Blog: Press Releases

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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July 1, 2020

Conversion Therapy Report: Online Launch

UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz to provide overview of thematic report to UN Human Rights Council

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

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 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 to the moderator during the event.

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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.

June 8, 2020

Families, Rights Groups Demand U.N. Investigate U.S. Police Brutality, Protest Suppression

Families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, and Philando Castile Join Forces with Over 600 Groups from Over 60 Countries Calling For International Scrutiny

GENEVA — In an unprecedented move, the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, and Philando Castile, together with over 600 rights groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Human Rights Network, are demanding the United Nations Human Rights Council swiftly convene a special session to investigate the escalating situation of police violence and repression of protests in the United States. Additional signatories include Black Lives Matter and the NAACP.

“Mamie Till Mobley made a decision to open the casket of her son Emmett Till so the world could see the atrocities Black people faced in America. I want people across the world and the leaders in the United Nations to see the video of my brother George Floyd, to listen to his cry for help, and I want them to answer his cry,” said Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd. “I appeal to the United Nations to help him. Help me. Help us. Help Black men and women in America.”

The groups warn of an “unfolding grave human rights crisis” in the United States and write that the recent police killings of unarmed Black people as well as police use of excessive force and repression of protests violate United States obligations under international law. They call on the U.N. to mandate an independent inquiry into the killings and violent law enforcement responses to protests, including the attacks against protesters and journalists. The letter also calls for a U.N. investigation into the firing of tear gas by President Trump in violation of international standards on the use of force.

The United Nations Human Rights Council is the world’s highest multilateral human rights body. It is mandated to strengthen the global promotion and protection of human rights, and to address human rights violations. The council may hold special sessions to address human rights violations and emergencies if at least one-third of its member states demand.

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June 3, 2020

Black Lives Matter

Posted by the International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School

Human dignity, equality, and freedom from discrimination are at the heart of human rights. We in the International Human Rights Clinic have been outraged by the unacceptable killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. We condemn the systemic racism, violence, and impunity that enable this tragic loss of life and violate the human rights of Black people. 

We also condemn the government’s violent repression of protestors and journalists across the country. The excessive use of force and attacks on freedom of expression must end.  

Black lives matter. We stand in solidarity with those who are leading the fight for racial justice. We all have a role to play in creating a more just and equitable society, and we urge our community to take action.  

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June 2, 2020

Protect Civilians from Explosive Weapons

Strong Political Declaration Will Save Lives

(Washington, DC, June 2, 2020) – Countries should heed the United Nations secretary-general’s call for a new political declaration to protect civilians from the bombing and shelling of cities and towns, the International Human Rights Clinic said in a joint report on the subject with Human Rights Watch.

The 11-page document addresses the importance of a political commitment and elaborates on what it should contain. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas has inflicted immediate and long-term suffering on civilians in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and other areas of recent conflict.

“Countries should agree to a political declaration to prevent the foreseeable human suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas,” said Bonnie Docherty, the Clinic’s associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection. “The declaration should establish that this method of war is unacceptable. Civilian lives are at stake.”

In his annual report on the “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict,” which he presented to the UN Security Council last week, Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the “fundamental need” for a new political declaration. It should commit countries to avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, he wrote.

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May 11, 2020

Clinic and partner orgs urge Malaysian PM to address hate speech against Rohingya

(May 11, 2020) — The International Human Rights Clinic and 83 partner organizations sent an open letter to Prime Minister Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Muhyiddin bin Haji Mohd. Yassin today, urging the Malaysian government to take action regarding threats of violence and ‘hate speech’ directed at ethnic Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.

As the letter states,

“Starting in the third week of April 2020, hateful messages targeting the Rohingya community in Malaysia have proliferated on social media platforms. Many posts included discriminatory and dehumanizing language and images as well as calls for Rohingya in Malaysia to be forcibly returned to Myanmar. Numerous online petitions calling for the expulsion of Rohingya were launched on and other platforms. Some petitions garnered thousands of signatures. Online users threatened prominent Rohingya activists, as well as their supporters, with physical attacks, murder and sexual violence.”

The letter calls on the Malaysian government to take steps to condemn the online hate speech, in order to “ensure that incendiary rhetoric does not trigger discriminatory acts or physical attacks.”

Read the full letter to the Prime Minister of Malaysia on Article 19’s website.

In a recent interview on Harvard Law Today, Yee Htun, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law in the Clinic, noted the long history of hate speech against the Rohingya and contextualized recent events:

“Social media has played a large role […] and ultra-nationalist groups have strategically used it to portray the Rohingya as terrorists, illegal migrants, and opportunistic interlopers who are going to be a resource drain and engulf the country. Our clinic will be releasing a report soon on hate speech in Myanmar, [detailing] its drivers, main narratives, and its impact on religious and ethnic minorities and human rights defenders. In a way, our findings fit in with larger global populist movements. Whether we’re talking about in the U.S. or Hungary, this kind of “othering” rhetoric is frequently used to justify security measures and restrict immigration. And the pandemic offers a potential carte blanche excuse to exclude and infringe people’s human rights. Now, border countries that could have provided asylum are saying they need to safeguard their own countries from infection.”

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May 8, 2020

Clinic co-directors sign joint submission to Pompeo’s “rights commission”

On May 7, 2020, Duke Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic made a joint submission to Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic Co-Directors Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein are among the signatories, which includes clinical faculty from over 20 U.S. law schools.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights is tasked with revisiting questions about what constitutes human rights, the effects of rights claims, and the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy. As Duke Law noted in their press release, the Commission “quickly drew the attention of human rights advocates nationwide because of its troubling mandate, membership, and risks to women’s, LGBTI, and socioeconomic rights.” The joint submission seeks to “delve deeper into the ten core concerning propositions relied upon by the Commission and identifies eight principles of international human rights law that should instead guide its work.” You can read the full submission on Duke Law’s website.

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April 30, 2020

Clinic complaint prompts UN experts to urge justice for Haiti cholera epidemic

A group of fourteen United Nations independent experts released a statement today calling on Secretary-General António Guterres to fulfill the UN’s 2016 promise to take responsibility and deliver justice for the 10,000 victims of a cholera epidemic caused by UN peacekeepers in Haiti in 2010. The statement, which can be read on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website and below, indicates that the experts have also sent a formal communication to the Secretary-General. The intervention demonstrates escalating concern within the UN’s own human rights system that the organization is failing to uphold its obligations to cholera victims. The communication is remarkable for its unprecedented breadth of support from the UN’s own experts in raising allegations that the organization itself is violating human rights.

The statement and communication from the UN experts was prompted by a formal complaint filed in February from Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, 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). The formal complaint called on the UN “Special Procedure” system, a group of UN-appointed human rights experts charged with reporting and advising on human rights issues worldwide, to investigate the violations linked to the UN’s response to introducing cholera to Haiti and a subsequent lack of reparations and fulfillment of legal obligations. Signees to the April 30, 2020 letter from UN Special Procedures included experts whose tenures as mandate holders ends today, including Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights as well as Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing. This intervention marks one of the last actions by them in their capacity as mandate-holders.

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April 28, 2020

COVID-19 and LGBT and gender diverse persons: voices of our communities

Victor Madrigal-Borloz will host “town hall” meetings on pandemic impact

Illustration of a person on videoconferencing technology taking notes from various individuals

Please join us for a conversation with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (IE SOGI) and HRP’s Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher, to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the responses given by State and non-State actors, on the everyday life of LGBT and gender diverse persons.

At three meetings on April 30 and May 1, the IE SOGI will start with an introduction of 15-20 minutes, where he will make a presentation of preliminary findings on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting our communities and discuss recent exceptional measures taken by States to combat the pandemic after declaring a state of emergency.

The floor will then be open so that the IE SOGI can receive information from participants. Initially, each participant will have a maximum of 3 minutes to present their contributions. If possible, participants might be asked follow-up questions in a second round.

Questions that will guide that discussion will be:

– How do we identify that a measure established by the State is COVID-specific?

– What are the limits to using emergency powers when fighting the pandemic?

– What is the impact of existing inequalities during a state of emergency? Are there any ways to respond to the exacerbation of inequalities during a crisis?

– Are there seemingly neutral measures that are having discriminatory effects in practice?

– How is data being gathered and systematized?

You can register to participate in one of the following meetings at the linked text below:

Register here for April 30, 2020 – 15:00 UTC / 11: 00 a.m. EST (in English)
Register here for May 1, 2020 – 09:00 UTC (in English)
Register here for May 1, 2020 – 13:00 UTC (in French) 

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