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Blog: Health

April 6, 2022

CDC Ends Use of Public Health Law to Deny Rights of Asylum Seekers

Posted by Kai Mueller

 

On April 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered the termination of the “Title 42” procedure, a method originally created by the Trump administration at the outset of the Covid pandemic to deport asylum seekers without hearing on supposed public health grounds. The termination is to go into effect on May 23, 2022. The termination of the Title 42 procedure has been long overdue.

The consequence of the Title 42 process had been a circumvention of immigration laws that protect the rights of asylum seekers who face risk of persecution or torture in their countries of origin. This CDC order resulted in border agents expelling thousands upon thousands of migrants without taking into account the irreparable harm that may await them.

The Biden Administration had kept this rule in place and used it over 1.2 million times to block migrants from seeking safety in the United States despite criticism that the policy improperly relied on the Covid-19 crisis to violate legal protections guaranteed to refugees under both U.S. and international law.

On September 16, 2021, a U.S. District Judge had granted a preliminary injunction against expulsion of migrant families without any hearing, in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others.  After a stay pending appeal, the D.C. Circuit affirmed a narrower version of the injunction on March 4, 2022, holding that the public health law did not override statutory protection against return to a country where an asylum seeker was likely to be persecuted.  The injunction followed mounting pressure from immigrant rights groups and voices in academia, including amicus briefs co-submitted by Harvard Law Human Rights Program Director Gerald L. Neuman and Deborah Anker, Founding Director of the Harvard Law Immigration and Refugee Clinic, to end the Title 42 policy.  The April 1 order of the CDC does not admit the illegality of the Title 42 process, but it would terminate it altogether, subject to the possibility of later reactivation.  

It has long been clear that the severe violations of asylum seekers’ rights caused by Title 42 outweighed the purported health benefits related to pandemic control. Hence, the Biden administration’s repeated defense of this regressive Trump-era policy has been a disappointment to those who had hoped for a more humane and rights-based policy toward refugees and immigrants. Regrettably, the termination order itself may be challenged in other courts.

***

For further information regarding the litigation of the Title 42 procedure, you can watch the webinar “Abusing Public Health Powers at the Border: Litigating “Title 42” Deportations Before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights” organized by HRP on November 8, 2021, below.

 

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December 1, 2021

Killer Robots: Negotiate New Law to Protect Humanity

Legal Uncertainty, Growing Concerns Show Urgent Need for Regulation

Governments should agree to open negotiations on a new treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force, Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School said in a report released today. Countries will be meeting at the United Nations in Geneva in December 2021 to decide whether to begin negotiations to adopt new international law on lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as “killer robots.”

The 23-page report, “Crunch Time on Killer Robots: Why New Law Is Needed and How It Can Be Achieved,” by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, finds that international law should be strengthened and clarified to protect humanity from the dangers posed by weapons systems that select and engage targets without meaningful human control.

“After eight years discussing the far-reaching consequences of removing human control from the use of force, countries now need to decide how to respond to those threats,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic and senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There’s an urgent need for a dedicated treaty to address the shortcomings of international humanitarian law and update it to deal with the legal, ethical, and societal challenges of today’s artificial intelligence and emerging technologies.”

At the United Nations in Geneva the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots called on governments to not allow the development of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without any human intervention. (c) 2018 Clare Conboy.

The Sixth Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), scheduled to be held from December 13-17, is a major juncture for international talks on killer robots. At the last CCW meeting on killer robots in September, most countries that spoke called for a new legally binding instrument on autonomous weapons systems. Chile, Mexico, and Brazil urged treaty members to agree to initiate negotiations of new international law. Other proponents included the ‘Group of Ten’ states (Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Palestine, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, and Uruguay) and states of the Non-Aligned Movement.  

There are various possible forums for negotiating a new treaty on autonomous weapons systems. Other than the CCW, options include a stand-alone process, as was used for the treaties banning antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions, and the United Nations General Assembly, where the nuclear weapons ban treaty was negotiated.

Existing international humanitarian law is not adequate to address the problems posed by autonomous weapons systems, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Clinic said. There is widespread support for developing new law and any divergence of views reinforces the need to clarify existing law. A new treaty would address the concerns raised by these weapons systems under international humanitarian law, ethics, international human rights law, accountability, and security.

Such a treaty should cover weapons systems that select and engage targets on the basis of sensor, rather than human, inputs. Most treaty proponents have called for a prohibition on weapons systems that by their nature select and engage targets without meaningful human control, such as complex systems using machine-learning algorithms that produce unpredictable or inexplicable effects.

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May 4, 2021

A Burning Issue: The Human Cost of Incendiary Weapons

Posted by Jacqulyn Kantack, Human Rights Watch

This post also appears on the Humanitarian Disarmament website.

Incendiary weapons inflict excruciating physical and psychological injuries on civilians in conflict zones, and those who survive endure a lifetime of suffering. While Protocol III to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) regulates the use of incendiary weapons, loopholes in the protocol have limited its effectiveness.

“The Human Cost of Incendiary Weapons and Shortcomings of International Law,” a recent online event organized by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), brought together an incendiary weapon survivor, a military trauma nurse, a burn rehabilitation doctor, and a disarmament lawyer, who collectively highlighted the problems of these cruel weapons. Drawing on their first-hand experiences and professional expertise, the speakers vividly detailed the humanitarian consequences of incendiary weapons and called on states to strengthen international law regulating their use.

Two of the panelists had personally witnessed the horrors of incendiary weapons. “Abu Taim” (pseudonym) was a teacher at a school in Urum al-Kubra, Syria, that was attacked with incendiary weapons in 2013. In pre-recorded video testimony, he recalled exiting the school right after the strike: “I saw bodies, and those bodies were only black. . . . I came closer to their bodies to know, who are those people? Who are those students? I didn’t recognize their faces.”

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May 3, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: Inside Karen State

Posted by Taylor Landis

(Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Just Security series on the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The series brings together expert local and international voices on the coup and its broader context. The series is a collaboration between Just Security and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. This article was first posted on Just Security on April 30, 2021).  

Disclaimer: Taylor Landis is an independent human rights expert who worked in Myanmar from 2013 to 2020. She is serving as the author of this piece on behalf of the individuals in Karen State who wished to contribute to this series but cannot be identified due to the serious security threats they currently face. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the unnamed individuals in Karen State and do not reflect those of any institution with which Taylor is affiliated.


Since preventing the country’s elected officials from taking their seats in government on Feb. 1, the Myanmar military, known as the “Tatmadaw,” has established a junta called the State Administrative Council and progressed from its initial highly secretive abduction and detention of well-known civilian leaders to a nationwide crackdown of plainly visible violence and intimidation, with over 759 people killed and 4513 arrested by late April. Though intended to end mass protests and silence widespread opposition, the brutal campaign has fueled resistance to the military. Undeterred by the junta’s mass incarcerations and growing body count, people across the nation refuse to be silenced. Myanmar’s streets and social media are flooded with messages pleading for international support, demanding direct western military intervention, requesting a U.N. peacekeeping presence, and calling for the arrest of the junta leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Veteran civil society activists based in and around Myanmar’s conflict areas have joined these calls. In their communities, where true peace has not been seen since before Burma’s 1948 independence, these are not new messages. Local organizations and leaders within Myanmar’s “ethnic states”—territory bordering international boundaries where ethnic-minority groups tend to comprise the majority of the population—have spent decades documenting human rights violations, conducting advocacy, and campaigning for criminal accountability for atrocity crimes allegedly committed by the Tatmadaw. For some of these activists, recent encrypted chats with far-off former colleagues offered a chance to drop diplomatic pretense and be direct about what they want. “Can you order a drone strike on Min Aung Hlaing?” one asked, in a joke directed to a human rights lawyer with no heavy ordnance on hand. Others laughed about what they really need, “Can you send wine?” All reiterated the obvious, “It’s just been a nightmare.”

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April 21, 2021

Earth Day 2021: What the Yamuna River Teaches Us About Climate Change and Human Rights

Posted by Cindy Wu JD'22

You may have seen images of Hindu devotees immersing themselves in large clouds of white foam floating through the Yamuna River in Delhi, India. But what may seem otherworldly belies something much more sinister: a river of deep religious and life-giving significance for millions of people, teeming with toxic industrial and residential pollutants.

Alongside three other Harvard Law School students and our Clinical Instructor, Aminta Ossom, I have spent this past semester studying the relationship between climate change and inequality. This Earth Day, our team is thinking about how climate change and human activities are working in tandem to degrade and deplete the Yamuna River. This environmental harm has significant impacts on the enjoyment of the right to water, as well as on other rights, like cultural rights and the rights to adequate health and livelihoods.

What is the Yamuna?


The Yamuna—a tributary of the Ganga River—is critical both in Hindu culture and as a source of livelihood. Millions of Hindus worship the river as a goddess, and many make an annual pilgrimage, where they immerse themselves to wash away their sins and to bring health and prosperity. Besides its religious significance, the Yamuna supports the livelihoods of farmers, fisher-folk and boatsmen and is a crucial source of water for 57 million people, especially for those in the Delhi region.

A young boy sits on a trash-ridden beach in front of the Yamuna River.
The Yamuna River near Okhla Bird Sanctuary. Creative Commons License 2.0 Generic by Subodh Kumar Jha.
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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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February 22, 2021

Joint Statement to UN Security Council on the Constitutional and Human Rights Crisis in Haiti


In solidarity with civil society in Haiti, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law have issued a letter in advance of the United Nations Security Council session on Haiti today. The letter can be viewed here and is reprinted in full below.

The three U.S. based law school clinics also released a statement last week calling on the U.S. government to denounce actions by President Jovenel Moïse that threaten human rights in Haiti.

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February 17, 2021

Constitutional and Human Rights Crisis in Haiti


Law Clinics Call for U.S. Government to Condemn Haitian President’s Actions


In solidarity with civil society in Haiti, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law have released a statement calling on the U.S. government to denounce actions by President Jovenel Moïse that threaten human rights in Haiti.

Issued on February 13, 2021, the statement describes alarming actions taken by Moïse in the week preceding that threaten the rule of law and suggest an escalating constitutional crisis. Among the many issues cited, the statement notes Moïse’s refusal to step down after the conclusion of his term, the arbitrary detention of notable political officials, the removal of Supreme Court justices, and state violence against protestors and journalists. The U.S. based law clinics identify the crisis as part of a trend of “grave, state-sanctioned human rights abuses in Haiti” and worry that Moïse’s continual affront toward democratic checks on his power indicates his inability to “oversee free and fair elections for his replacement.”

The statement urges the Biden administration to forge a new path in U.S.-Haiti relations.

“The current U.S. administration should not continue the improper pressure that the Trump administration placed on Haitian actors to acquiesce to an unconstitutional electoral process,” the statement says. “Instead, the Biden administration should support democracy and human rights and condemn Moïse’s attacks against Haiti’s constitutional institutions. Otherwise, Moïse may be emboldened to further restrict human rights and democracy.”

The statement also asks the U.S. to halt deportations, given the political instability. “Since the beginning of February, ICE has deported more than 600 people to Haiti, many without even the opportunity to request asylum. These flights have included many children, infants and pregnant women.”

The statement concludes by making specific recommendations for the U.S. government in order to “support the rule of law in Haiti and [to] call on the Haitian government to meet its international human rights obligations.” This week, the organizers reached out to the United Nations to clarify its position on the issue.

Read the full statement here.

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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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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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