Blog: Press Releases

August 19, 2020

Clinic Urges U.N. Experts to Review Bolivian Rights Violations


La Clínica insta a expertos de la ONU a que evalúen violaciones de derechos humanos en Bolivia (La versión en español está abajo).


(August 19, 2020) —United Nations (U.N.) Special Rapporteurs must urgently review the human rights situation in Bolivia, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic said in a submission to the U.N. Special Procedure system today. Widespread rights violations have been documented in Bolivia since the disputed October 2019 election, and there are grave concerns that ongoing repression will prevent upcoming elections from being free and fair.

The submission documents events since Jeanine Áñez declared an interim government on November 12, 2019. It details the killing of civilians in Sacaba and Senkata in November of last year, failures to investigate and punish those responsible, as well as state forces’ and para-state groups’ efforts to suppress dissent. The urgent need for international scrutiny was brought home this week as protests grew in response to the government decision to postpone elections again until October. News sources have reported a growing crisis in Bolivia as protests have renewed and fears of another violent crackdown intensify. The Clinic urges the U.N. rights experts to work with the Bolivian government to uphold international obligations, restore the rights owed to its citizens, and hold the fair and free elections they have promised to the Bolivian people.

“Given what I witnessed in Sacaba last November where Indigenous civilians were shot and killed by state forces, the rhetoric of the current government in response to the resumption of mass protests is extremely worrying,” said Thomas Becker JD’08 on behalf of the International Human Rights Clinic. “The people of Bolivia have the right to protest, and the international community needs to act to do all it can to prevent a repeat of last year’s violent crackdown and those horrific killings.”

The submission is a request to the U.N. Special Procedure system, which is comprised of U.N.-appointed human rights experts who are charged with reporting and advising on human rights issues worldwide. The submission builds on a recently released report from the International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights, which identified the period since November 2019 as one of the deadliest and most repressive periods in the past several decades in Bolivia. Over a period of six months, a Clinic team interviewed over 200 victims, witnesses, journalists, and officials. It further analyzed medical reports, autopsies, photographs, and other official documents. The report, entitled “‘They Shot Us Like Animals’: Black November and Bolivia’s Interim Government,” details how the interim government has created a climate of oppression, rife with violence, fear, and misinformation. In addition, the submission to the U.N. states, “State forces have blocked attempts to investigate and prosecute the November attacks, leading to de facto impunity to date for those responsible.”

“The current atmosphere of impunity has created an environment that is dangerous to anyone who dissents,” said Celeste Kmiotek JD’20, a Harvard Law graduate who led the drafting of the submission. “It is critical that Bolivia address the human rights abuses ahead of the upcoming elections so that they are truly fair. The Special Rapporteurs should should engage with the interim government to put an end to these violations.”

Kmiotek coordinated research and writing from other clinical teams members, including Matthew Farrell JD’21, Jasmine Shin JD’21, Sabrina Singh JD’20, Mahmood Serewel LLM’20 with supervision from Becker and Tyler Giannini, Human Rights Program and International Human Rights Clinic Co-Director.

The submission comes on the heels of a recent victory against impunity for former heads of states’ crimes against Indigenous peoples in Bolivia. On August 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated a trial court judgment that had been entered in favor of Bolivia’s former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for the massacre of unarmed Indigenous people in 2003 in what is known as “Black October.” The Clinic has been litigating the case, Mamani et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, for over a decade.

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August 5, 2020

Families, Civil Society Orgs Endorse Letter on Police Violence to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


On August 3, 2020, 143 families of victims of police violence and over 360 civil society organizations endorsed a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the implementation of the recent Human Rights Council Resolution (A/HRC/43/L.50) adopted on June 19, 2020. This resolution followed an Urgent Debate “on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests.” The letter was spearheaded by the ACLU and the US Human Rights Network, with the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, along with human rights clinics at the University of Chicago and Duke University, as well as NGOS around the world, signing on.

Addressed to H.E. Michelle Bachelet, the letter says:

“As you know, the resolution has mandated your office, with the assistance of relevant Special Mandate Holders, ‘to prepare a report on systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent, to contribute to accountability and redress for victims.’ The resolution has also requested that your office ‘examine government responses to antiracism peaceful process peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists.’ In addition, the resolution also requested that the High Commissioner ‘include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in all her oral updates to the Council.’

While we were disappointed that the Council adopted a watered-down resolution due to enormous diplomatic pressure from the United States and other allied countries, we consider the outcome of the urgent debate a crucial first step towards full accountability for systemic police violence against Black people in the United States and more generally against people of African descent around the world. “

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August 3, 2020

U.S. Appeals Court Rules Against Former Bolivian President and Defense Minister Over 2003 Massacre


August 3, 2020, Miami – Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated a trial court judgment that had been entered in favor of Bolivia’s former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and former defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for the massacre of unarmed Indigenous people in 2003. A jury found the former officials liable under the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and awarded plaintiffs $10 million in damages in April 2018, after a month-long trial that included six days of deliberations. The trial marked the first time in U.S. history that a former head of state sat before his accusers in a U.S. human rights trial. In an unusual move, a month later the trial court set aside the jury verdict and entered its own judgment holding the defendants not liable based on insufficient evidence. In November 2019, two of the plaintiffs, whose young daughter had been killed by soldiers in the massacre, traveled to Miami to have their appeal heard. Today, the Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. In addition, the Court of Appeals held that plaintiffs were entitled to a new trial on related wrongful-death claims because the district court had abused its discretion in admitting certain evidence that was favorable to the defendants.

“This is such wonderful news,” said Sonia Espejo, whose husband Lucio was killed in the 2003 Massacre. “We have fought for so long. We will continue fighting, but for today, I feel happy. I feel calm.” 

The appellate court held that plaintiffs provided sufficient evidence that “soldiers deliberately fired deadly shots with measured awareness that they would mortally wound civilians who posed no risk of danger. None of the decedents were armed, nor was there evidence that they posed a threat to the soldiers. Many were shot while they were inside a home or in a building. Others were shot while they were hiding or fleeing.”

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July 27, 2020

Summary executions and widespread repression under Bolivia’s interim government reports rights advocates from Harvard and University Network for Human Rights


Advocates call for a stop to state repression and violence, a turn to accountability, and a clear path to free and fair elections

Gregoria Siles mourns the death of her son Omar Calle hours after soldiers shot and killed him in Sacaba. She cries over a casket while others look on tearing up.
Gregoria Siles mourns the death of her son Omar Calle hours after soldiers shot and killed him in Sacaba. Photo Credit: Thomas Becker 2019.


(Cambridge, MA, July 27, 2020) –­­– Four days after the Interim Bolivian Government suspended elections again, Harvard Law School’s (HLS) International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights (UNHR) released a report on the gross human rights abuses carried out under Bolivia’s interim President, Jeanine Áñez. The report documents one of the deadliest and most repressive periods in the past several decades in Bolivia as well as the growing fear of indigenous peoples and government critics that their lives and safety are in danger. 

“We have identified very troubling patterns of human rights violations since the Interim Government took power. These abuses create a climate where the possibility of free and fair elections is seriously undermined,” said Thomas Becker, an international human rights attorney with UNHR and a 2018-2020 clinical instructor in HLS’s International Human Rights Clinic.

Áñez assumed power on November 12, 2019 with the mandate of calling new elections by January 2020. Under her administration, Bolivia has endured a surge of human rights violations. Shortly after Áñez took power, state forces carried out operations that killed at least 23 Bolivian civilians, all indigenous, and injured over 230. These casualties make November 2019 the second-deadliest month in terms of civilian deaths committed by state forces since Bolivia became a democracy nearly 40 years ago.

Since November, the interim government has continued to persecute people that it perceives to be outspoken opponents of the Áñez administration. The government has intimidated the press, shutting down critical news outlets and arresting “seditious” journalists. Áñez’s forces have arrested or detained hundreds of former politicians for vague crimes such as “sedition” and “terrorism.”

The HLS and UNHR report offers recommendations to the interim government to enforce its domestic and international obligations. First among these recommendations is that the interim government fulfill its commitment to hold free and fair presidential elections as quickly as possible.

“We are spiraling deeper into authoritarianism,” warned Felipa López Apaza, whose brother Juan was killed in Black November. “We need elections as soon as possible or they will keep coming after us.”

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July 16, 2020

Rethinking Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives Blog Series

Posted by Tyler Giannini and Amelia Evans

Ten years ago, our Clinic was asked to figure out a way to evaluate whether multi-stakeholder initiatives—or MSIs for short—were helping to advance human rights or whether in fact they were doing precisely the opposite.

MSIs are voluntary governance efforts that bring together corporations, civil society, academics, and in some cases governments and rights holders themselves to (privately) govern thorny human rights issues, and by 2010, they had proliferated in the business and human rights field.

The allure was (and still is) obvious. If we bring the right players together, they can learn from each other and solve a given problem by setting up a democratic institution that can prevent future abuses and sanction violators, and governments will not have to pass hard laws and unnecessary regulations. The potential flaws were (and remain) just as obvious—the power imbalances amongst the players are acute and asking industry to voluntarily give up power and self-regulate is a fool’s errand that puts the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

Thus, we set out to look at which way the institutions had gone—had they filled their promise or had the inherent flaws gotten the better of them? Little to no systematic work on the question had been done at the time, and what started as a one-semester project turned into a non-profit—MSI Integrity—and a decade of work.

Today, MSI integrity is publishing its new report, entitled ”Not Fit for Purpose,” which compiles its experience and insights over the last decade. The report explores cross-cutting trends and lessons learned about MSIs, as a field, from a human rights perspective. MSI Integrity’s assessment is clear:

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July 16, 2020

New way forward for corporations necessary, says MSI Integrity report


Clinic-incubated org documents systemic failure of business and human rights tool

Screenshot of the banner on the MSI Integrity website which says, "Rethinking the Role of MSIs" on the left, "Not Fit-for-Purpose: The Grand Experiment of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Corporate Accountability, Human Rights, and Global Governance," in the middle, and "Reimagining the Corporation," on the right.
A new website, Not Fit-For-Purpose, explores the insights contained in the report.

Three decades ago, a grand experiment in human rights and global governance began to unfold. In the absence of rigorous government regulation of transnational corporations, civil society organizations began stepping into this regulatory void by collaborating with industry representatives to create voluntary codes of conduct and oversight mechanisms.

These multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) now cover almost every major industry, from certifying food or consumer products as “sustainable,” “fair,” or “ethical,” to establishing good practices for internet companies in respect of privacy and freedom of expression online.

The new report from MSI Integrity, Not Fit-For-Purpose, is the culmination of a decade of research and analysis into international standard-setting MSIs. The report finds that, while MSIs can play important roles for engaging corporations, they are not effective tools to ensure that they respect human rights, to hold them accountable for abuse, or to provide rights holders with access to remedy for abuses. 

“Over time, MSIs [multi-stakeholder initiatives] have become captured and dominated by corporations. So, while they may not have been designed to fail, I think they were destined to fail,” MSI Integrity Executive Director Amelia Evans LLM’11 said recently in a Guardian article about the report.

The report is a call to rethink the role of MSIs, and voluntary regulation more broadly, and for more effective regulation and enforcement of corporations at the local, national and international levels. The report also calls on the human rights community to challenge and change the corporate form itself, which excludes rights holders, workers, and communities from business decisions that impact them more than anyone else.

International Human Rights Clinic students and staff contributed research, writing, and editing, including: Alicia Brudney JD’19, Yanbing Chu JD’19, Sabrina Singh JD’20, Praggya Surana LLM’19, Rebecca Tweedie JD’21, and Vincent Yang JD’20, and Tyler Giannini, HRP and Clinic Co-Director and Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Malene Alleyne LLM’17, MSI Integrity’s Research Coordinator and Clinic alum, was instrumental in the report’s production and dissemination.

MSI Integrity was incubated at the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School from 2010-2013 by Evans and Tyler Giannini, who is active on the board and still frequently collaborates with Evans on clinical projects. The organization began after NGOs and government officials — concerned with understanding whether MSIs were working — expressed the need for an independent organization to focus on measuring the effectiveness of MSIs.

Want to learn more about MSIs and the report? See below for commentary, events, and more.

Visit the report website: msi-integrity.org/not-fit-for-purpose/

Register for our July 30 discussion on worker/community-centered human rights interventions and lessons from the failed experiment of MSIs, with workers and their allies from WSR Network, Equal Exchange and Obran: https://bit.ly/38XdplF   

Stay tuned for a joint blog series with MSI Integrity, “Rethinking Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives,” that will be launching soon.

The text above draws from the “Not Fit-For-Purpose” MSI Integrity report launch website.

July 6, 2020

Conversion Therapy Report: Online Launch


UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz to provide public highlights from report to UN Human Rights Council

An individual cowers in fear before a judge, a doctor, and a lawyer.


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


This month, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, will present his report on the practices of so-called “conversion therapy” to the UN Human Rights Council. Shortly after, he will conduct two online sessions to elaborate on key findings of his report and engage in further conversation with all interested stakeholders. These events will take place via Zoom and be livestreamed to Facebook.

Check the starting time in your region and register at the time now to attend a session:

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 to the moderator during the event. Thanks to Égides for providing strategic support to this event.

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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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July 2, 2020

150+ Organizations Issue Global Call for “New Normal”


Humanitarian disarmament approach offers proven model for change


(July 2, 2020) — More than 155 organizations released a joint letter today stating that humanitarian disarmament can lead the way to an improved post-pandemic world.

Endorsed by global campaigns that have garnered two Nobel Peace Prizes and fostered the creation of four international treaties in the past 25 years, the letter argues that humanitarian disarmament’s proven human-centered approach should guide current and future efforts in dealing with the pandemic and advancing human security.

The letter’s signatories include local, national, regional, and international organizations from around the world. Disarmament, human rights, peace, faith, medical, student, development, and other groups have all endorsed the letter. The widespread support across campaigns underscores how seriously the humanitarian disarmament community views the letter’s call. 

Humanitarian disarmament seeks to reduce the human suffering and environmental damage inflicted by arms. To advance its goals of preventing and remediating harm, money invested in unacceptable weapons would be better spent on humanitarian purposes, the letter says. 

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June 30, 2020

UN releases embargoed expert letters drawing on Clinic complaint


Rights experts call on UN to provide remedy to victims of Haitian cholera epidemic


(June 30, 2020) — The United Nations (UN) published two previously embargoed letters from fourteen UN independent rights experts on Saturday, calling on the organization to deliver overdue remedies to victims of cholera in Haiti. Addressed to Secretary-General António Guterres and the Haitian government, the letters respond to a complaint submitted by the International Human Rights Clinic, the Haiti-based human rights law firm Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), and its U.S.-based partner organization, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) in January.  

The experts’ letters adopts the Clinic’s arguments that the UN’s approach following its public apology in 2016 amount to violations of the right to effective remedy. The experts found “glaring limitations” in the UN’s approach, including that the UN has failed to pay any compensation and that its subsequent underfunded effort has amounted to little more than a spate of symbolic development projects. They stressed that “the continued denial of effective remedies to the victims is not only a violation of their human right to an effective remedy, but also a grave breach of public confidence in the Organization’s integrity and legitimacy.” The letters conclude that a “fundamental shift in approach is necessary if the Organization is to uphold the respect for human rights and rule of law.”  

Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, led a clinical student team in working on the January complaint. She was recently interviewed by Harvard Law Todaydiving into her nearly-decade long advocacy on behalf of Haitian cholera victims. The interview explores the UN’s failure to adequately respond to the epidemic and provide appropriate reparations to victims. 

As Lindstrom says in the Q&A, “In the absence of an independent mechanism to determine responsibility, the decision becomes a political one driven by the self-interests of powerful member states and officials within the UN bureaucracy. I think there have always been people within the U.N. who have wanted to see the organization do the right thing in Haiti, but without adequate leadership from the Secretary-General, the forces pushing for inaction have prevailed.” 

The rights experts released a public statement at the time the letters were sent, which generated significant attention in the media and prompted a preliminary response from the Secretary-General.