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Blog: Press Releases

July 28, 2022

Press Release: Global Coalition of Tamil and Human Rights Groups Urge Singapore’s Attorney General to Investigate Gotabaya Rajapaksa

The International Human Rights Clinic joined a coalition of groups this week calling for Singapore to investigate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s involvement in international crimes in Sri Lanka, including mass atrocities during the 2008-2009 period that saw the end of years of conflict in the country. Rajapaksa recently resigned as president of Sri Lanka and is reported to now be in Singapore. More information about the letter to Singapore’s Attorney-General’s Chambers follows below.

Washington D.C.; July 26, 2022 — Seventeen Tamil and human rights organizations from around the world issued a joint letter today, urging Singapore’s Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to investigate and, as appropriate, prosecute Gotabaya Rajapaksa for his alleged role in international crimes committed in Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s former president and defense secretary, fled to Singapore after being ousted in Sri Lanka and is reportedly in Singapore on a Short Term Visit Pass.

The letter was signed by: People for Equality in Relief in Lanka (PEARL), Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research (ACPR), Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ), Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), Centre de Protections des Droits du Peuple Tamoul, Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA), Global Rights Compliance (GRC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), International Human Rights Clinic – Harvard Law School, REDRESS, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, Tamil Americans United PAC, Tamil Rights Group (TRG), Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), United States Tamil Action Group (USTAG), and World Thamil Organisation (WTO).

“Rajapaksa stands credibly accused of committing the world’s most heinous crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Singapore should not serve as a safe haven for individuals implicated in such abuses,” said Archana Ravichandradeva, Executive Director of PEARL. “Now that Rajapaksa is no longer shielded by immunity, Singapore must seize this remarkable opportunity to provide justice and accountability for victims and victim-survivors of Rajapaksa’s crimes.”

While Rajapaksa was Sri Lanka’s defense secretary, he oversaw Sri Lanka’s brutal military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). An estimated 70,000 to 169,796 people were killed in the final phase of the war. Rajapaksa personally stands accused of ordering the execution of LTTE leaders and their family members upon surrender; directing the widespread and systematic bombing of hospitals; and repeatedly asserting that civilian persons and objects were legitimate targets. The joint letter urges AGC to investigate Rajapaksa’s potential liability for these international crimes on the basis of customary international law and applicable domestic law. This letter builds upon the criminal complaint filed with AGC by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) against Rajapaksa.

The full letter is available here.

For more PEARL reporting on Sri Lanka, please visit: https://pearlaction.org/.

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June 15, 2022

Addressing Nuclear Weapons Contamination: New Principles for Environmental Remediation

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

When the First Meeting of States Parties (1MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) convenes in Vienna from June 21-23, much of the discussion will center on how to implement the treaty’s positive obligations to remediate the contaminated environment and assist victims. 

These provisions are critical because nuclear weapons wreak havoc on the environment and the people who live in it. Radioactive contamination from the weapons’ use and testing devastates ecosystems; causes death, disease, and psychological trauma; displaces entire communities; destroys cultures; and more. 

To respond to this harm and inform the 1MSP’s debate, the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) and the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) have released a new report entitled Facing Fallout: Principles for Environmental Remediation of Nuclear Weapons Contamination. The report identifies 19 principles for implementing remediation measures and includes an in-depth commentary with explanation and precedent for each.  

Facing Fallout complements a 2020 report by the same authors entitled Confronting Conflict Pollution: Principles for Assisting Victims of Toxic Remnants of War. Victim assistance directly addresses the harm nuclear weapons cause to humans, while environmental remediation responds to its major underlying cause, i.e., radioactive contamination. Collectively, the reports set up a framework for a long-term response to the consequences of nuclear weapons. 

A new IHRC fact sheet, also released today, summarizes the environmental

remediation and victim assistance principles and lays out measures for initiating implementation to which TPNW states parties should commit at the 1MSP. In particular, the 1MSP should agree to: assess needs and state capacity, create a national infrastructure for environmental remediation and victim assistance, establish an informal intersessional working group, promote inclusivity, and uphold guiding principles of implementation. The fact sheet’s recommendations are similar to those put forth in a working paper by 1MSP co-facilitators Kazakhstan and Kiribati.  

IHRC and CEOBS based the principles in Facing Fallout on humanitarian disarmament law, international environmental law, international human rights law, and related policies. Where appropriate, they adapted these models to the distinctive characteristics of nuclear weapons.  

The principles are especially relevant for TPNW states parties, but they are also applicable to any state that seeks to remediate nuclear weapons contamination in its territory. They are summarized below according to their six categories: 

Purpose and Character 

Environmental remediation should address existing harm and unacceptable risks of future harm to the environment and affected communities caused by contamination from the use and testing of nuclear weapons. States should follow the precautionary principle and an iterative approach, adopt international standards and best practices, and use best available technologies. 

Definition of Harm 

The harm caused by nuclear weapons contamination should be understood broadly to encompass, inter alia, environmental degradation; loss of biodiversity; physical and psychological injuries and death; social marginalization; economic loss; loss of access to natural resources; obstacles to participation in cultural life; displacement of local communities; and substantial impairment of the realization of the human rights. 

Framework of Shared Responsibility 

Affected states should bear primary responsibility for environmental remediation of territory under their jurisdiction or control, while other states should provide technical, material, and financial assistance to help affected states meet their responsibilities. States and non-state actors should exchange scientific and technical information and promote capacity building.  

Steps of Environmental Remediation 

Affected states should begin by creating a national plan and assessing, surveying, and recording the problem, although plans and assessments may need to be updated over time. Affected states should also conduct an optimization analysis in which they evaluate different options and implement the one that produces the greatest benefit to affected communities and the environment. The analysis should take into account environmental, human health, social, cultural, and economic considerations as well as the preferences of affected communities and other stakeholders. 

Affected states should ensure risk education is available. They should break, disrupt, or remove pathways by which people are exposed to contamination, such as through marking and fencing and controlling food and water sources. If robust remediation is necessary and appropriate, they should address the contamination itself through containment and other treatment measures. Taking care during handling, transport, and removal of waste as well as long-term site management is also critical. 

Handling of Information  

Affected states should collect and disseminate information about affected sites and communities and remediation measures, and preserve it for the conceivable radiological life of the contaminated waste. 

Guiding Principles 

Affected states should meaningfully consult with and actively involve affected communities, their representative organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders at all stages of the remediation process. They should adhere to the principle of non-discrimination and ensure transparency of the process.  

***** 

TPNW states parties should take advantage of next week’s 1MSP to make concrete commitments to begin the process of operationalizing the treaty’s positive obligations. But in the intersessional period and beyond, they should start looking to the future and develop a long-term framework for environmental remediation and victim assistance. The IHRC-CEOBS principles and commentaries provide in-depth and well-grounded guidance for that endeavor.  

Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection IHRC was co-author and editor of Facing Fallout. A number of IHRC students contributed significantly to the conceptualization, research, and writing of the report: Naima Drecker-Waxman, Andie Forsee, Gillian Hannahs, Amy Hayes, David Hogan, Lavran Johnson, Jillian Quigley, Erin Shortell, Dane Underwood, Theo Wilson, and Jack Jaehyuk You. CEOBS provided guidance and review of the report.

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March 2, 2022

Addameer and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School Send Joint Submission to the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel

In response to a call for submissions from the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association​, in partnership with the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, contributed a joint submission analyzing whether the legal regime enforced by Israel in the occupied West Bank violates the prohibition of apartheid under international law.  The submission outlines discriminatory laws, policies, and practices enforced by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank, which create a dual legal system that systematically discriminates against Palestinians and suppresses their civil and political rights. The submission finds that Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank are in breach of the prohibition of apartheid and amount to the crime of apartheid under international law. Click here to read the submission

The Commission of Inquiry wasestablishedin May 2021 by the Human Rights Council with the mandate to investigate “all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up and since 13 April 2021” in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, in addition to investigating “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.” 

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October 22, 2021

International Human Rights Clinic Statement in Support of Palestinian Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders

Posted by International Human Rights Clinic

The International Human Rights Clinic is deeply concerned by the Israeli Minister of Defense’s recent designation of prominent Palestinian civil society groups, including Palestinian human rights advocates, as terrorist organizations.

Deploying anti-terrorism legislation to criminalize and delegitimize human rights work violates internationally protected rights to free speech and free association and assembly. It marks an alarming escalation in the repression of Palestinian civil society organizations and human rights defenders, who have been instrumental in documenting human rights abuses by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, resisting unjust policies of the Israeli occupation, and advocating to protect the rights of Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

We stand in solidarity with Palestinian human rights defenders. We call on the United States government and the international community to oppose this decision, and on the Israeli government to reverse it immediately.

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October 18, 2021

The International Human Rights Clinic Supports International Advocacy to Advance Rights of Women in Yemen

Posted by Salma Waheedi

The Musawah Movement for Equality in the Muslim Family submitted a thematic report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), advocating for effective legal reforms to prevent violence against women and to end gender-based discrimination in Yemen’s personal status laws. 

The report is a product of an ongoing collaboration between the International Human Rights Clinic, Musawah, and Yemeni women’s rights advocates. Shaza Loutfi, HLS ’22, worked closely with Musawah researchers and Yemeni advocates to draft the report and develop its analysis and recommendations, under the supervision of IHRC Clinical Instructor Salma Waheedi. The report will be considered by the CEDAW Committee in its constructive dialogue with the Government of Yemen, scheduled to take place remotely on October 27th, 2021, as part of the Committee’s upcoming session

The report examines Yemen’s legal framework and practices that enforce de jure and de facto discrimination against Yemeni Muslim women in five priority areas: child marriage, forced marriage, violence against women, inheritance rights, and nationality rights. Taking into account the ongoing devastating conflict in Yemen and its current political instability, it aims to document the most pressing issues, legal and practical, that affect the lives of Yemeni women in the private and family spheres, and to offer recommendations to guide the CEDAW Committee’s engagement with the Government of Yemen.   

Member states to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are required to undergo regular reviews by the Committee of 23 independent international experts on how they are implementing the Convention. 

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August 10, 2021

HRP Welcomes New Associate Director

Posted by Gerald Neuman

Today I have the honor of announcing an exciting new appointment at the Human Rights Program. Dr. Abadir M. Ibrahim has joined our team as the Associate Director of the Human Rights Program. Abadir will bring leadership and experience to the work of the HRP. He will also act as an important liaison between the HRP and other parts of the Law School and the University.

Abadir joins the Human Rights Program from the Legal and Justice Affairs Advisory Council of Ethiopia, where he was the Head of the Secretariat. The Advisory Council is an independent statutory body mandated with advising and providing technical support to the Ethiopian government in the latter’s endeavors to conduct pro-democracy and pro-rights justice sector reforms. In his role as Head of the Secretariat, Abadir oversaw the planning and implementation of the Advisory Council’s mandate. He also provided subject area expertise and participated in law-making processes on topics such as civil society, anti-terrorism, transitional justice, and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) legislation.

Previously, Abadir worked in different roles within the human rights field including as an advocate, as an educator, and a researcher. Abadir’s legal work has focused on African countries, and especially his home country of Ethiopia, and engaged with the African system of human rights. His broader research interests encompass the intersections between global human rights normative structures and non-western cultural/religious institutions and traditions with a special emphasis on normative ethics and religion. He earned his J.S.D. from the Intercultural Human Rights Program at St. Thomas University, School of Law. His dissertation, which was a comparative-historical study of transitions towards democracy, was published under the title of The Role of Civil Society in Africa’s Quest for Democratization.

At the HRP, Abadir will play a substantive and managerial role in innovating and implementing academic activities, including the speaker series, conferences, and the Academic Program’s various fellowships.

We welcome him warmly and look forward to your meeting him soon.

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August 2, 2021

Killer Robots: Urgent Need to Fast-Track Talks

Shared Vision Forms Sound Basis for Creating a New Ban Treaty

(Washington, DC, August 2, 2021) – Governments should make up for lost time by moving urgently to begin negotiations on a new treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force, the International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Representatives from approximately 50 countries will convene on August 3, 2021, at the United Nations in Geneva for their first official diplomatic meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems, or “killer robots,” in nearly a year.

The 17-page report, “Areas of Alignment: Common Visions for a Killer Robots Treaty,” co-published by the two groups, describes the strong objections to delegating life-and-death decisions to machines expressed by governments at the last official Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting on killer robots. That meeting, held in September 2020, featured proposals from many countries to negotiate a new international treaty to prohibit and restrict autonomous weapons.

“International law needs to be expanded to create new rules that ensure human control and accountability in the use of force,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at the Clinic and senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The fundamental moral, legal, and security concerns raised by autonomous weapons systems warrant a strong and urgent response in the form of a new international treaty.”

Nearly 100 countries have publicly expressed their views on killer robots since 2013. Most have repeatedly called for a new international treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force, including 32 that have explicitly called for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. Yet a small number of militarily advanced countries – most notably Israel, Russia, and the United States – regard any move to create new international law as premature. They are investing heavily in the military applications of artificial intelligence and developing air, land, and sea-based autonomous weapons systems.

Governments have expressed support for banning autonomous systems that are legally or morally unacceptable, the groups said. There is strong interest in prohibiting weapons systems that by their nature select and engage targets without meaningful human control, including complex systems that use machine-learning algorithms to produce unpredictable or inexplicable effects. There are further calls to ban antipersonnel weapons systems that rely on profiles derived from biometric and other data collected by sensors to identify, select, and attack individuals or categories of people.

“Killing or injuring people based on data collected by sensors and processed by machines would violate human dignity,” Docherty said. “Relying on algorithms to target people will dehumanize warfare and erode our humanity.”

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June 9, 2021

IHRC Issues Statement on Haiti’s Constitutional Referendum

The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, NYU’s Global Justice Clinic, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School issued a statement on June 8, 2021, calling on the U.S. government to heed civil society’s demand and cancel the planned constitutional referendum in Haiti. The referendum, which will ask Haitian people to vote “yes” or “no” on a new Constitution, is illegal. It is the most recent, bold effort by President Jovenel Moïse to consolidate power and comes on the heels of dozens of presidential decrees that undermine checks on the executive. Haitian civil society has widely denounced the referendum, noting its illegality and emphasizing the impossibility of holding a vote under the current administration. International actors are increasingly recognizing the illegitimacy of the referendum, and the danger to democracy that it poses.  However, continued technical support and provision of aid to the government of Haiti to hold elections means that international actors, including the United States government, are tacitly supporting the unconstitutional vote. With long experience working in solidarity with Haitian civil society, and building off our February statement, the clinics urge the U.S. government to urgently and publicly call to cancel the referendum.

Read the statement in English.

Read the full statement in Kreyòl.

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May 5, 2021

Not One Bullet More

Clinic Joins 200+ Orgs in Calling on UN Security Council to Impose Arms Embargo on Myanmar

(May 5, 2021) — The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School joins over 200 other civil society organizations, including the U.S. Campaign for Burma, Human Rights Watch, GCR2P, Global Justice Center and Amnesty International, in calling on the United Nations Security Council to urgently impose a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar. The letter responds to the current crisis in Myanmar, beginning with a February 1, 2021 coup that has spiraled into increasing brutality and violence against civilians, including dozens of children. The organizations urge the UN Security Council to help prevent further violations of human rights against peaceful protestors and those opposing military rule by halting the arms trade with the military junta. Read the full letter below or download it at this link.

Image of protestors kneeling over a memorial with text that says, "Not One Bullet More: Ban Weapons Sales to Myanmar"

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April 22, 2021

Report Finds Haitian Government Complicit in Crimes Against Humanity


Haitian human rights coalition, Harvard clinic release new analysis of state-sanctioned massacres


(April 22, 2021, Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Cambridge, MA)
— Three deadly massacres targeting impoverished neighborhoods in Haiti were carried out with Haitian government support and amount to crimes against humanity, according to a report released today by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the Observatoire Haïtien des Crimes contre l’humanité (OHCCH). The report points to evidence that the gang-led attacks were resourced and supported by state actors, ranging from high-ranking officials in the Moïse administration to the Haitian National Police.

Report cover shows the image of Haitian citizens marching in the streets protesting.

The report, “Killing with Impunity: State-Sanctioned Massacres in Haiti,” analyzes three attacks that took place between 2018-2020, which have together killed at least 240 civilians. The massacres targeted the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of La Saline, Bel-Air, and Cité Soleil, which have played a leading role in organizing protests demanding government accountability for corruption and other human rights violations.

“Moïse’s government has been pushing the story that the attacks are merely gang infighting, but the evidence demonstrates high-level government involvement in the planning, execution and cover-up of the attacks,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, a member organization of OHCCH.

The report relies on investigations by Haitian and international human rights experts that show that senior Moïse administration officials planned the attacks or otherwise assisted by providing the gangs with money, weapons, or vehicles. Off-duty police officers and resources were utilized to carry out the attacks. The Haitian National Police repeatedly failed to intervene to protect civilians despite the sites of the attacks being in close proximity to multiple police stations. In each attack, gangs arrived in the targeted neighborhood, shot at residents indiscriminately, raped women, and burnt and looted houses. The massacres repeatedly involved gangs affiliated with the G9 alliance led by Jimmy Chérizier, which reportedly enjoys government connections.

“We found that Moïse’s failure to stop or respond to attacks initiated by his subordinates may make the President himself liable for crimes against humanity,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, a Clinical Instructor at the Harvard Clinic who supervised the research and drafting of the report. “This should serve as a wake-up call to the international community to stand up for human rights, fully investigate allegations of serious abuses, and do its part to hold perpetrators accountable,” she added.

The report comes amidst a deepening crisis for democracy and human rights in Haiti. Widespread demonstrations have gripped the nation, with large swaths of the population protesting government corruption, rising insecurity, and Moise’s increasingly authoritarian conduct. Notably, to repress dissent, Moise has criminalized common forms of protest and created an intelligence agency to provide surveillance of the political opposition. Attacks against civilians, including the assassination of prominent government critics, have largely been carried out with impunity. Although most experts and much of civil society agree that President Moïse’s constitutional mandate ended on February 7, 2021, he has refused to step down, insisting that an illegal constitutional referendum take place before elections for his replacement.   

The finding that the attacks amount to crimes against humanity strengthens the prospects for accountability. In addition to imposing an international obligation on the Haitian government to prosecute the people responsible, it opens the door to prosecutions in national and international courts outside of Haiti. It also means that perpetrators can be pursued indefinitely as no statutes of limitations apply.

“Just like Haiti’s former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier eventually had to stand trial for his brutal repression decades after he left office, the perpetrators of today’s massacres can no longer escape justice by relying on statutes of limitations,” Joseph added.

The UN has raised alarm that the ongoing lack of accountability for massacres has fostered an enabling environment for further carnage. Yet another attack on Bel-Air earlier this month bore striking similarities to the massacres analysed in the report.

“The attacks covered in the report are particularly severe and well-documented, but they are part of a widespread, systematic campaign of violence and intimidation of political dissidents,” said Pierre Esperance, Executive Director of the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), an OHCCH member that has led independent investigations into repeated attacks on impoverished neighborhoods. RNDDH has documented at least 11 massacres over the course of Moise’s presidency.

The report relies on evidence collected by a range of Haitian and international actors over the last few years and analyzes it under international criminal law. Harvard Law School students Joey Bui JD’21 and Nathalie Gunasekera JD’21 led the research and drafting of the report under Lindstrom’s supervision.

Read the report in English, French, and Haitian Creole.

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