Blog: Press Releases
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April 2, 2020
April 2, 2020 — The International Human Rights Clinic joined human rights organizations around the world today in urging Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to prioritize the safety and well-being of the Rohingya refugee population during the COVID-19 pandemic. The area of Cox’s Bazar District houses a significant population of refugees from Myanmar, more than 850,000 individuals who have fled persecution in their home country due to ethnic discrimination and violence. Today, human rights organizations ask the Bangladesh government to lift restrictions on Internet connectivity and halt construction of barbed wire fences, in order to better ensure that the refugee community and aid workers can respond safely in a crisis that would ultimately have devastating effects in the area. The letter specifically asks Bangladesh to “uphold the rights of Rohingya refugees to health, freedom of expression and access to information, and freedom of movement.” Read the full letter to the Prime Minister as a PDF linked here and copied below.
March 23, 2020
Neuman challenges arguments that roll back human rights
Professor Gerald L. Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program (HRP), filed a submission with the controversial “Commission on Unalienable Rights” of the U.S. State Department on March 18, 2020. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo established the Commission in July 2019 to advise the State Department on reformulating U.S. human rights policy. The Commission is charged with bringing policy back to “our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” Neuman is the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School (HLS).
The mandate of this Commission, and some of the remarks of Commission members at public meetings, have severely alarmed major human rights NGOs, who warn of serious damage to the international human rights system. Neuman’s own submission also addresses several of the concerns that the NGOs have raised. He challenges some Commissioners’ claims that there are too many human rights and argues for the protection of the rights of sexual minorities; he also questions proposals to give priority to civil and political rights over economic and social rights, as well as to privilege freedom of religious conduct over other human rights. Last, he also disputes the suggested foregrounding of the role of “natural law” at the international level.
Before HLS suspended in-person classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, HRP had arranged for a public panel event to discuss the Commission on Unalienable Rights. This April panel would have included Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University, who is also the Chair of the Commission; Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard and the former Dean of Harvard Law School; Katharine Young, Associate Professor of Law at Boston College Law School; and Neuman.
In lieu of the April panel, you can read Dean Minow’s “Remarks before the Commission on Unalienable Rights,” Professor Young’s “Trumping Human Rights in the United States,” and Neuman’s comments. You can also learn more about the Commission on their public-facing website.
The report of the Commission is expected in the summer of 2020. HRP will convene experts for a public (in person or remote) discussion of the Commission’s report in Fall 2020.
March 13, 2020
We know it has been a difficult week, as the situation related to the COVID-19 virus changes by the minute. As decision-making around the virus evolves, we are thinking of the safety, health, and well-being of our community on campus and affected communities around the world. This is our top priority right now. We have always sought to build a supportive and inclusive space for our students, partners, and staff, and we realize that this has been an emotional and difficult time for many. We also recognize that responses to the outbreak, such as quarantines and containment, can provide undue social, emotional, and economic hardship to already vulnerable populations. We urge local and national governments to consider the human rights implications of their actions and the distribution of resources as they seek to contain the virus and mitigate its effects.
Following the guidance of Harvard University and to lower the risk of transmission, the Human Rights Program (HRP) is cancelling all public events for the remainder of the semester. We are sad to postpone these conversations, and we look forward to finding ways of engaging virtually on critical topics during this time. In line with guidance from Harvard University and Harvard Law School, the International Human Rights Clinic has transitioned to conduct classes and clinical work online for the remainder of the term. We are also postponing the application deadline to our postgraduate fellowships from March 15 to March 31. Any graduating student or recent alumni who may face obstacles submitting materials by this date should contact Dana Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org). Last, HRP faculty and staff will be transitioning to remote work over the course of the next week. Our offices will be mostly empty as we adjust to this new mode of work.
To our students, we recognize that this is not how you wanted or expected to conduct your semester and that these changes will cause serious disruptions. We understand that many of you are upset and anxious at the prospect of abruptly leaving your community at the law school. We will continue to work with you to mitigate the impact of the disruptions, and to ease potential burdens, stress, and other challenges associated with the evolving public health situation. We want to remain a resource for you. We also encourage anyone at Harvard who is facing hardship to make use of the resources that the University has made available. For more information and to find more resources, please visit Harvard Law School’s COVID-19 FAQ page and Harvard University’s COVID-19 FAQ page.
February 19, 2020
On February 5, 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered its judgment in Kruglov, et al. v Russia (no. 11264/04 and 15 other applications), and ruled that the searches of lawyers’ apartments and offices in connection with criminal cases against their clients was illegal. Human Rights Program Visiting Program Fellow Anton Burkov represented one of the applicants in the case, attorney Alexey Silivanov.
The judgment concerned searches carried out between 2003 and 2016, all but two of which were based on court warrants. In some of the searches, the investigating authorities seized items such as computers, hard drives, or documents. While the European Convention on Human Rights does not guarantee lawyer-client privilege as such, Article 8 of the Convention guarantees the right to respect for private and family life, the home and correspondence. The Court found that the searches of the lawyers’ homes and offices and the seizure of electronic devices containing personal information lacked sufficient justification, and that there were no safeguards to protect attorney-client confidentiality. As a result, the Court found violations of Article 8. The judgment has important implications for victims of similar searches in Russia.
Dr. Anton Burkov is the founder of ECHR-Navigator, an online teaching platform on strategic application to the ECHR which you can learn more about on Facebook. He is a Fulbright Fellow at Harvard Law School and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Human Rights Practice Program of the University of Arizona.
February 13, 2020
By Bonnie Docherty
Efforts to protect civilians from the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in towns and cities took a step forward this week when more than 70 countries met in Geneva to discuss draft elements of a new political declaration.
According to a new paper co-published by the International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch, the text is a good foundation for further work, but several areas need to be strengthened in order to maximize the protection of civilians.
Explosive weapons, such as airdropped bombs, rockets, and missiles, produce a pattern of immediate and reverberating effects when they are used in populated areas. In addition to killing and injuring civilians at the time of an attack, they can damage critical infrastructure, which in turn interferes with essential services such as health care and education. The problem is exacerbated if the weapons have a wide area effect due to inaccuracy, a large blast or fragmentation radius, or the delivery of multiple munitions at once.
In their new paper, the Clinic and Human Rights Watch call on countries to commit to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. They also recommend that the declaration include strong commitments on assistance for victims, data collection and sharing, and follow-up meetings to review progress.
This week’s gathering, held at the United Nations in Geneva, represented the second round of consultations in an Irish-led process that began last November. Ireland plans to hold negotiations of the declaration at the next meeting on March 23-24 and to invite states to Dublin to endorse the final instrument in late May.
The Clinic has been actively involved in efforts to reduce the suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas since 2011. Through its field research and legal analysis, it has supported the campaign for a new political declaration on the topic.
The recent Clinic-Human Rights Watch analysis of the draft text was produced by Bonnie Docherty, the Clinic’s associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection, and clinical students Jillian Rafferty, JD/MPP ’20, and Parker White, JD/MPP ’20. Docherty and White also participated in the consultations in Geneva.
February 6, 2020
Three years after admitting its responsibility for cholera, UN continues to violate victims’ rights
February 6, 2020 (New York, NY; Cambridge, MA; Port-au-Prince, Haiti) — 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), filed a formal complaint last week asking UN experts to investigate human rights violations linked to the UN’s response to introducing cholera to Haiti. The complaint is a request to the UN “Special Procedure” system, a group of UN-appointed human rights experts charged with reporting and advising on human rights issues worldwide.
In 2016, after years of denial, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly apologized for the UN’s role in introducing cholera to Haiti and launched a “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti,” a $400 million plan to eliminate cholera and provide “material assistance” to those most affected by the disease. The epidemic has killed 9,789 people and sickened 819,000 since 2010, and Haiti remains vulnerable to cholera due to inadequate investments in water, sanitation and health systems.
“Three years after admitting it was responsible for cholera, the UN continues to unconscionably violate victims’ right to reparations and deny its legal obligations,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the BAI. Since 2010, BAI and IJDH have worked to advance cholera victims’ struggle for justice, including by filing 5,000 claims with the UN and a class action lawsuit in U.S. federal court.
Earlier this week, Foreign Policy revealed that the UN’s lawyers waged “an extraordinary internal campaign” to keep the Organization from accepting full responsibility for cholera. In his parting email, the outgoing Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, slammed UN leadership for failing to honor cholera victims’ rights, calling it “the single greatest example of hypocrisy in our 75-year history.”
The complaint filed last week documents serious deficiencies in the UN’s response under Secretary-General António Guterres’ leadership that violate the right to effective remedy protected under human rights law. Major findings include:
- The UN refused to fund the New Approach through its regular budget, instead relying on charitable donations that have raised only 5% of the $400 million promised.
- The UN made key decisions about the New Approach without victim input. Victim groups organizing for cholera justice were sidelined and labeled a “risk” by the UN Development Programme.
- The UN is denying victims direct compensation for the devastating harms they suffered, in violation of both human rights law and its own legal framework.
- The UN has done little to prevent similar health disasters in the future, with internal UN audits showing that the UN continues its unsafe sanitation management in peacekeeping missions around the world.
“We are appealing to UN Special Procedures to protect victims’ rights to remedies for the harms they suffered. This is as urgent for the countless families who lost loved ones and struggle to survive as it is for the UN’s own legitimacy,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, who led a team of students in drafting the complaint.
UN Special Procedures previously took up the cholera issue in a joint allegation letter in 2014, raising concerns that the UN was denying cholera victims access to legal remedies. Efforts to persuade the UN to change course culminated in a highly critical 2016 report from the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston. This engagement amidst an extraordinary mobilization of cholera-affected communities and allies played a key role in prompting the UN to eventually admit its role in the outbreak.
“UN Special Procedures are the eyes and ears of the human rights system. We are calling on these experts to again take action to protect the integrity of the UN human rights system by holding the UN to its commitments and the rights it claims to protect and promote world-wide,” said IJDH Legal Advocacy Director Sienna Merope-Synge.
A full copy of the 32-page complaint can be found here. Harvard Law School Clinical students Steven Jiang JD ’21, Gigi Kisela JD ’21, and Saranna Soroka JD ‘20 contributed to the drafting of the complaint.
Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney
Bureau des Avocats Internationaux
T: +509 3701 9879 | E: email@example.com
(Kreyol, French, English)
Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor
International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School
T: +1 617 495 1654 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sienna Merope-Synge, Legal Advocacy Director
Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
T: +1 917 864 6901| E: email@example.com
(English, French, Kreyol)
January 24, 2020
January 24, 2020 — Redress and Child Rights International (CRIN) released a report yesterday, “Litigating Peacekeeper Child Sexual Abuse,” finding that courts provided little hope for those seeking justice for child victims of peacekeeper sexual abuse. The report aims to provide an analysis of a longstanding and well-known issue in the human rights world: peacekeepers meant to instill stability and security in regions where they are deployed have also engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse. Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic and Supervising Attorney for HLS Advocates for Human Rights, was one of the more than 30 experts interviewed for the report. In her interview with the authors, Lindstrom and her former colleague, Sienna Merope-Synge, explained the particular devastation wrought by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti from 2004-2017.
As Redress’s press release states: “Almost 2,000 allegations [of sexual abuse], including 300 complaints involving children, were reported between 2004 and 2016.” These cases occurred in Haiti, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other places. Redress adds, “Troop-contributing countries have shown themselves largely unable or unwilling to prevent abuse, prosecute the perpetrators or provide redress to the victims. The UN’s role has also been criticised, prompting extensive internal reforms.”
Furthermore, “in each of the case studies examined in the report, suspected perpetrators were not convicted or were subjected to lesser sanctions than their crimes merited. In not one of the case studies did the victims receive the full reparations to which they were entitled. Not surprisingly, the lawyers and NGOs interviewed for the research reported that their clients did not feel they had obtained justice,” the press release notes.
The report goes on to explore some of the primary obstacles preventing accountability, such as poorly-executed investigations or immunity and problems of jurisdiction.
Formerly the Legal Director for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Lindstrom has worked on accountability of transnational actors, obligations of international organizations, and access to remedies in Haiti for over a decade. In that vein, she has focused on path-breaking advocacy to secure accountability from the UN for causing a devastating cholera epidemic in Haiti during the same peacekeeping mission. She was lead counsel in Georges v. United Nations, a class action lawsuit on behalf of those injured by cholera.
Explaining the importance of the analysis, Lindstrom said: “This report provides the first comprehensive view of global legal efforts to hold peacekeepers accountable. It gives new meaning to the word ‘impunity’ by revealing the range of barriers to justice that survivors face.”
Lindstrom hopes that the report will serve as a call to action for the UN, policymakers, and civil society that has sought to address the problem. “So far, proposed solutions have tinkered at the edges, but what is needed is a systemic overhaul that recognizes victims’ rights to access justice for these crimes.”
Last month, Sabine Lee, Professor in Modern History at the University of Birmingham and Susan Bartels, Clinician-Scientist at Queen’s University, Ontario, published a devastating account of the toll UN peacekeepers left behind after their 13-year stay in Haiti. Drawing on interviews with 2500 Haitians, the investigation documented hundreds of fatherless children, mothers left in poverty, and sexual abuse of children.
The New York Times Editorial Board followed up with an op-ed, “The UN’s Tainted Legacy in Haiti,” which condemned the UN peacekeeper mission for the horror caused by the cholera epidemic and the discoveries unearthed by Lee and Bartels’ work. “The blue helmet of a United Nations peacekeeper represents a unique commitment by the world to assist the weakest and poorest when they are most helpless,” the New York Times wrote. “For soldiers to take advantage of that trust is revolting.”
In 2016, the UN finally admitted to its role in spreading the cholera epidemic in Haiti. The organization, as of yet, has not apologized or proposed any remedy for the pattern of sexual abuse and exploitation peacekeepers likewise caused while supposedly providing support to the country.
January 23, 2020
Posted by Yee Htun
Today is a momentous day for many of us who have longed for justice in Myanmar. The International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) unanimously imposed provisional measures on Myanmar asking that it take “all measures within its power to prevent further acts of genocide against the Rohingya and preserve all evidence related to the allegations” of genocide.
The Gambia first brought the ICJ case against Myanmar in November 2019. They are seeking to prove that Myanmar is carrying out an ongoing genocide against the Rohingya. Both states addressed the ICJ in early December with regards to the provisional measures. As a result of today’s order, Myanmar is obligated to submit a report to the Court on all measures it has taken within four months and thereafter every six months, until a final decision on the case is rendered by the Court.
For the Myanmar military, which has operated for decades with impunity while persecuting ethnic and religious minorities, this degree of scrutiny is a first. Even though the road ahead for both this ICJ case and the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) case around deportation will be a long journey, today’s decision offers a glimmer of hope for the Rohingya.
I, along with three students in the International Human Rights Clinic—Disha Chaudhari LLM ‘20, Lucy Chen JD ’21, and Emily Ray JD ‘21 —spent this Winter Term in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, working alongside our Rohingya refugee partners. We conducted a series of workshops with women survivors, youth leaders, and activists in the camps, addressing the issues of international accountability, women’s rights, and best practices to ensure voluntary, safe, and dignified repatriation. In almost every meeting, we were asked repeatedly about the possibility of securing provisional measures. Our team always said that we should hope for the best, but not give up should the Court fail to grant the requested provisional measures.
These resilient women and men were on my mind as I waited for the ICJ’s decision this morning. For them, and countless other ethnic communities in Myanmar who have long languished under Myanmar military’s campaigns, today’s order is historic.
Read ICJ’s full order on their website.
Yee Htun is a Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic. She is a Burmese Canadian lawyer who has been working on human rights issues in Myanmar for over 20 years.
November 19, 2019
Mamani Plaintiff Teófilo Baltazar Cerro Pens Op-Ed Urging 11th Circuit to Reinstate $10 Million Verdict
This story originally ran in NACLA Reports (North American Congress on Latin America) under the title, “Survivors Fight for Justice for 2003 Bolivian Military Massacre.”
Teófilo is one of the nine plaintiffs in Mamani et al v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, a U.S. federal lawsuit against Bolivia’s former president and defense minister.
On November 19, surviving family members of a 2003 massacre in El Alto are urging the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a $10 million judgement against Bolivia’s former president and defense minister.
Last week in Bolivia, a president resigned under military pressure as civilian supporters of different political parties clashed in the streets. Bolivia is in turmoil today, and not for the first time. Sixteen years ago, at a time of political protests against the government’s plan to export Bolivian gas through Chilean ports, the army opened fire on civilians in the city of El Alto, killing over 70 people, including my wife and our unborn child.
One way to stop such violence is to provide justice for past acts: to hold accountable those in command of the forces that shoot at unarmed civilians. That is why I am in Miami today. Together with eight fellow plaintiffs who also lost loved ones in the massacre, I will continue to appeal the decision to overturn a ruling that held the masterminds of these killings responsible.
When the Eleventh Circuit hears the appeal in what is known as the Mamani case today, it will be an important test. Can the legal system deliver justice for people like me? From a young age, as an Indigenous Aymara person growing up in Bolivia, I was taught that the answer was “no.” Although my country has the largest population of Indigenous peoples in South America—about 60 percent—we have always been treated as second class citizens. We did not have political or economic power. We did not have a voice. And our lives did not have much value.
In 2003, during what has become known as “Black October,” a soldier shot my pregnant wife, Teodosia, while she praying in her sister’s home. Over a period of several weeks, Bolivian soldiers, acting under the command of former president Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada and his defense minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, massacred Indigenous Bolivians. Soldiers injured over 550 people and killed more than 70, including my wife and our unborn child.
Rather than simply mourn, though, I joined with others who had survived Black October. We decided to make the system work for us.After my wife was murdered, I did not know what to do. The love of my life was gone, and I was left alone to raise our seven children. Rather than simply mourn, though, I joined with others who had survived Black October. We decided to make the system work for us.Continue Reading…
November 19, 2019
Indigenous Bolivian Family Members Urge Appeals Court in Miami: Reinstate Judgment Against Former Bolivian President and Defense Minister for Civilian Massacre
Judge Erroneously Set Aside Jury Verdict of Liability, Lawyers Say
November 19, 2019, Miami – Today, Indigenous Bolivian family members urged the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a judgement against Bolivia’s former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and former defense minister, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for the massacre of unarmed Indigenous civilians in 2003.
A U.S. jury found the two former officials liable under the Torture Victim Protection Act in April 2018 and awarded the victims’ families $10 million in damages. The unanimous verdict came after a month-long trial that included six days of deliberations. The judge later set aside the jury verdict and entered his own ruling holding the defendants not liable.
“I was proud, during the trial, to be able to hold these two men to account in their adopted country,” said Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a plaintiff whose pregnant wife Teodosia was shot and killed while praying inside her sister’s home. “We have faith that the Court of Appeals will see what the Bolivian people and the American jury also saw: that Goni and Sánchez Berzaín are responsible for these killings, and that justice must be done.”Continue Reading…
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