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Blog: Immigration

June 11, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: The Views of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Posted by Jessica Olney and Shabbir Ahmad

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 to Just Security on June 10, 2021).

This installment reflects conversations with Rohingya residents of refugee camps in Bangladesh about the coup in Myanmar. Camp residents’ views were collected by Shabbir Ahmad and other members of a team of Rohingya researchers during a recent community feedback collection project. The opinions expressed here are the views of the authors and camp residents, not those of any institution with which the authors are affiliated.


The Rohingya community of Myanmar has been isolated and persecuted for decades, leading to waves of mass displacement, isolation, and resistance. The situation of the Rohingya deteriorated further into crisis after the National League for Democracy (NLD) took power in 2015, starting with a 2016 crackdown and culminating in the massive 2017 violence that displaced over 700,000 people.

Refugees in Bangladesh believe the situation could worsen even further under the current junta, creating new risks for the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar and indefinitely delaying any prospect of a safe repatriation for those displaced. According to one camp resident: “The democratic government didn’t do well for us Rohingya. However, the current conditions will be even worse for us, and maybe for everyone in Myanmar.” According to another, “We Rohingya people don’t expect anything positive to come from the military coup. We know very well that the Myanmar Army is merciless and doesn’t feel afraid of committing injustice.” The greatest fear for many camp residents is that repatriation at a large scale will be impossible as long as Myanmar remains under the control of the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw. In recent comments, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing affirmed these concerns, reiterating once again that the Tatmadaw does not recognize the identity of the Rohingya people or their right to return home. As long as the junta remains in place, there is little possibility of forging solutions to the outstanding political, legal, and justice questions surrounding the Rohingya crisis.

But there is another dimension of the coup in which an unanticipated, positive change has emerged: There has been a wave of social and political reconciliation between Rohingya and other Myanmar people. Though the situation remains formidable both for Rohingya in Myanmar and for those who seek to return from Bangladesh, certain social and political fault lines that have been present throughout Myanmar’s recent history seem to be shifting.

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May 21, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: The Need for an Inclusive Accountability

Posted by Carmen Cheung

(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 published to Just Security on May 20, 2021).

If the current crisis in Myanmar is one “born of impunity”, any response that is rooted in accountability needs to acknowledge that the Myanmar military’s crimes span decades and across its ethnic regions. Some in the international community may have first learned about “clearance operations” in the context of the devastating attacks in recent years that have destroyed Rohingya villages and forced an exodus into neighboring Bangladesh. For almost sixty years, however, Myanmar’s military has engaged in forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, and extrajudicial killings against civilian populations as part of its ongoing conflict against armed groups in the country’s ethnic regions. A proper accounting in Myanmar must be inclusive of crimes committed against all its people, and inclusive of all the communities who have suffered at the hands of its military.

Decades of Impunity: A Brief History

For close to six decades, Myanmar has suffered from a crisis of impunity, one which the international community has never adequately addressed. Almost immediately after its independence from British colonial rule in 1948, civil war broke out between the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar military) and armed organizations in the country’s ethnic nationality areas. The Tatmadaw overthrew civilian rule in 1962 and cracked down on all threats to its power, from journalists and political dissidents to the armed groups in the ethnic areas. Throughout the period of military rule (1962-2011), serious human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, and forced labor were commonplace.

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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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August 27, 2020

The Supreme Court’s Attack on Habeas Corpus in DHS v. Thuraissigiam


Gerald L. Neuman, Human Rights Program Co-Director and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, contributed a piece to the Just Security blog this week to discuss the recent Supreme Court decision in DHS v. Thuraissigiam. Neuman previously filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on the case, which involves a Tamil individual who tried to claim asylum in the United States after fleeing Sri Lanka in fear of persecution.

Neuman writes:

“At a time when the rule of law is under threat and xenophobic incitement has become a central government policy, a five-Justice majority of the Supreme Court has called into question the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against executive detention. Refugees are the primary target of the Court’s decision in Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam, but the immediate implications of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion are much wider, and the opinion endangers everyone – U.S. citizens included – by reopening settled questions about the Habeas Corpus Suspension Clause of the Constitution.

This important case has gotten less public attention than it deserves.   The opinions may be hard for non-experts to follow, because they arise in a technically complex area of immigration law, and because Alito mischaracterizes some of the issues. The case arose when Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam fled Sri Lanka in the hope of being protected by the United States and was arrested by immigration officials in 2017 at a short distance from the southern border. He was placed in rudimentary “expedited removal” proceedings, where his claims for protection were quickly rejected. The statutory provisions on expedited removal clearly preclude anyone in his position from obtaining judicial review, including by habeas corpus, of the legality of the removal decision. The central issue raised by the case was whether this total preclusion of habeas corpus for a refugee within the United States violated the Suspension Clause.

Once the Supreme Court granted certiorari, it was likely that five Justices would rule against the refugee’s right to have his particular claims reviewed; the more urgent question was how broadly they would uphold preclusion of judicial review.”

Read the full article at Just Security.

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July 6, 2020

Amicus brief challenges public health asylum limits


Gerald L. Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program, joined immigration and refugee scholars during June in an amicus brief challenging the Trump Administration’s restriction of asylum procedures during the COVID-19 crisis. The brief supports plaintiffs’ emergency motion for a temporary restraining order to halt the removal of a child fleeing targeted violence in his home country of Honduras.

The Trump administration’s order relies on a broad interpretation of the Public Health Service Act, which allows the CDC to limit the “introduction” of individuals and goods to the U.S. In reality, the CDC order is a thinly-veiled attempt to further curb immigration, only applying to noncitizens (including unaccompanied children) who arrive at the southern and northern borders without documentation. Health experts have decried the order, citing the numerous exemptions as demonstrating that its purpose is to target a disfavored category rather than to protect public health.

“The administration is abusing the CDC to create a shadow deportation system that circumvents all legal limitations on deportation,” said Neuman.

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May 24, 2020

At Harvard, Niku Jafarnia J.D. / M.P.P. ’20 found a wealth of ways to advocate for refugees

Posted by Dana Walters

Niku Jafarnia sits on the steps of HLS
Credit: Kathleen Dooher

“I have always felt very strongly that I need to work against inequality and the forces that make it possible,” says Niku Jafarnia J.D./M.P.P. ’20. For her, draconian and difficult immigration systems that favor certain populations are key sources of the disparities she hopes to eliminate.

When President Donald Trump instituted the first of many travel bans that targeted Muslim-majority countries in 2017, Jafarnia was a first-year law student and she was furious. She had not yet entered the legal clinics that would become like a home to her at Harvard Law School. Still, she emailed Sabrineh Ardalan ’02 and Phil Torrey of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, asking how she could fight back.

“Had I not been in law school when this happened, I would have felt at a loss with what to do,” she says.

At the airport, she stood with Ardalan and Torrey holding a sign offering legal assistance and translation services in Persian. No one took her up on the offer, but the moment stands out to her from the last four years of graduate school. From the energetic and welcoming response of HLS’s clinical faculty to finding a way to act, she had found a community and a path towards countering what she sees as oppression.

Jafarnia believes that she has been lucky. A constellation of factors, such as being born in the U.S., has provided her with a great amount of opportunity, she said. She is constantly tuned in to how she can use her privilege to dismantle the inequitable structures that cause harm to others. When her parents emigrated from Iran in 1977 to pursue graduate education, they did not necessarily expect to stay, she said, but the combination of the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War kept them in the U.S. Throughout law school, she has focused on issues related to migration, driven by a deep connection to people whose stories feel so familiar.

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April 20, 2020

Clinic Joins Coalition Urging Halt to Haitian Deportations


As 3 deportees to Haiti and 75 Deportees to Guatemala Test Positive for Coronavirus, 164 Organizations from the U.S. and Haiti Declare Deportations to be Trump’s Cruel, and Usual, Punishment of Haitians


San Diego, California, April 20, 2020 – Today 164 human rights organizations, immigrants’ rights organizations, faith-based groups and academic institutions across the United States and Haiti submitted a letter to the Trump Administration, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denouncing the deportation of 61 Haitians on April 7, 2020, and urging them to halt deportations to Haiti. The letter comes on the eve of rumors of a deportation flight bound for Haiti scheduled for as early as April 21, 2020. 

Signatories of the letter were “deeply concerned that all detainees in ICE detention centers have a high risk of exposure to coronavirus.” Deportees are not tested for coronavirus in the U.S. before being deported, and sources indicate that some of the Haitians deported on April 7 were quarantined in Haiti, but none of them were tested.

These concerns were amplified with the report last week that three deportees to Haiti and 75 deportees to Guatemala tested positive for coronavirus. With 215 confirmed cases in Guatemala, the U.S. flights alone make up 35 percent of the confirmed cases in the entire country.  The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) has sent a team to Guatemala to investigate further.  Pending outcome of the CDC’s investigation in Guatemala, all deportation flights should be suspended. 

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October 9, 2019

Gerald Neuman files amicus curiae brief to US Supreme Court on deportation cases

Professor Gerald Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program and
J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School, recently filed an amicus curiae brief to the US Supreme Court in a pair of cases involving the standards for judicial review of deportation decisions.

Both cases, Guerrero-Lasprilla v. Barr and Ovalles v. Barr, involve long-term immigrants who were wrongly removed – to Colombia and to the Dominican Republic – based on interpretations of the statutory deportation grounds that the Supreme Court later overturned.  The petitioners applied to reopen the deportation decisions so that they could return to the United States, arguing that the time limit for reopening should be “equitably tolled” because they had diligently sought relief. The immigration agency rejected their claims as untimely, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that their diligence presented an unreviewable issue of fact rather than a reviewable issue of law. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, and the cases will be argued in December, and a decision is expected in the spring.

The amicus brief of three leading Scholars of Habeas Corpus Law explains that reviewable issues of law include “mixed questions” of the application of a legal standard to facts, both as a matter of statutory interpretation and in order to satisfy the Suspension Clause of the Constitution.  It shows how historically, both in the eighteenth century and in the modern era, the right to habeas corpus has included judicial review of the application of law to fact.

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November 1, 2018

Press Statement: Constitutional Law Scholars Respond to Trump’s Threats Against Birthright Citizenship


On Tuesday, Oct. 30, leading constitutional scholars stated that there is no serious scholarly debate about whether a president can, through executive action, eliminate birthright citizenship and contradict the Supreme Court’s long-standing and consistent interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. Gerald L. Neuman, HRP Co-Director and J. Sinclair Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, was one of fifteen authors on this statement.

The full statement reads as follows:

President Donald Trump is reportedly considering an executive order to essentially rewrite the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship. In an interview to be aired later this week, he explains that people are now telling him that he can do this “just with an executive order.” As constitutional scholars who have studied the 14th Amendment, we write to say in no uncertain terms that he is wrong.

The Citizenship Clause—enshrined as Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1868—states simply that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.” The 14th Amendment, adopted in the immediate aftermath of a Civil War that very nearly ripped this country in two, established the foundational principle that all persons are entitled to due process and equal protection under the law. The Citizenship Clause contained therein was meant as a direct rebuke to the infamous decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), in which the Supreme Court held that that people of African descent born on our soil whose ancestors were slaves could not be citizens, even if they were free.

The Supreme Court 120 years ago in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), settled the very issue raised by the president. In that case, the Court held that with certain very limited exceptions, all children born in the United States are natural-born citizens regardless of the citizenship status of their parents. Many decades later in the case of Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), in which the Court upheld the right of all children regardless of alienage to a free public education, the Court analogized its holding on Equal Protection Clause grounds to the settled law on the Citizenship Clause as declared in Wong Kim Ark. Specifically, the Court noted that just as undocumented immigrants are “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” for purposes of the Citizenship Clause, they too are “within the jurisdiction” of a state for purposes of the Equal Protection Clause. Id. at 211 n.10.

There is today no serious scholarly debate about whether a president can, through executive action, contradict the Supreme Court’s long-standing and consistent interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. Instead, as conservative legal scholar James Ho, now a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit nominated by President Trump, wrote more than a decade ago, “a constitutional amendment is … the only way to restrict birthright citizenship.” The executive branch’s own lawyers have long agreed.

It took a Civil War—the bloodiest conflict in American history—to resolve a dispute about what it means to be an American—a person—in this country. The 14th Amendment, including the Citizenship Clause, is the rightly cherished result of that American tragedy.

Signatories included: Muneer I. Ahmad, Yale Law School; Walter E. Dellinger III, Duke University School of Law; Lucas Guttentag, Stanford Law School and Yale Law School; Harold Hongju Koh, Yale Law School; Stephen H. Legomsky, Washington University School of Law; Gerard N. Magliocca, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law; David A. Martin, University of Virginia School of Law; Michael W. McConnell, Stanford Law School; Hiroshi Motomura, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law; Gerald L. Neuman, Harvard Law School; Cristina Rodríguez, Yale Law School; Peter J. Spiro, Temple University Law School; Geoffrey R. Stone, The University of Chicago; Laurence H. Tribe, Harvard Law School; and Stephen I. Vladeck, The University of Texas at Austin Law School.

Find the full press release on the Center for American Progress’s website.

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