Blog: Staff

November 16, 2020

Training the next generation of international women’s rights advocates

Posted by Dana Walters

Six women sit around a table smiling for the camera. They are in professional attire and working on computers.
In Fall 2017, Waheedi traveled with a student team to Geneva to work with activists on advocating for women’s rights at the international level. From left to right: Hyshyama Hamin, Robin Tholin ‘19, Sarah Marsso, Salomé Gómez Upegui, Zainah Anwar, and Waheedi.

Since joining Harvard Law School, Salma Waheedi, a clinical instructor and lecturer on law in the International Human Rights Clinic, has devoted a major part of her teaching and clinical legal practice to training students to become effective international women’s rights advocates. A native of Bahrain and a U.S.-trained attorney with a background in constitutional and Islamic Law, Waheedi has led advocacy and social justice-oriented legal projects in partnership with women’s rights activists in Muslim communities. To change the lived experiences of women most acutely, Waheedi and her partners have focused on family law reform.

A woman with curly hair and a green shirt poses for a head shot.
Salma Waheedi joined Harvard Law School in 2016 as a joint fellow in Islamic Legal Studies and the International Human Rights Clinic. Today, she is a clinical instructor and lecturer in law in the International Human Rights Clinic and associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World.

Salma Waheedi joined Harvard Law School in 2016 as a joint fellow in Islamic Legal Studies and the International Human Rights Clinic. Today, she is a clinical instructor and lecturer in law in the International Human Rights Clinic and associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World.

“Despite its huge impact on women’s lives, it’s an area that receives relatively little attention in human rights circles,” Waheedi said. “We are talking about a system of laws that govern all aspects of women’s private lives, including marriage, divorce, child custody, matrimonial property, inheritance, as well as freedom of movement and work and protection from violence.”

Advocating for family law reform in Muslim legal contexts presents a unique set of challenges and sensitivities. In the majority of Muslim legal systems, Shari’a—Islamic Law—is a part of the constitutional order and often forms the foundation of Muslim family laws. Many of these laws are based on interpretations that entrench gender-based discrimination and fail to protect women’s rights in the family sphere.

Waheedi’s practice focuses on lending legal support to women’s rights advocates working with their local communities, as well as international coalitions working to foster cross-regional collaborations. One key example is Musawah, a global movement advocating for justice and equality in the Muslim family. Musawah takes strong positions against child marriage, forced marriage, and polygamy and calls for equality in spousal rights, custody rights, access to divorce, and inheritance rights. It advocates for these changes through a holistic framework that integrates progressive Islamic legal interpretations, human rights principles, local constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, and the lived experiences of Muslim women.

“Many current legal provisions are no longer tenable given the lived realities of Muslim women today,” Waheedi said. “Muslim feminist scholarship aims to create a paradigm shift by emphasizing the need to return to the core principles of the Quran, such as justice, equality, and dignity for all, as a basis for an alternative rights-based reading of Islamic legal sources that responds to the contemporary needs of the Muslim family.”

To help conceptualize current reforms and outdated laws, Musawah and Waheedi’s student teams have put together a comprehensive Muslim family law mapping project. The project is a resource for researchers and academics to look comparatively across 31 countries with Muslim majorities or minorities. Importantly, the initiative also outlines positive developments for women’s rights in the Muslim world, celebrating successes, as well as marking lessons for how to continue to advocate for change.

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October 20, 2020

Killer Robots: Precedent for a Ban Treaty


Shared Concerns, Desire for Human Control Should Spur Regulation

A symbolic illustration of a man warding off a missile coming from a  person's mind.
(C) 2020 Brian Stauffer for Human Rights Watch.

(Washington, DC, October 20, 2020) – A treaty to ban fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” is essential and achievable, the International Human Rights Clinic said in a report released today.

The 25-page report, “New Weapons, Proven Precedent: Elements of and Models for a Treaty on Killer Robots,” outlines key elements for a future treaty to maintain meaningful human control over the use of force and prohibit weapons systems that operate without such control. It should consist of both positive obligations and prohibitions as well as elaborate on the components of “meaningful human control.”

“International law was written for humans, not machines, and needs to be strengthened to retain meaningful human control over the use of force,” said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. “A new international treaty is the only effective way to prevent the delegation of life-and-death decisions to machines.”

The report was co-published with Human Rights Watch, for which Docherty is senior arms researcher. HRW coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

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October 16, 2020

“Deep Shame Within the Ranks of UN Staff”

Assessing the UN’s Haiti Cholera Response 10 Years On

By Joey Bui JD’21

In 2010, a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission caused an outbreak of cholera in Haiti, resulting in the deaths of over 10,000 Haitians. On Oct 8, 2020, ten years after the outbreak began and amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, key experts joined the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School for a webinar to discuss the ongoing failure of the UN to adequately answer to Haitian victims and what lessons the rights organization should learn moving forward.

It was a rare occasion in which a UN official spoke publicly with Haitian and foreign advocates who have been extremely critical of the UN’s response. During the event, former UN officials provided an inside look at the UN’s failures in Haiti, and expressed shame about the UN’s response. The panel also identified key takeaways for the UN to adopt in order to prevent a repeat in the future.

The virtual panel, which was a part of Harvard Worldwide Week and was co-sponsored by seven different Harvard centers and groups, included Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian human rights lawyer at Bureau des Avocats Internationaux who has led efforts to seek justice for victims, as well as Haitian doctors who have worked on the frontlines of the outbreak, Dr. Inobert Pierre of St. Boniface Hospital and Dr. Marie Marcelle Deschamps of GHESKIO. Presenting perspectives from the UN were Josette Sheeran, the UN Special Envoy for Haiti; Andrew Gilmour, the former Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights; and Philip Alston, the former UN Special Rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights.

Eight individuals on zoom during a webinar.
From left to right, top: Beatrice Lindstrom, Philip Alston, Louise Ivers; Middle: Marie Deschamps, Mario Joseph, Andrew Gilmour; Bottom: Inobert Pierre, Josette Sheeran.
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October 13, 2020

Building Momentum: IHRC and ASP Launch Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Detention Settings

Posted by Zac Smith JD'21

Sexual violence is all too common in conflict and post-conflict settings, causing horrific physical and psychological damage and preventing peace building efforts. As recognized in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467 (2019), all individuals are at risk of sexual violence in conflict, and detention settings are a particular context of risk, especially for men and boys. 

Taking up Resolution 2467’s call to increase international attention and coordination on the issue, the All Survivors Project and the International Human Rights Clinic partnered to author the Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in Detention Settings. Drawing from existing sources of international law and authoritative guidance, the document’s ten principles and accompanying commentary outline the international community’s responsibility to prevent and respond to CRSV. 

A red cover with a yellow block illustrating a cage with humans sitting on bars.

On Wednesday October 7, academic experts, policy makers, and diplomats came together at a virtual side event to the UN Human Rights Council to officially launch the Principles and highlight their significance. (Watch a recording of the event here.) Moderator Lara Stemple, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies and International Student Programs and Director of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at UCLA School of Law, prefaced the conversation by underlining the driving motivation for the All Survivors Project’s work — including these principles — that “human rights protections must be afforded to all people, regardless of their individual characteristics.” Panelists included Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, who supervised the Clinic’s work on the project; HE Premila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict; Professor Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and  leader of a recently completed global study of children in detention; and Sophie Sutrich, Head of Addressing Sexual Violence for the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

The event began with opening remarks from representatives of three states that have championed CRSV prevention. Situating the place of the Principles in wider efforts to cultivate international peace and prosperity,Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland and Ambassador Peter C. Matt of Liechtenstein underlined their importance and timeliness. As Ambassador Lauber observed, “the Principles are clearly intended to be of practical use, as they contain specific recommendations for implementation.”Ambassador Tine Mørch Smith of Norway explained that “the physical hurt suffered from conflict related sexual violence does not discriminate between male and female victims.”She committed that CRSV prevention, including a focus on men and boys, would be a priority when Norway takes its seat as a non-permanent Security Council member in 2021.

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October 7, 2020

Forcing the UN to do right by Haitian cholera victims

A woman wearing a gray blazer looks out into the distance under an arch in front of the Harvard Law library.
Beatrice Lindstrom is pictured at Harvard Law School at Harvard University. Photo Credit: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic, has spent almost a decade working with communities in Haiti affected by a 2010 cholera epidemic caused by a sewage leak from a U.N. peacekeeper base. Coming up on the 10 year anniversary of the epidemic, Lindstrom spoke with Liz Mineo of the Harvard Gazette about her pursuit for justice on behalf of cholera victims and the U.N.’s failure to properly provide remedy and reparations after 10,000 died from the disease.

As Lindstrom says in the interview, which you can read in full on the Gazette website:

“If you had told me in October of 2010 that I would still be doing this work 10 years later, I think I would have felt both exasperated and heartbroken that the U.N. still has not responded justly to victims of the epidemic. At the same time, this has been a very long struggle that has been led by victims and affected communities in Haiti. As long as they are pushing for justice for their families, it’s a privilege to be able to stand alongside them.”

Beatrice Lindstrom

Learn more from Lindstrom and other experts at the Human Rights Program webinar “10 Years On: Lessons from the Cholera Epidemic from Haiti” on Thursday, Oct. 8 at 2 p.m. ET.

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October 7, 2020

Preventing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Detention Settings

Red report cover with heading, "Preventing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Detention Settings: Principles and Commentary." There is a picture of a yellow illustrated prison and the report is by IHRC and All Survivors Project.

October 7, 2020 — Today, the International Human Rights Clinic and the All Survivors Project launched, “Preventing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Detention Settings: Principles and Commentary.” The Principles draw from existing international law – primarily international human rights law and international humanitarian law – as well as authoritative guidance to bring together in a single instrument ten key international principles to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence, applicable to all persons deprived of their liberty in armed conflict. Each principle is accompanied by commentary on its sources and content.

In Spring 2020, Clinic students Yanitra Kumaraguru LLM ’20, Zac Smith JD ’21, and Amanda Odasz JD ’21 worked under the supervision of Anna Crowe LLM’12, the Clinic’s Assistant Director, to research and draft the principles and commentary. They were significantly aided by research conducted by Clinic students Terry Flyte LLM ’19 and Radhika Kapoor LLM ’19, who worked under the supervision of Crowe and Emily Keehn, formerly the Associate Director of the Academic Program of the Human Rights Program.

September 30, 2020

Confronting conflict pollution: new principles argue for greater assistance for victims of toxic remnants of war

Posted by Dana Walters

A woman peers behind a wall as she sees smoke billowing and fire.
A woman looks at fire and smoke from oil wells set ablaze by Islamic State militants before the fled the oil-producing region of Qayyara, Iraq, November 4, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani.

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, irreparably damaging the environment and disrupting the lives of the people who called the area home. When Bonnie Docherty ’01, associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection in Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, visited the islands in March 2018, she spoke with survivors who suffered from immediate and long-term health effects and who remain displaced decades after the tests.

“Many survivors in the Marshall Islands described having no warning that the tests were going to occur. Then there was blinding light. The sky turned red and various other colors, and then white, radioactive ash fell everywhere,” Docherty said. “Eventually, the U.S. military came and evacuated the communities. For years, as some people would try to return to their home, they did not know if they were still at risk or if the land was safe. There was a remarkable lack of information distributed to those who were most affected.”

The experiences of survivors in the Marshall Islands, as well as other places where armed conflict and military activity have harmed the environment, provided an impetus for “Confronting Conflict Pollution: Principles for Assisting Victims of Toxic Remnants of War,” a major report released today. Co-published by the International Human Rights Clinic and the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS), the report establishes a new framework for addressing the human harm resulting from the environmental consequences of conflict.

The report lays out 14 principles that cover a range of harm and assistance, establish a mechanism for shared responsibility, identify key implementation measures, and apply overarching human rights norms. The report also includes a detailed commentary, explaining the principles and providing precedent for them. The overarching goal of the principles is to ensure that victims’ needs are met and that they can realize their human rights.

“There have been huge advances in developing legal frameworks for protecting the environment in relation to armed conflicts in the last decade,” said Doug Weir, research and policy director at CEOBS. “The principles help fill a clear gap in clarifying how states and the international community should respond to the consequences of environmental degradation on communities.”

Weir and a panel of other experts joined Docherty for an online launch event on September 30.

The report adapts the concept of victim assistance, originally designed to deal with explosive weapons, to conflict-related pollution, such as that from nuclear weapon use and testing, oil well fires in Iraq, or the bombing of industrial plants in Ukraine.

Docherty began the process of drafting principles regarding toxic remnants of war with Weir and then-Clinical Fellow Rebecca Agule ’10 in fall 2016. After taking a short break to assist the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) during the negotiations of the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), she returned to the project in fall 2018 with an exceptional team of clinical students: Matthew Griechen ’19, Daniel Levine-Spound ’19, and Susannah Marshall ’19. Docherty’s experiences with the TPNW, the first treaty to require assistance for victims of toxic remnants of war, informed the clinic’s principles.

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September 28, 2020

Litigating Identity Systems Guide

The cover of the report h

Last week, Privacy International, a longstanding International Human Rights Clinic partner, published “A Guide to Litigating Identity Systems,” which draws on comparative research students Maithili Pai LLM ’20 and Spencer Bateman JD ’20 undertook with the Clinic’s Assistant Director, Anna Crowe LLM’12, last academic year on the human rights implications of national identity systems — data-intensive government programs that link each individuals’ identity with a card or number.

As the guide notes, public discussion on national identity systems has mostly focused on their perceived benefits, which “limits the extent to which groups and individuals concerned about the human rights impact of identity systems can organize around strong arguments challenging those systems, in whole or part.” The guide “seeks to fill that gap by providing a clear, centralised source of the arguments advanced in and discussed by national courts that discuss the negative implications of identity systems, particularly on human rights. It gives advocates a tool for developing arguments in any given national context challenging an identity system, informing debate from a human rights perspective, and further building the repertoire of arguments that can be advanced in the future.”

You can read the guide and learn more about it on Privacy International’s website.

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September 28, 2020

Susan Farbstein Publishes Article about Apartheid Litigation in Harvard International Law Journal


The most recent print edition of the Harvard International Law Journal, published today, features an article by Susan Farbstein, International Human Rights Clinic Co-Director and Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School, about the long-running Apartheid suit.  Entitled “Perspectives from a Practitioner: Lessons Learned From The Apartheid Litigation,” the piece draws on her work as co-counsel in the Alien Tort Statute case that sought to hold corporations accountable for their role facilitating human rights abuse in apartheid South Africa.

“The article really represents my attempt, as a human rights practitioner, to analyze the experience of litigating the Apartheid suit,” Farbstein explains.  “While lawsuits alone can’t fundamentally improve human rights, the article contends that litigation can be a powerful option for individuals or communities that have survived human rights abuse, and that it played an important role for many stakeholders involved in this particular case.  I try to honestly consider the challenges that we faced over the years, and acknowledge the ways that we fell short of our ambitions.  But I also suggest that critiques of human rights litigation often miss the mark because they demand too much of litigation—which is, of course, just one of the many tools available to the human rights movement—and because the critiques fail to understand the multiple goals of this kind of effort.” 

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September 25, 2020

WATCH: Navigating Black Identity in the Human Rights Field

Five individuals talk on zoom in a grid pattern.
Top left to right: Aminta Ossom, Cassandre Théano; Middle: Godfrey Odongo, Christopher Richardson; Bottom: Rosebell Kagumire.


On September 24, the Human Rights Program hosted the first event in a series exploring racial justice in the human rights field. Aminta Ossom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic, convened the series and moderated the first event, Advocating While Black: Navigating Black Identity in the Human Rights Field. Read an interview with Ossom on our blog about why she convened the series and what she hopes to discuss throughout the year.

Panelists for the September 24 event included:

  • Rosebell Kagumire, Editor, AfricanFeminism

  • Godfrey Odongo, Senior Program Officer, Wellspring Philanthropic Fund

  • Christopher Richardson, Immigration Attorney, General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer, BDV Solutions

  • Cassandre C. Théano, Assistant Director, Human Rights and Public International Law, Columbia Law School

Watch a recording of the event with captions at this link or below:


Thanks to our co-sponsors: the Harvard African Law Association, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice.

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