of climate change, human rights, and displacement, and efforts to address this emerging crisis in the wake of the Paris COP 21 agreement.

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October 12, 2016

Clinic Highlights Human Rights Costs of South African Gold Mining


For Immediate Release


South Africa: Protect Residents’ Rights from Effects of Mining


Government Response to Environmental and Health Threats Falls Short


(Cambridge, MA, October 12, 2016)—South Africa has failed to meet its human rights obligations to address the environmental and health effects of gold mining in and around Johannesburg, the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) said in a new report released today.

The 113-page report, The Cost of Gold, documents the threats posed by water, air, and soil pollution from mining in the West and Central Rand. Acid mine drainage has contaminated water bodies that residents use to irrigate crops, water livestock, wash clothes, and swim. Dust from mine waste dumps has blanketed communities. The government has allowed homes to be built near and sometimes on those toxic and radioactive dumps.

Report cover shows fencing in front of a dilapidated house and what looks to be the South African landscape.

Examining the situation through a human rights lens, the report finds that South Africa has not fully complied with constitutional or international law. The government has not only inadequately mitigated the harm from abandoned and active mines, but it has also offered scant warnings of the risks, performed few scientific studies about the health effects, and rarely engaged with residents on mining matters.

“Gold mining has both endangered and disempowered the people of the West and Central Rand,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at IHRC and the report’s lead author. “Despite some signs of progress, the government’s response to the crisis has been insufficient and unacceptably slow.”

The report is based on three research trips to the region and more than 200 interviews with community members, government officials, industry representatives, civil society advocates, and scientific and legal experts. It provides an in-depth look at gold mining’s adverse impacts and examines the shortcomings of the government’s reaction.

For example, although acid mine drainage reached the surface of the West Rand in 2002, the government waited 10 years before establishing a plant that could stem its flow. In addition, the government has not ensured the implementation of dust control measures and has left industry to determine how to remove the waste dumps dominating the landscape.

The Cost of Gold calls on South Africa to develop a coordinated and comprehensive program that deals with the range of problems associated with gold mining in the region. While industry and communities have a significant role to play, the report focuses on the responsibility of the government, which is legally obliged to promote human rights.

The government has taken some positive steps to deal the situation in the West and Central Rand. This year, it pledged to improve levels of water treatment by 2020. In 2011, it relocated residents of the Tudor Shaft informal settlement living directly on top of a tailings dam. The government along with industry has also made efforts to increase engagement with communities.

Nevertheless, The Cost of Gold finds that the government’s delayed response and piecemeal approach falls short of South Africa’s duties under human rights law. As a result, the impacts of mining continue to infringe on residents’ rights to health, water, and a healthy environment, as well as rights to receive information and participate in decision making.

“The government should act immediately to address the ongoing threats from gold mining, and it should develop a more complete solution to prevent future harm,” Docherty said. “Only then will South Africa live up to the human rights commitments it made when apartheid ended.”

For more information, please contact:
In Cambridge MA, Bonnie Docherty: [email protected]

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September 20, 2016

The Clinic Welcomes New Advocacy Fellows

Posted by Cara Solomon

Now that we’re in the rhythm of the semester, it’s time to introduce some new faces in the International Human Rights Clinic. We’re thrilled to welcome five new clinical advocacy fellows, all accomplished lawyers with different expertise and experiences. They’re leading clinical projects this semester on a range of new topics, from human rights protection in investment treaties to armed conflict and the environment.

The Clinic's new advocacy fellows, from top right: Rebecca Agule, Yee Htun, Fola Adeleke, Juan Pablo Calderon-Meza, and Salma Waheedi.
The Clinic’s new advocacy fellows, from top left: Rebecca Agule, Yee Htun, Fola Adeleke, Juan Pablo Calderon-Meza, and Salma Waheedi.

In alphabetical order, here they are:

Fola Adeleke is a South African-trained lawyer who specializes in international economic law and human rights, corporate transparency, open government and accountability within the extractives industry. This semester, his projects focus on human rights protection in investment treaties and reconfiguring the licensing process of mining to include more consultation with communities.

Rebecca Agule, an alumna of the Clinic, is an American lawyer who specializes in the impact of conflict and violence upon individuals, communities, and the environment. This semester, her project focuses on armed conflict and the environment, with a focus on victim assistance.

Juan Pablo Calderón-Meza, a former Visiting Fellow with the Human Rights Program, is a Colombian attorney whose practice specializes in international law and human rights advocacy and litigation. This semester, his project focuses on accountability for corporations and executives that facilitated human rights abuses and atrocity crimes.

Yee Htun is the Director of  the Myanmar Program for Justice Trust, a legal non-profit that partners with lawyers and activists to strengthen communities fighting for justice and human rights. Born in Myanmar and trained as a lawyer in Canada, Yee specializes in gender justice and working on behalf of refugee and migrant communities. This semester, her project focuses on women advocates in Myanmar.

Salma Waheedi is an attorney who specializes in international human rights law, Islamic law, gender justice, family law, comparative constitutional law, and refugee and asylum law. Born in Bahrain and trained as a lawyer in the U.S., Salma currently holds a joint appointment with Harvard Law School’s Islamic Legal Studies Program, where she focuses on family relations in Islamic jurisprudence. This semester, her project focuses on gender justice under Islam.

We’re so pleased to have the fellows as part of our community this semester. Please swing by at some point to introduce yourself and say hello.

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April 10, 2015

Australian Radio Interviews Tyler Giannini on Mining Company Settlement with Rape Survivors

Posted by Cara Solomon

Earlier this week, Australian radio interviewed Tyler Giannini about a significant development in the world of business and human rights: one of the world’s largest mining companies, Barrick Gold, recently settled claims with a group of women in Papua New Guinea who were raped by the company’s security guards. The settlement, negotiated by EarthRights International, came as the women were preparing to file suit.

The International Human Rights Clinic has been investigating abuses around the Porgera mine for several years, along with NYU’s Global Justice Clinic and Columbia’s Human Rights Clinic. Reports of rape around the mine in the highlands of Papua New Guinea date back to at least 2006, but the company did not acknowledge them for years.

In 2012, the company set up a complaint mechanism, which Tyler describes in the interview as inadequate. Initially, the company was preparing to offer the women who stepped forward a compensation package of used clothing and chickens. At the urging of advocates, including the Clinic, the company later revised its offer, and more than 100 women accepted the settlement.

EarthRights represented a group that did not agree to settle through the company’s complaint mechanism. At least one woman described the original settlement offers as “offensive.”

“If you have settlements that aren’t really getting to justice, the discourse with the community is not really healed, and you don’t get real reconciliation,” Tyler said in the interview. “That’s not good for the company, that’s not good for the survivors, and I think that’s one of the lessons that needs to be taken away.”

April 8, 2014

Today, April 9: “The Future of Corporate Impact Litigation After Chevron”


Event Notice


“The Future of Corporate Impact Litigation After Chevron”


A Discussion with Steven Donziger

12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
WCC 3018

Please join us for a discussion with Steven Donziger, JD ’91, a New York based lawyer who has advised indigenous and farmer communities for two decades in their struggle to hold Chevron accountable for oil contamination in the Amazon. In 2013, Ecuador’s Supreme Court affirmed a trial court ruling ordering Chevron to pay $9.5 billion in damages. Chevron fought back, recently securing a controversial ruling from a U.S. federal judge in a non-jury trial that Ecuador’s entire judicial system is unworthy of respect and that the case was marred by fraud. That case is currently under appeal to the Second Circuit while enforcement actions based on the Ecuador judgment continue against Chevron in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. The case raises profound questions that touch on international law, comity, human rights, indigenous rights, freedom of expression, professional ethics, and the limits of litigating against corporate wrongdoers.

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September 9, 2013

Clinic and Partners Release Book Criticizing Chile for Failure to Meet International Obligations Towards Indigenous Peoples

Posted by Daniel Saver, JD '12, Skadden Fellow, Community Legal Services, East Palo Alto

Jointly with Stanford Law School, the Universidad Diego Portales, and the Universidad de Los Andes, the International Human Rights Clinic released a book today about the consultation rights of indigenous peoples in Chile. The book critiques the Chilean government’s failure to guarantee indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consultation, an international legal obligation Chile agreed to when it ratified International Labor Organization Convention 169 in 2008. See below for the full press release in English, then in Spanish:


PRESS RELEASE


Chile Fails to Meet International Obligations Towards Indigenous Peoples, Human Rights Experts Find


Book by international team of human rights experts documents violations of indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consultation

September 9, 2013, Santiago, Chile – Nearly five years after ratifying the International Labor Organization Convention 169 (“ILO 169”), Chile continues to violate indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consultation, according to a book released today by human rights experts in the Consorcio Norte-Sur. The Consorcio is a partnership between Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, the Universidad Diego Portales (Chile), and the Universidad de Los Andes (Colombia).

The Spanish-language book, titled “No Nos Toman en Cuenta” (“They Don’t Consider Us”), provides the most comprehensive review of the consultation rights of Chile’s indigenous people to date. The book examines several ways that the Chilean government has failed to guarantee indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consultation, including the government’s failure to implement international norms within its domestic legal system. The book also features in-depth case studies that document specific rights violations caused by salmon farming projects in indigenous territory in the south of the country.

“Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consultation guaranteed by ILO 169 is intended to ensure that these historically marginalized groups are able to participate in a meaningful way in decisions that directly affect them,” said Jorge Contesse, former director of Universidad Diego Portales’ Human Rights Center, now a law professor at Rutgers School of Law-Newark. “The failure to implement this right not only violates Chile’s international legal obligations, but also perpetuates distrust between indigenous peoples and the Chilean government, fueling conflict between the two.”

The case of the salmon hatcheries studied in the book highlights this dynamic. Researchers found that often the only consultation-like procedures were conducted by private investors, who provided special benefits for select members of indigenous communities in return for their support. Community members told investigators that this impermissible abdication of the state’s obligation to consult created conflict and upset traditional leadership structures and decision-making processes.

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March 24, 2013

Finding Momentum: Human Rights and the Environment

Posted by Tyler Giannini

Earlier this month, the recently appointed UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox, presented his preliminary report to the Human Rights Council. For those of us who have worked in the field of human rights and the environment since the early 1990s, the fact that this report is even being presented to the Council is a major advance.

In the early 1990s, the mention of a link between human rights and the environment raised eyebrows in many circles. Today, that’s no longer the case. Instead, the international community and the Independent Expert have moved on to other questions, such as: what is the precise legal relationship between human rights and the environment? In his comments before the Human Rights Council, Knox described an urgent need for such clarification, saying it was necessary “for States and others to better understand what those obligations require and ensure that they are fully met, at every level from the local to the global.”

Within the arena of human rights and the environment, we have seen specific issues gain major traction over the past two decades. Take the right to water. A recent seminar organized with Prof. Mathias Risse of Harvard Kennedy School and Sharmila Murthy of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy shows just how many disciplines (law, philosophy, urban planning, geography, engineering, public health and economics) today think about the right to water. We designed the seminar to provoke debate and discussion around four themes: nature of the rights to water and sanitation; content of the human rights to water and sanitation; strategies for accountability; and community perspective and bottom-up critique of human rights. It did just that. Our final report from the seminar shows just how far the discourse around human and the environment has come.

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March 20, 2013

Iraqi Civilians and U.S. Veterans Come Together to Demand the Right to Heal

Posted by Cara Solomon, Deborah Popowski and Stella Kim, JD '13

Yesterday, on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we joined our coalition partners in the launch of the Right to Heal initiative, a collaboration between Iraq Veterans Against the War  (IVAW), the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), as well as other supporting organizations. One by one, standing in front of the White House, members of IVAW and OWFI delivered the message that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not over for them.

On the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Joyce Wagner, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, gives testimony in front of the White House. Drake Logan, a member of the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, stands beside her.
On the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Joyce Wagner, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, gives testimony about the oppression of women on both sides of the conflict. Drake Logan, a member of the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, stands beside her.

The organizations, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, announced that they would file a petition for a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, calling for U.S. accountability for the human cost of these wars. In testimonies that were both moving and motivating, speakers on both sides of the U.S.-led conflict in Iraq described the toll that a decade of war had taken on their communities, including the loss of thousands of lives; devastating trauma and injury with shamefully inadequate or non-existent medical care; a legacy of health and environmental poisoning due to toxic munitions and burn pits; gender-based violence as a weapon and byproduct of war; and a generation of orphans and displaced people.

Joyce Wagner, a longtime member of IVAW, spoke about the violence the war had unleashed on women, and specifically, about her experience with Military Sexual Trauma. We thank her for allowing us to reprint her comments below:

In recent years, the United Nations has taken a strong stance against gender-based violence, calling it a “pandemic” that concerns not only women, but every single person on the planet.

Worldwide, it is estimated that one in five women will be raped in her lifetime. In the US military, it is estimated that one in three women will be raped during her time in service. I am the one in three.

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March 11, 2013

SAVE THE DATE: Special Event to Mark the 10th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq


March 26, 2013


“For Us, The Wars Aren’t Over: The Right to Heal Initiative”


7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Wasserstein 2012

Food will be served

Ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Human Rights Program and organizations from across the Harvard and Boston communities mark the anniversary with speakers from two groups still living with the consequences of the last decade of U.S.-led wars: Iraqis and U.S. veterans and service members.  Members of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and Iraq Veterans Against the War will speak about the costs of war they share.  Together with attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Harvard Law School, they will discuss the Right to Heal Initiative, the partnership they have formed to fight for redress.

Speakers:

Yanar Mohammed, President, Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
Ms. Mohammed is the founder of OWFI, a nongovernmental organization that promotes women’s rights and interests in Iraq.  She will speak about OWFI’s work in an Iraqi town near a U.S. military base that has seen dramatic increases in the incidence of birth defects, cancers, and other severe health ailments.

Matt Howard, Member, Iraq Veterans Against the War
Mr. Howard served two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps.  He will discuss the costs of war for U.S. service members and veterans, particularly the obstacles that prevent too many from receiving proper medical and mental health care.  IVAW and its subcommittee, Afghan Veterans Against the War, have advocated for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and for reparations to Iraqis for the costs of war.

Pamela Spees, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights

Ms. Spees will discuss CCR’s role as a support player in the Right to Heal’s collaborative project to ensure the U.S. takes concrete steps for health care, accountability, and reparations.

Moderator: Deborah Alejandra Popowski, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School

This event is being co-sponsored by: HLS Advocates for Human Rights, Harvard National Security and Law Association, Islamic Society of Boston, National Lawyers Guild (Mass. Chapter), Veterans for Peace (Ch. 9, Smedley D. Butler Brigade), BC Law Holocaust/Human Rights Project, HKS Human Rights Professional Interest Council, HLS American Constitution Society, HLS Democrats, HLS Human Rights Journal, Harvard International Law Journal, HLS Muslim Law Students Association, Harvard Women’s Law Association, HSPH Muslim Student Group, MIT Amnesty International, MIT Center for International Studies, MIT Muslim Student Association, Northeastern Univ. Arab Student Association, Human Rights Caucus at Northeastern Univ. School of Law, Tufts Univ. New Initiative for Middle East Peace, Tufts Univ. Fletcher School Human Rights Project