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Blog: Gender Equality

November 28, 2022

HRP Members Comment on UN Report About LGBTQ+ Persons in Armed Conflict

Cartoon of individuals with the rainbow and trans solidarity flags on their clothes using bricks to build a statue of a white dove.

In EJIL: Talk, the blog of the European Journal of International Law, HRP/OPIA Wasserstein Fellow María Cecilia Ercole and Associate Director Abadir Ibrahim published a comment of the newly released UN report about the effects of armed conflict on LGBTQ+ persons. The report was authored by the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (IE SOGI) Victor Madrigal-Borloz, who also is a Senior Visiting Researcher at HRP.

Ercole and Ibrahim place the IE SOGI report in the context of developments in international humanitarian and human rights law regarding the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. They conclude that despite some progress in recognizing the outsize impacts of war on queer populations, there remain significant blind spots in international law.

You can read the full article on the blog of the European Journal of International Law.

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September 28, 2022

International Human Rights Clinic Statement in Solidarity with the People of Iran 

The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School stands in solidarity with the Iranian people as they mobilize on a groundbreaking scale to reclaim their human rights, dignity, and basic freedoms. For the past ten days, courageous Iranian women have been leading protests across Iran’s provinces, openly challenging the Iranian regime’s police brutality and discriminatory compulsory hijab laws. The tragic death of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini in police custody, after having been arrested for violating the Iranian regime’s dress code and allegedly tortured, has once again brought to the forefront Iranian women’s decades-long struggle to exercise their most fundamental freedoms, including choice of dress and bodily autonomy. As people in Iran continue to mobilize and struggle to end state repression and discrimination, the Iranian regime has responded with a violent and deadly crackdown, killing dozens of protestors with impunity. We believe it is our collective responsibility to speak up for justice and freedom and we find inspiration in the courage and persistence of the Iranian people. We call for an end to all forms of state violence, repression, and gender discrimination by the Iranian regime, and for the establishment of accountability mechanisms to end systemic impunity in Iran. 

Commemoration of Iranians killed in anti Regime protests

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August 19, 2022

Litigating Women’s Rights in Arab Gulf Monarchial Systems 

Salma Waheedi, IHRC Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, published an article in the Arab Law Quarterly, entitled “Litigating Women’s Rights in Gulf Monarchial Systems: The Kuwait and Bahrain Constitutional Courts as Case Studies,” which examines the dynamics of litigating women’s rights in Arab Gulf monarchical systems.  

The article is an inquiry into the ability of the constitutional judiciaries in Gulf monarchies to act to protect women’s rights and the conditions that enable such autonomous exercise of judicial powers. Looking specifically at Kuwait and Bahrain, the empirical findings of this article demonstrate that one must look beyond constitutional or legal text in conducting this analysis, as subtle contextual political differences can lead to divergent outcomes when it comes to the practical exercise of constitutional judicial power.  

In the article, Waheedi analyzes the institutional structures and jurisprudence of the two constitutional courts in order to better understand the conditions under which they operate and the divergence that may explain differences in outcomes. As part of this examination, the article considers challenges of institutional and personal independence that impact the independent administration of justice by the constitutional judiciary, and then moves to analyze major constitutional cases that illustrate the approaches of these courts to women’s rights cases, and the approaches of advocates to use litigation as a tool to claim rights. 

Click here for the article abstract and online access options. 

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October 18, 2021

The International Human Rights Clinic Supports International Advocacy to Advance Rights of Women in Yemen

Posted by Salma Waheedi

The Musawah Movement for Equality in the Muslim Family submitted a thematic report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), advocating for effective legal reforms to prevent violence against women and to end gender-based discrimination in Yemen’s personal status laws. 

The report is a product of an ongoing collaboration between the International Human Rights Clinic, Musawah, and Yemeni women’s rights advocates. Shaza Loutfi, HLS ’22, worked closely with Musawah researchers and Yemeni advocates to draft the report and develop its analysis and recommendations, under the supervision of IHRC Clinical Instructor Salma Waheedi. The report will be considered by the CEDAW Committee in its constructive dialogue with the Government of Yemen, scheduled to take place remotely on October 27th, 2021, as part of the Committee’s upcoming session

The report examines Yemen’s legal framework and practices that enforce de jure and de facto discrimination against Yemeni Muslim women in five priority areas: child marriage, forced marriage, violence against women, inheritance rights, and nationality rights. Taking into account the ongoing devastating conflict in Yemen and its current political instability, it aims to document the most pressing issues, legal and practical, that affect the lives of Yemeni women in the private and family spheres, and to offer recommendations to guide the CEDAW Committee’s engagement with the Government of Yemen.   

Member states to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are required to undergo regular reviews by the Committee of 23 independent international experts on how they are implementing the Convention. 

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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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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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November 16, 2020

Training the next generation of international women’s rights advocates

Posted by Dana Walters

Six women sit around a table smiling for the camera. They are in professional attire and working on computers.
In Fall 2017, Waheedi traveled with a student team to Geneva to work with activists on advocating for women’s rights at the international level. From left to right: Hyshyama Hamin, Robin Tholin ‘19, Sarah Marsso, Salomé Gómez Upegui, Zainah Anwar, and Waheedi.

Since joining Harvard Law School, Salma Waheedi, a clinical instructor and lecturer on law in the International Human Rights Clinic, has devoted a major part of her teaching and clinical legal practice to training students to become effective international women’s rights advocates. A native of Bahrain and a U.S.-trained attorney with a background in constitutional and Islamic Law, Waheedi has led advocacy and social justice-oriented legal projects in partnership with women’s rights activists in Muslim communities. To change the lived experiences of women most acutely, Waheedi and her partners have focused on family law reform.

A woman with curly hair and a green shirt poses for a head shot.
Salma Waheedi joined Harvard Law School in 2016 as a joint fellow in Islamic Legal Studies and the International Human Rights Clinic. Today, she is a clinical instructor and lecturer in law in the International Human Rights Clinic and associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World.

Salma Waheedi joined Harvard Law School in 2016 as a joint fellow in Islamic Legal Studies and the International Human Rights Clinic. Today, she is a clinical instructor and lecturer in law in the International Human Rights Clinic and associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World.

“Despite its huge impact on women’s lives, it’s an area that receives relatively little attention in human rights circles,” Waheedi said. “We are talking about a system of laws that govern all aspects of women’s private lives, including marriage, divorce, child custody, matrimonial property, inheritance, as well as freedom of movement and work and protection from violence.”

Advocating for family law reform in Muslim legal contexts presents a unique set of challenges and sensitivities. In the majority of Muslim legal systems, Shari’a—Islamic Law—is a part of the constitutional order and often forms the foundation of Muslim family laws. Many of these laws are based on interpretations that entrench gender-based discrimination and fail to protect women’s rights in the family sphere.

Waheedi’s practice focuses on lending legal support to women’s rights advocates working with their local communities, as well as international coalitions working to foster cross-regional collaborations. One key example is Musawah, a global movement advocating for justice and equality in the Muslim family. Musawah takes strong positions against child marriage, forced marriage, and polygamy and calls for equality in spousal rights, custody rights, access to divorce, and inheritance rights. It advocates for these changes through a holistic framework that integrates progressive Islamic legal interpretations, human rights principles, local constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, and the lived experiences of Muslim women.

“Many current legal provisions are no longer tenable given the lived realities of Muslim women today,” Waheedi said. “Muslim feminist scholarship aims to create a paradigm shift by emphasizing the need to return to the core principles of the Quran, such as justice, equality, and dignity for all, as a basis for an alternative rights-based reading of Islamic legal sources that responds to the contemporary needs of the Muslim family.”

To help conceptualize current reforms and outdated laws, Musawah and Waheedi’s student teams have put together a comprehensive Muslim family law mapping project. The project is a resource for researchers and academics to look comparatively across 31 countries with Muslim majorities or minorities. Importantly, the initiative also outlines positive developments for women’s rights in the Muslim world, celebrating successes, as well as marking lessons for how to continue to advocate for change.

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November 4, 2020

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity UN Mandate: Virtual Consultation on 2021-2023 Work-Plan

Individuals sit around a U-shaped conference table speaking.

The UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (IE SOGI) will convene an open consultation with State and non-State stakeholders to consolidate the mandate’s approaches and priorities for the remainder of the IE SOGI’s tenure. This consultation will serve as the main channel through which the IE SOGI will collect views and inputs to inform the preparation of his work plan for 2021-2023.

The consultation will start with a general segment during which the IE SOGI will introduce his draft work plan. Thereafter, participants will be invited to present their views and provide inputs to the discussion.

The online consultation will take place through the Zoom platform, on Friday, November 20 at 15:00 – 18:00 (CET) / 09:00 – 12:00 (EST). Registration is required to attend the meeting.

Guiding Questions for the Consultation:

The following questions may guide contributions from participants at the consultation:

  1. Are the narratives of impact depicted in the document an adequate portrayal of the mandate’s added value?

  2. Does the document include all necessary dimensions, principles and approaches necessary to ensure an intersectional, balanced and inclusive programme for the mandate?

  3. Are the thematic priorities identified in the document duly reflective of the best added value by the mandate to all stakeholders in their work of addressing violence and discrimination based on SOGI?

  4. As currently planned, are the activities and products an adequate response to the needs of stakeholders? Should different activities and products be considered?

  5. The document includes certain commitments of interacting with global processes (v.g., Beijing + 20). Are there any other global, regional, or local processes the interaction with which should be included in the document as well?

The consultation will be open to States, UN agencies, programmes and funds, regional human rights mechanisms, National Human Rights Institutions, members of civil society organizations, academic institutions, corporate entities, and all other interested stakeholders. The consultation will be held in English.

Read the Draft Work Plan under consultation at this link.

Register now to attend the virtual consultation!

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October 29, 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on LGBT persons: online launch

UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz to provide public highlights from report to UN General Assembly

Six individuals of different races and ethnicities and genders wearing different colors are presented illustratively in a circle wearing masks.

Please scroll down for translation into French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (IE SOGI), presented his report on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBT persons to the UN General Assembly on Oct. 29, 2020.

On November 10 in a public webinar, he will present key findings of his report and engage in further conversation with all interested stakeholders on how to respond and recover from the pandemic. The event will take place on Zoom and be livestreamed to the IE SOGI’s Facebook page.

Check the starting time in your region and register now to attend one of the sessions:

The events will also feature UN representatives as guest speakers. After the presentations, there will be a Q&A (questions and answers) session with the audience for which participants will be able to submit questions through the moderator during the event.

Background:

This year, humankind faces an unprecedented global challenge, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities prevalent in all regions of the world. Since March, the IE SOGI has conducted extensive research and consultations with over 1,000 individuals from more than 100 countries, which led to the conclusion that COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on LGBT persons. During the event, he will present his key findings and discuss his recommendations to ensure that response and recovery from the pandemic adequately address the needs of LGBT persons, as we all aspire to build a better world.

You can download a summary of the report and the full report at the linked text below:

Disclaimer:

The mandate of the Independent Expert supports freedom of expression and opinion of the widest variety within a frame of mutual respect during its events. The mandate of the Independent Expert has a policy of zero tolerance for hate speech: a dedicated team will monitor comments and questions raised during the event. Hate speech will be filtered and participants responsible for it will be removed from the session.

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October 13, 2020

Building Momentum: IHRC and ASP Launch Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Detention Settings

Posted by Zac Smith JD'21

Sexual violence is all too common in conflict and post-conflict settings, causing horrific physical and psychological damage and preventing peace building efforts. As recognized in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467 (2019), all individuals are at risk of sexual violence in conflict, and detention settings are a particular context of risk, especially for men and boys. 

Taking up Resolution 2467’s call to increase international attention and coordination on the issue, the All Survivors Project and the International Human Rights Clinic partnered to author the Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in Detention Settings. Drawing from existing sources of international law and authoritative guidance, the document’s ten principles and accompanying commentary outline the international community’s responsibility to prevent and respond to CRSV. 

A red cover with a yellow block illustrating a cage with humans sitting on bars.

On Wednesday October 7, academic experts, policy makers, and diplomats came together at a virtual side event to the UN Human Rights Council to officially launch the Principles and highlight their significance. (Watch a recording of the event here.) Moderator Lara Stemple, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies and International Student Programs and Director of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at UCLA School of Law, prefaced the conversation by underlining the driving motivation for the All Survivors Project’s work — including these principles — that “human rights protections must be afforded to all people, regardless of their individual characteristics.” Panelists included Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, who supervised the Clinic’s work on the project; HE Premila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict; Professor Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and  leader of a recently completed global study of children in detention; and Sophie Sutrich, Head of Addressing Sexual Violence for the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

The event began with opening remarks from representatives of three states that have championed CRSV prevention. Situating the place of the Principles in wider efforts to cultivate international peace and prosperity,Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland and Ambassador Peter C. Matt of Liechtenstein underlined their importance and timeliness. As Ambassador Lauber observed, “the Principles are clearly intended to be of practical use, as they contain specific recommendations for implementation.”Ambassador Tine Mørch Smith of Norway explained that “the physical hurt suffered from conflict related sexual violence does not discriminate between male and female victims.”She committed that CRSV prevention, including a focus on men and boys, would be a priority when Norway takes its seat as a non-permanent Security Council member in 2021.

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