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September 22, 2021

HRP Mourns the Passing of Professor John Ruggie

Posted by Gerald L. Neuman

A major figure in international relations and human rights, our dear colleague John Gerard Ruggie, passed away last week.  Ruggie was the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  In the human rights field he is most famous for establishing a viable foundation for addressing the human rights responsibilities of business corporations, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011).  A brilliant strategist, Ruggie engaged in extensive consultation, study, analysis and persuasion to rescue the business-and-human-rights project from the polarized confrontation that had brought it to an impasse.  His invaluable book Just Business:  Multinational Corporations and Human Rights (2013) provides a model for the multi-dimensional negotiations that enable such achievements. John’s unique blend of kindness, rigor, insight, and attentive listening will be sorely missed.

Photo of John G. Ruggie sitting in his office.
John G. Ruggie is the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

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September 20, 2021

Court Issues Ruling Aligned with Amicus Brief Submitted by HLS Professors Protecting the Rights of Asylum Seekers During the Global Pandemic


On September 16, a U.S. District Judge granted a preliminary injunction against expulsion of migrant families without any hearing, in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others.

Previously, the Trump administration had invoked a public health law, Title 42, section 265, as a substitute measure to deport asylum seekers who had entered the United States. The consequence of this alternative procedure was an abandonment of immigration regulations that protect the rights of asylum seekers who may face risk of persecution or torture in their countries of origin. This CDC order resulted in border agents expelling tens of thousands of migrants without taking into account the possibility that they could face irreparable harm if not admitted to the United States.

The Biden Administration has kept this rule in place, despite criticism that the policy improperly relies on the Covid-19 crisis to circumvent legal protections guaranteed to refugees under both U.S. and international laws.

The court’s ruling requires the U.S government to end the Title 42 policy by the end of the month.

The court’s decision is in line with a February 2021 amicus brief submitted by Gerald L. Neuman, Director of the Harvard Human Rights Program, and Deborah Anker, Founding Director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, joined by other prominent scholars of refugee and immigration law. Commenting on the District Court’s decision, Professor Neuman, who is the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, observed that “the court’s injunction provides a very welcome correction to the abusive interpretation of public health authority for xenophobic purposes by the Trump administration, and vindicates the statutory and international law commitments of the United States.”

If upheld on appeal, the preliminary injunction will have an immediate and significant impact on the safety of migrants who cross the United States’ southern border. They will remain subject to expedited removal procedures, but with the right to be heard on their need for protection.

The government has already appealed the preliminary injunction, and is seeking to have it stayed by the D.C. Circuit.  Neuman plans to participate as an amicus in opposing the stay, and in later phases of the litigation.

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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June 9, 2021

Harvard Human Rights Journal on Indirect Discrimination and Religion

Grounded in an April 2020 symposium hosted by the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, the latest issue of the Harvard Human Rights Journal focuses on indirect discrimination on the basis of religion. HHRJ’s Volume 34, Issue 2 (Summer 2021) invited scholars who attended the private workshop to explore the concept in more detail, exploring issues in a comparative and international manner. The April event was hosted by Gerald Neuman, HRP Director and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School, who also contributed an essay to the journal on the “normative background to prohibitions on indirect discrimination” and “the current state of indirect discrimination law domestically and internationally.”

Other essays in the series explore the nuances between indirect discrimination and reasonable accommodation, the inclusion of religion in public education to promote tolerance, and the difference between the right to freedom of religion and the right against religious discrimination. Expert contributors included Tarun Khaitan, Professor of Public Law and Legal Theory at Wadham College, Oxford University; Rashad Ibadov, Assistant Professor of Law at the School of Public and International Affairs, ADA University, and a former HRP Visiting Fellow; and Sarah Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights at Columbia Law School; among others.

Two commentaries round out the issue. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher and Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, spoke to how the theory of indirect discrimination might be applied to the lived realities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and other gender diverse (LGBT) persons; and Yuval Shany, Hersch Lauterpacht Chair in Public International Law at Hebrew University, wrote about the choices made by national and international human rights bodies in employing guarantees of religious freedom and prohibitions of indirect discrimination as alternative bases of protection.

Read the full issue on the HHRJ website.

For the last two years, HRP has hosted three private workshops focused on indirect discrimination and other factors. Most recently, workshops explored indirect discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) and indirect discrimination arising from the pandemic, with a discrete focus on SOGI.

Learn more about the 2020-2021 workshops here.

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June 3, 2021

Human Rights Workshops Explore Indirect Discrimination

Posted by Dana Walters

In Panama, Peru, and Colombia, gender-based quarantine schedules created a culture of fear and risk for transgender individuals. With men allowed out of the house on certain days of the week and women others, gender-diverse persons faced an increased threat of persecution and discrimination by the state and the public. Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were but some of the groups to note alarm. Just a few months after they were enacted, many of these laws were wiped from the books.   

These gendered pandemic measures were an example of the practices and laws up for discussion at a February workshop hosted by the Human Rights Program (HRP) at Harvard Law School. The event, which focused on indirect discrimination resulting from the pandemic, with a particular emphasis on sexual orientation and gender identity, was one in a series of indirect discrimination workshops HRP has convened in the last year. In spring 2020, HRP hosted a virtual convening exploring indirect discrimination on the basis of religion with several former and current members of the UN Human Rights Committee. During the 2020-2021 academic year, HRP hosted two additional workshops drawing on other categories of indirect discrimination. Convened with Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, the October 2020 workshop addressed indirect discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, laying the foundation for February’s discussion on the pandemic.

“One way to think about the purpose of indirect discrimination norms,” said one expert at the October convening, “is that they compel government, or other actors subject to the norms, to actively think about or know about the lives of people who are not like themselves.”

Indirect discrimination is a term that encompasses rules or laws whose intent may not be to discriminate against one group “on the face of it” but has the effect of doing so. In the workplace, for instance, a policy that requires employees to work on Saturdays may have severe effects for those of the Jewish faith, who observe Saturday as a holy day of rest. Indirect discrimination affects a range of protected groups on the basis of race, religion, and other factors.

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May 27, 2021

Ode to the Class of 2021

Posted by Bonnie Docherty

On May 27, 2021, we said goodbye to Harvard Law School Class of 2021. In lieu of an in-person celebration, graduating students of the International Human Rights Clinic joined clinicians and staff on May 26, 2021 via Zoom to celebrate each other and bid adieu. Read a tribute written by Bonnie Docherty, Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection, below.

IHRC students on their individual zoom screens
The International Human Rights Clinic gathered on Zoom on May 26, 2021, to celebrate its graduating class.

’Twas a year after COVID, and to our surprise, 
Commencement online, Harvard Law must reprise.
But you should still celebrate your graduation day, 
And we are prepared to send you off on your way. 

It’s been an odd time with all learning remote,
But your achievements are no less deserving of note.  
You’ve been such good sports throughout the pandemic. 
You’ve given your heart, soul, and humor to the Human Rights Clinic. 

Each week you came to your Clinic Zoom room 
To address violence, injustice, and things that go boom.  
You survived “trips” to Geneva no matter the hour, 
Greeting 4 a.m. meetings without being dour.

You spotlighted weapons and their human cost 
Making sure victims’ voices did not get lost. 
Incendiaries, nukes, arms trade, robots, EWIPA  
For each HD issue you’ve made a tangible difference. 

Impunity in Gambia and within the UN, 
Through research and law, you sought to end.  
After years of hard work, you saw victory,  
For Bolivian plaintiffs in the case Mamani. 

On the environment front, you fought the good fight, 
Showing climate, water, and lead all affect human rights. 
And last but not least you examined privacy  
And abuses faced by Syrian refugees. 

You’ve inspired your peers and your clinicians 
With your work, fortitude, and true dedication.  
You all should be proud of what you have done,  
The people you’ve helped, the respect you have won.  

We’ll miss you but know great things you will do, 
Whatever area of the law you decide to pursue. 
Congrats and best wishes to HLS ’21. 
Keep in touch and come back to see us in person! 

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May 25, 2021

Goodbye HLS Class of 2021

To the Class of 2021:

Congratulations! You are now law school graduates—always a tremendous accomplishment, but even more so in the midst of this ongoing pandemic. The last fourteen months have tested you in ways none of us could have anticipated. You persisted with compassion and commitment, through unprecedented challenges, to reach this milestone.

After you pause to celebrate the moment, we urge you to continue to look ahead. The pandemic has both laid bare and exacerbated many preexisting divides. Hundreds of millions of lives have been turned upside down, not only through the loss of loved ones but through lost health, lost education, lost opportunities, lost support networks, lost jobs, and lost income. The brunt of the pandemic has been borne by those already living at the margins or in dire circumstances. The elderly, people with disabilities, women, girls, racial and ethnic minorities, frontline workers, and those who rely on the informal economy have been especially hard hit. In less than a year, progress on gender equality was rolled back decades. Extreme poverty is on the rise for the first time in a generation. Young people are struggling, not only to access education but also to access the connections and the community needed to thrive. In some countries, the pandemic has provided pretext to crush opposition, subvert electoral processes, and crack down on human rights defenders, journalists, and activists. Worldwide vaccination efforts to date have been woefully unequal, and the virus continues to rampage across the global south.

While all of this was unfolding, we have watched in awe as you excelled in our clinic, supporting each other and persevering with extraordinary determination, intelligence, resilience, and courage. Now, as you venture out to launch your careers, you will face a new and challenging world. Solidarity and collaboration will be necessary not only to overcome the pandemic, but to meet the many human rights challenges of our time—from poverty and inequality, to climate change, to the resurgence of authoritarianism, extremism, and nationalism. Your creativity, leadership, and dedication to social justice are urgently needed.

It is daunting, but you are ready. You know how to build to community, how to lead with kindness and empathy, and how to create space for diverse voices and perspectives. We have seen you do it in our clinic, and we look forward to seeing what you will do throughout your careers. As we send you off to continue this important work, remember that you will always have a home here. We look forward to welcoming you back to the clinic, in person, one day soon.

For today, we extended our heartfelt congratulations to you, Harvard Law School’s Class of 2021!

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May 4, 2021

A Burning Issue: The Human Cost of Incendiary Weapons

Posted by Jacqulyn Kantack, Human Rights Watch

This post also appears on the Humanitarian Disarmament website.

Incendiary weapons inflict excruciating physical and psychological injuries on civilians in conflict zones, and those who survive endure a lifetime of suffering. While Protocol III to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) regulates the use of incendiary weapons, loopholes in the protocol have limited its effectiveness.

“The Human Cost of Incendiary Weapons and Shortcomings of International Law,” a recent online event organized by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), brought together an incendiary weapon survivor, a military trauma nurse, a burn rehabilitation doctor, and a disarmament lawyer, who collectively highlighted the problems of these cruel weapons. Drawing on their first-hand experiences and professional expertise, the speakers vividly detailed the humanitarian consequences of incendiary weapons and called on states to strengthen international law regulating their use.

Two of the panelists had personally witnessed the horrors of incendiary weapons. “Abu Taim” (pseudonym) was a teacher at a school in Urum al-Kubra, Syria, that was attacked with incendiary weapons in 2013. In pre-recorded video testimony, he recalled exiting the school right after the strike: “I saw bodies, and those bodies were only black. . . . I came closer to their bodies to know, who are those people? Who are those students? I didn’t recognize their faces.”

Continue Reading…

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April 27, 2021

Beyond the Coup in Myanmar: Echoes of the Past, Crises of the Moment, Visions of the Future

Posted by Emily Ray JD'21 and Tyler Giannini

(Editor’s Note: This article introduces a Just Security series on the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The series will brings together local and international voices on the coup and its broader context. The series is a collaboration between Just Security and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. The article first appeared on Just Security on April 26, 2021). 

On Feb. 1, 2021, the Myanmar military – the Tatmadaw – shattered the all too brief effort to transition to democracy in Myanmar. Over the past two and a half months, the Tatmadaw has continued its illegitimate effort to undermine the democratic elections from last year and prevent the elected government from taking power. In the face of mass popular opposition and international condemnation, the military has only escalated its use of violence against its own population – systematically stripping away rights and violently attacking protestors and dissidents, reportedly killing over 700 civilians as of Apr. 20, 2021, and detaining more than 3,000.

Despite the continued threats and extreme violence, the people of Myanmar have stood their ground and refused to be silenced. On Apr. 16, opponents of the coup from across the political spectrum announced the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) to resist the military. Just as importantly, the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), a grassroots movement aimed at disrupting state functions and crippling the economy in order to undermine the military’s attempt to rule, has been hugely successful in galvanizing collective action since early February. In addition to the tens of thousands of CDM participants walking out of their private and public sector positions, protests across the country have seen massive youth engagement on a scale not seen in a generation. The organizing power has been impressive. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok have been used to spread awareness and coordinate protests, strikes, and other forms of peaceful resistance. The military has taken notice of the CDM’s power, issuing threats against young people protesting and shooting indiscriminately at protestors of all ages, including children. Parallel movements have arisen in areas like neighboring Thailand, with Thai youth protesting their own authoritarian government in solidarity with activists from Myanmar.

Today we launch a Just Security series that will take a deep dive into the situation in Myanmar. The series will provide insights that put the coup and civilian response into historical and modern context, deepen unexplored angles on the current crises, and survey possibilities and ways forward over the next six months to a year. This series also aims to elevate policy discussions on a number of issues, ranging from peace and accountability to religion and democracy, asking: What is happening now and why?

Within the series, contributions from authors from Myanmar and others working closely on the situation will explore topics such as youth leadership in the CDM and protests, domestic and international solidarity, environmental concerns, the dissolution of rule of law in Myanmar, and what the coup means for ongoing international accountability efforts. Below, we offer an overview of the major themes of the series, along with a timeline of the struggle for democracy in Myanmar. The current uprising against military rule must be understood in the context of these decades-long struggles for peace, democracy, accountability, and justice.

Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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