Blog: Student Perspectives

March 31, 2020

Recapping Discussion on Repression in Xinjiang


HLS Advocates for Human Rights Hosts Event Highlighting Atrocities Against Uyghurs


By Jasmine Shin JD’21 & Samantha Lint JD’20

On March 9, 2020, HLS Advocates for Human Rights hosted a discussion at Harvard Law School on abuses committed by the Chinese government against Uyghur minorities in the Xinjiang region. HLS Advocates is a student practice organization which conducts human rights projects in partnership with NGOs around the world; raises awareness of human rights issues; and builds students’ capacity through trainings.

Speakers for the event included Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Rayhan Asat LLM’16, an alumna of Harvard Law School who is of Uyghur origin. The discussion was moderated by Professor William Alford, the Director of East Asian Legal Studies at Harvard Law School. The event was co-sponsored by East Asian Legal Studies at HLS, the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Inner Asian and Altaic Studies at Harvard, and the Harvard Muslim Law Students Association. 


The Appalling State of Oppression in Xinjiang


The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic minority group who are predominately Muslim. They are one of the two largest groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in Northwest China. Several Uyghur communities also live in neighboring countries in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

The Uyghurs have been long regarded as potential threats by the Chinese government due to their cultural and ethnic differences from the Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, and demands for a separate state from some members of the Uyghur community. 

Richardson emphasized the unparalleled scale of arbitrary detention of Uyghurs today, enabled by surveillance technology and driven by a misguided notion of sinicization. Over the past several years, HRW has documented the use of political re-education camps against Uyghurs by authorities in Xinjiang, where “torture, ill-treatment, denial of access to medical care, and intentional degradation” occur routinely. Richardson also highlighted the Chinese government’s surveillance of the Uyghur community – both as troubling on its own and as facilitating the detention program. For example, the Xinjiang police use an app “that gathers information about what is mostly perfectly legal behavior – how often [one] pray[s], when [one] talk[s] to [one’s] neighbors, whether [one] go[es] in the front or back door of [one’s] house.” 

The Chinese government’s abuses against the Uyghurs, Richardson noted, are driven by “[its] mistrust of ethnic minorities” hidden behind a “security claim.” The Belt and Road Initiative may also be an additional motivating factor, as Xinjiang is an important region for the initiative due to its close proximity with countries to the west of China. Overall, the oppression of Uyghurs highlights the dangers of “sinicization – a fixed idea of what a ‘good’ Chinese citizen is – and a desire to produce a dissent-free society enabled by technology and surveillance.”

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January 31, 2020

2019 HRP Summer Fellow Reflection: Emily Ray JD’21


Ray spent summer 2019 at the Forest Peoples Programme in Guyana


Summer fellowships for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience. During the summer of 2019, HRP funded five HLS students to intern abroad at nongovernmental organizations for 8-12 weeks. At the conclusion of their internships, students returned to HRP with a deeper appreciation for the type of work required of human rights practitioners. While our 2020 summer fellowship application is open this month, we’ll be excerpting portions from their fellowship reports to provide a glimpse into the kinds of experiences open to human rights students at Harvard Law. 


When Emily Ray JD’21 departed for the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) in June 2019, she was lucky to be joining International Human Rights Clinic alum, Lan Mei JD’17. Mei had been with the FPP for two years, first as a Henigson Fellow in Human Rights and then as a full-time staff attorney. As the only permanent staff member living in Guyana, Lan directly supervised Emily over the course of her internship.

FPP is a human rights organization committed to working with indigenous communities across the globe to secure their rights to their lands and their livelihood. They employ a partnership model and collaborate intensively with local organizations on their mission. At FPP in Guyana, Emily spent the bulk of her time working with the Wapichan people in partnership with the Amerindian People’s Association (APA). The Wapichan have a collective organization, the South Rupununi District Council (SRDC), through which villages can discuss shared issues and make decisions on governance and unified goals. 

Over the summer, Emily focused on producing a training for members of the SRDC’s villages on mining in the Wapichan territory. As she describes it:

“The SRDC already had an established community program intended to monitor mining in the territory and record information for community awareness and potential use in later legal actions. However, the monitoring program needed to be revamped and updated in line with the community’s concerns and with Guyana’s mining laws. The 3-day training that we prepared and delivered served a number of functions; it allowed us to get a better sense of which mining issues the community cared most about and how to redesign the monitoring forms/program to address those issues; it also acted as a sort of know-your-rights training that educated community members about relevant Guyanese and international law. My personal role in this training consisted of preemptive research about applicable laws, working with Lan to plan and later adjust the training curriculum, generating handouts for participants to take home to their villages to disseminate information, leading several different elements of the training, and assisting in facilitating group work. After the 3-day primary workshop, we spent a fourth day working with the community monitors on fine-tuning the actual form that they complete on monitoring trips.” 

Emily’s summer with the FPP was her first experience doing grassroots human rights work. She originally came to HRP’s summer fellowship program wanting to think more about the intersection between environmental conservation and indigenous rights. FPP’s small in-country base meant Emily was able to try her hand at a variety of projects, from drafting communications between villages and government officials to interpreting the language in the Guyanese constitution and mining regulations. 

Emily described Lan as conscientious mentor. She learned a great deal from Lan through Lan modeling what an effective human rights advocate does. Emily noted she particularly admired Lan’s flexible demeanor and perceptive intellect.

“When we met with community stakeholders, Lan showed an acute ability to know exactly what was needed at any moment. If someone needed expert legal analysis on their rights, she would jump in. If we were at a community meeting and she noticed no one was taking notes, she would grab a pencil. She understood how doing international human rights work might require you to wear many ‘hats.’”

After working directly with clients on the ground, Emily saw first-hand how direct legal representation can be constrained by larger systemic forces. She hopes to gain a more holistic picture of the “entire human rights ecosystem” by studying policy in her 2L summer. During the fall semester, she worked on an International Human Rights Clinic team on women’s rights among refugees from Myanmar. She is also a dedicated member of HLS Advocates for Human Rights.


Interested in learning more about HRP Summer Fellowships? Schedule an advising appointment with Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, and apply to join our 2020 cohort today! Please note that you do not need to have a confirmed placement organization before you apply for the 2020 HRP summer fellowship pool. Applications are due TOMORROW, February 1, 2020!

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January 27, 2020

2019 HRP Summer Fellow Reflection: Julian Morimoto JD’21


Morimoto spent summer 2019 in the Philippines documenting Duterte’s war on drugs


Summer fellowships
for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience. During the summer of 2019, HRP funded five HLS students to intern abroad at nongovernmental organizations for up to eight weeks. At the conclusion of their internships, students returned to HRP with a deeper appreciation for the type of field work required of human rights practitioners. Throughout January, we’ll be excerpting portions from the 2019 HRP Summer Fellowship cohorts’ final reports to provide a glimpse into the kinds of experiences open to human rights students at Harvard Law.


Last summer, Morimoto spent 12 weeks at Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) in the Philippines, where he contributed to the organization’s analysis on the Philippines’ war on drugs and human rights law. In July, Amnesty International called President Rodrigo Duterte’s tactics over the last three years a “large-scale murdering enterprise” and called on the United Nations to investigate for “crimes against humanity.” As an NGO committed to providing legal advocacy on behalf of “marginalized, disempowered, and vulnerable groups,” IDEALS has been working on documenting the human rights violations occurring in the war on drugs for years.

As a Filipino-American, Morimoto was personally invested in and impacted by the work. Over the course of the summer, he read through transcripts of interviews of individuals alleging to be victims or relatives of victims of human rights violations, either extrajudicial killings or arbitrary arrests. Looking for trends in the data given to him, Morimoto found “evidence that the war on drugs campaign is in tension with international and domestic human rights law,” he said.

Morimoto described the experience as eye-opening, challenging his preconceived notions of human rights lawyering. Having expected international human rights bodies like the United Nations to more centrally figure in the organization’s strategy, he learned that “more of the important mechanisms for vindicating rights were domestic in nature,” he said. He was also surprised by how much IDEALS staff encouraged him to explore economic, social, and cultural rights, though he had come from a U.S.-education system where civil and political rights were more heavily emphasized.  

In his internship, Morimoto also had the opportunity to draw on his mathematics background, discovering how integral statistics became for the organization’s documentation efforts. 

“I initially thought the report was going to be most helpful as a case-by-case analysis of how the war on drugs violated the rights of people in the Philippines,” he said. “Through this approach, I was going to go through the each documentation of human rights violations and point to which portions of international and domestic human rights law they violated. However, staff encouraged me to look at trends in the data: how many of the victims had their homes broken into, how many of the victims were falsely labeled as nanlaban or ‘resisters’ after police had killed them, how many victims were uneducated, etc. This helped me learn that these trends can also be useful for human rights lawyering (in contrast to an individual, case-by-case analysis of each documentation), because it helps show that the human rights violations aren’t just isolated incidents: there is a government policy that systematically violates human rights.”

IDEALS staff encouraged Morimoto to take both a wide-eyed view of the trends and dive deeper into individual stories. Over the summer, he was exposed to heartbreaking descriptions and pictures of violence. The research made him see “how difficult human rights work can be.”

“In spite of all this,” he said, “it taught me that human rights is not just some lofty ideal discussed by people in iron towers. It is a tool that many people would like to use to find relief for injustice. Furthermore, it taught me that while the international human rights regime may have many, many flaws (particularly from the lens of developing countries, against whom human rights law appears to be disproportionately enforced compared to rich, Western countries), the fact remained that the people I was trying to help wanted to rely on this system to obtain justice, and that being an advocate sometimes meant setting aside your own views about a system to better fulfill the wishes of your clients.”

Morimoto described IDEALS staff as a family. They gave him the independence and autonomy to design his own project and methodology, while providing him with feedback and direction when he asked for it. At HLS, he hopes to continue to study armed conflict and public international law.


Interested in learning more about HRP Summer Fellowships? Schedule an advising appointment with Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, and apply to join our 2020 cohort today! Please note that you do not need to have a confirmed placement organization before you apply for the 2020 HRP summer fellowship pool. Applications are due February 1, 2020!

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January 23, 2020

2019 HRP Summer Fellow Reflection: Matthew Farrell JD’21


Farrell spent summer 2019 at Amnesty International in London, UK


Summer fellowships
for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience. During the summer of 2019, HRP funded five HLS students to intern abroad at nongovernmental organizations for up to eight weeks. At the conclusion of their internships, students returned to HRP with a deeper appreciation for the type of work required of human rights practitioners. Over the course of January while our summer fellowship application is open, we’ll be excerpting portions from their fellowship reports to provide a glimpse into the kinds of experiences open to human rights students at Harvard Law. 


Matthew Farrell had a strong foundation in international relations and human rights when he left for his summer at Amnesty International in London. After completing a human rights-focused Master’s and beginning law school, he wanted to use his 1L summer internship to dive into international criminal law. At Amnesty International, Farrell joined the Strategic Litigation Unit, which combats human rights violations through litigation that will have implications for actors – including individuals, communities, governments, and corporations – beyond the parties to the case. Much of the work he conducted in that unit focused on civil matters; however, the internship experience helped him understand how such core litigation skills could easily transfer into other arenas. In his role as an intern, Farrell contributed research, editing, drafting, and advising on a range of cases.

In his own words, he:

– researched and drafted sections of a third-party intervention submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Piskin v. Turkey. The brief addressed procedural rights in employment proceedings leading to the dismissal of an employee working with or for a State agency on grounds related to national security, including under a State of Emergency, as well as the application of the principles of legality and legal certainty and non-retroactivity as applied to national security, including in counter-terrorism;

– researched ECtHR precedent for a third-party intervention before the ECtHR in the case of Muhammed and Muhammed v. Romania regarding the use of classified material in ‘closed’ judicial proceedings – i.e. proceedings in which one party and their representative of choice are excluded for reasons of national security. 

– familiarized himself with case documents (e.g. complaints, facts, appeals, motions, amicus briefs, and opinions), edited third-party interventions, participated in strategy sessions for civil and criminal cases, and communicated with courts for cases in which Amnesty intervened before the ECtHR and the International Criminal Court.

Farrell also had a unique opportunity to develop a cutting-edge strategy for human rights-based climate change litigation and advise on proposed litigation in this emerging field.

He elaborated, “Climate change is a new area for Amnesty International and in preparing the climate change litigation strategy, I also began developing connections between the unit and other actors within Amnesty International, as well as with other organizations that work on human rights and climate change.”

Farrell hopes to use this experience to continue to work on human rights litigation in the Clinic and elsewhere. In addition, because the placement largely revolved around appellate work, he is more heavily invested in that field. 

For the 2019-2020 academic year, Farrell is enrolled as  a student in the International Human Rights Clinic and an active member of HLS Advocates for Human Rights. Currently, he is undertaking an HRP Winter Fellowship at the International Criminal Court in the Hague this January.
Interested in learning more about HRP Summer Fellowships? Schedule an advising appointment with Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, and apply to join our 2020 cohort today! Please note that you do not need to have a confirmed placement organization before you apply for the 2020 HRP summer fellowship pool. Applications are due February 1, 2020!

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January 14, 2020

2019 HRP Summer Fellow Reflection: Angel Gabriel Cabrera Silva, SJD Candidate

Cabrera Silva spent Summer 2019 at Colectivo Emancipaciones, in Morelia, Michoacán, México


Summer fellowships for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience. During the summer of 2019, HRP funded five HLS students to intern abroad at nongovernmental organizations for up to eight weeks. At the conclusion of their internships, students returned to HRP with a deeper appreciation for the type of work required of human rights practitioners. Over the course of the next month while our summer fellowship application is open, we’ll be excerpting portions from their fellowship reports to provide a glimpse into the kinds of experiences open to human rights students at Harvard Law. 


As an SJD candidate studying grassroots mobilizing in human rights, Angel Gabriel Cabrera Silva wanted to immerse himself in a social justice organization working in partnership with indigenous communities. He joined Colectivo Emancipaciones, an NGO that advocates on behalf of indigenous rights. In order to express its democratic goals, the Colectivo organizes itself into non-hierarchical “commissions.” Angel joined the “Litigation Commission” and the “Community Council’s Commission.” In the former, Cabrera Silva worked on strategic litigation on behalf of indigenous communities. In the latter, he worked with communities on socio-political organizing.

He described his work as follows:

“Currently, the Colectivo Emancipaciones is working alongside Community Councils of the towns of Pichátaro, San Felipe de los Herreros, Arantepacua, and Santa Fe de la Laguna to intervene in a legislative process that intends to regulate their budgetary autonomy. The axis of this strategy is to preemptively organize the social and political aspects of a process for free, prior, and informed consultation that will be reclaimed after (and if) this bill is discussed by Congress. As such, my task was to attend meetings with the various Councils, brief them about the legal elements of the strategy, listen to their opinions, and collaboratively think about how to articulate the organizational aspects (like when and how would it be easier to organize a politically efficient process of free, prior, and informed consent).”

Cabrera Silva plans to return to some of the communities that Colectivo partnered with later in his SJD to do fieldwork. Over the summer, he was particularly impressed with the community commitment of the NGO. He explained that working at Colectivo Emancipaciones provided “a clear example of how the outcomes of human rights work change when advocates have direct political commitments to specific social movements (rather than abstract normative commitments or indirect commitments with donors).”

At Colectivo, he said, “the role of lawyers was never to upkeep any norm or to advise the communities about the proper legal avenue to get a favorable decision. Instead, the lawyers were constantly reviewing the political and social usefulness of any legal action. The constant contact with community councils meant that the Colectivo was always in touch with what material solutions were needed, and their work revolved around that aspect. In fact, the very structure of the Colectivo (organized in a Commission) seems to have been learned from the way the Community Councils organize themselves.”

Angel further elaborated on how the funding structure of the NGO provided a positive influence on its culture, saying: “The fellowship also gave me a lot of insights into how NGOs are sometimes influenced by external sources of funding. The Colectivo Emancipaciones has an internal policy of not accepting any money that might condition their work. In this sense, they have almost no external donors. They mostly fund themselves through their own professional independent practice. They have also established collaborative academic research projects as a means to embolden their alliance with the communities. This mode of practice has an important influence on the power dynamics between the Colectivo, communities, and the individual members of the Colectivo, which are much more horizontal and open for reflection.”

Overall, the internship gave Cabrera Silva the opportunity to re-examine what skills are important in human rights work. “Normally, I would think that having expertise in the latest development of international standards and knowing all the international procedures was one of the most important advantages of a human rights lawyer. However, I realize how little this technical knowledge might matter in contrast to developing the skills that relate to political strategizing, community organizing, and even inter-personal support.”


Interested in learning more about HRP Summer Fellowships? Schedule an advising appointment with Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, and apply to join our 2020 cohort today! Please note that you do not need to have a confirmed placement organization before you apply for the 2020 HRP summer fellowship pool. Applications are due February 1, 2020!

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December 16, 2019

2019 HRP Summer Fellow Reflection: Ji Yoon Kang JD’20

Kang spent summer 2019 at the International Rescue Committee

Summer fellowships for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience. They provide rich professional, personal, and intellectual opportunities. During the summer of 2019, HRP funded five HLS students to intern abroad at nongovernmental organizations for up to eight weeks. At the conclusion of their internships, students returned to HRP with a deeper appreciation for the type of field work required of human rights practitioners. Over the course of the next few months while our summer fellowship application is open, we’ll be excerpting portions from their fellowship reports to provide a brief glimpse into the kinds of experiences open to human rights students at Harvard Law. 

Ji Yoon Kang JD’20 worked at the Thai-Myanmar border for 12 weeks this summer in the Legal Assistance Center at the Mae Sot office. Interning for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Kang wanted to work for an organization that provides direct legal services to vulnerable populations. In the process, he hoped to understand how access to justice and rule of law fit into the overall humanitarian response plan in protracted emergencies.

The border, right now, is just such an emergency. The IRC estimates that there are 114,000 displaced peoples living in Thailand from Myanmar after decades of violence, ethnic tensions, and political and economic upheaval.

At the IRC, Kang worked directly with refugees, in many cases conducting educational workshops in the camp and in the surrounding communities. In a non-exhaustive list of the tasks Kang took on last summer, he designed and led a training on durable solutions for camp-based assistants (refugees who volunteer in their community); designed a community consultation workshop to develop community protection strategies; monitored the camps’ alternative dispute resolution proceedings; designed “know your rights” trainings; among many other projects.

Kang describes his experiences with candor in his final report:

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September 10, 2019

HRP’s 2018-2019 Annual Report

A banner that shows pages from the annual report: including the cover image, a map of our global reach and impact, and pictures of students traveling on clinical trips.

We are delighted to present HRP’s 2018-2019 Annual Report. The report showcases the global reach and impact of the Human Rights Program in its 35th year. Previews have already run on the Harvard Law School website: profiles of Paras Shah JD ’19, Jenny B. Domino LLM ’18, and Anna Khalfaoui LLM ’17. In addition to celebrating these former students and fellows, the annual report explores how members of HRP contributed to a convention on crimes against humanity, innovated in clinical pedagogy, and advocated for LGBT rights. We thank all of the students, partners, and alumni who made last year so strong and look forward to engaging with our community and working on the most pressing issues in 2019-2020.

You can view our annual report in several different modes: a flipbook version, a color PDF, and a black-and-white PDF.

Read the introduction below, which highlights the words of the Human Rights Program and International Human Rights Clinic Co-Directors:


The Human Rights Program: Reflecting on 35 Years


Founded by Professor Emeritus Henry Steiner in 1984 as a center for human rights scholarship, Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program (HRP) enters its 35th year in 2019. Concurrently, the International Human Rights Clinic celebrates its 15th anniversary. HRP was founded as a place of reflection and engagement and a forum that brings academics and advocates together. Since 1984, HRP has only deepened its commitment to this endeavor. With this past year marking the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly, it is a particularly opportune time to take stock of human rights at Harvard Law School (HLS) and how the Program’s impact has reverberated beyond the university.

“The Universal Declaration set forth a vision of liberty and equality and social solidarity that has never been fully achieved; it continues to inspire people around the world as we strive to fulfill its mission,” said Gerald L. Neuman JD ’80, Co-Director of HRP and the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at HLS. “The Program has always been about critical involvement with human rights. In a time when human rights face extreme challenges globally, that means thinking more deeply about what changes are needed and  how we can contribute to the system, scholarship, and the world.”

Today, HRP comprises the Academic Program and the Clinic, which together bridge theory with practice and engage with pressing human rights issues around the world. As a center for critical thinking, the Academic Program organizes conferences and other events; publishes working papers and books; offers summer and post-graduate fellowships to launch students in human rights careers; and draws human rights advocates and academics from across the globe as part of the Visiting Fellows Program.

Over the past decade and a half, the Clinic has engaged more than 1,000 students in an analytical and reflective approach to human rights lawyering. While devoting itself to the training of future practitioners, the Clinic has promoted and protected human rights through scores of projects around the world. This work includes pushing for global equity in the realm of gender and sexuality, litigating landmark accountability cases, and helping to negotiate treaties that ban nuclear weapons and cluster munitions.

“The formal founding of the International Human Rights Clinic 15 years ago is really consequential; it recognizes the diversity of ways that people can contribute to the human rights movement,” said Susan H. Farbstein JD ’04, Co-Director of the Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law. While not all clinical students pursue careers in human rights, they often cite their clinical education as influential and formative. For many, clinics are the one place at HLS where they have the opportunity to engage in real-world preparation and see their efforts make an impact. “We’re training students in critical approaches to human rights practice, emphasizing cross-cultural sensitivity and how to be guided by the clients and communities we serve. We hope this leads to better, more effective human rights advocacy,” Farbstein said.

This year, HRP recognizes the anniversary of the Program, the Clinic, and the UDHR with both celebration and humility. After decades of training students and building a network of HRP fellows and partners, it is inspiring to step back and glimpse the network that we’ve built. “It’s not about one particular year but about the cumulative impact,” said Tyler R. Giannini, Co- Director of HRP and the Clinic and Clinical Professor of Law. “When we see the success of our students, alumni, partners, and fellows, it’s a testament to the power of this community.”

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August 29, 2019

Paras Shah JD ’19, fostering inclusion and creativity in human rights

By Elaine McArdle

Paras Shah’s approach to human rights centers on inclusion. In his four terms with the International Human Rights Clinic, Shah has encouraged an international coalition to ban killer robots to integrate diverse perspectives into its campaign, and collaborated with grassroots activists to counter hate speech and de-escalate ethnic and religious ultra-national rhetoric in Myanmar. As a student in the Advanced Skills Training in Strategic Human Rights Advocacy seminar, Shah and two other classmates also designed and led a workshop to increase student leadership, promote self-care, and build bridges between the Clinic and other programs at the Law School.

“I was born legally blind and grew up in the U.S., where the law has always played an important role in making sure I have equal opportunities like everyone else,” said Shah, who was previously the John Gardner Fellow at Human Rights Watch, where he focused on the rights of refugees with disabilities. “I want to use the law to create that kind of opportunity for other people.”

“Heed the Call: A Moral and Legal Imperative to Ban Killer Robots,” co-published by Human Rights Watch, is one of the most complex reports the Clinic has written, said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection and lecturer on law in the IHRC. Shah was “an integral part of the team helping to build the case for why we need the ban.” His work was so outstanding during his first trip to Geneva, Switzerland that the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots invited Shah to return.

“Paras showed an intuitive understanding of and ability to articulate complicated issues,” said Docherty. “It was not just this, but his engagement with campaigners from all over the world, his enthusiasm for the work, his sense of humor, and his commitment to making the world a better place that made such an impression.”

Over J-term 2019, Shah and a team of three other students traveled with Yee Htun, lecturer on law and clinical instructor in the IHRC, to Myanmar and Thailand and met with religious leaders, women’s groups, and LGBTQ+ activists to test a workshop they had developed related to countering hate speech. “Paras rose to every challenge we faced. He was a sounding board and reliable interlocutor for new ideas,” said Htun. “He has the rare ability to think outside the box.”

In addition to his clinical work, Shah recently published an article in the Harvard Human Rights Journal about the use of deadly force against people with disabilities; he also writes for the prestigious national security blog Lawfare.

“The Clinic has been the most important thing I’ve done in law school,” said Shah. He said it sharpened his research skills, and taught him to consider the audience he wanted to reach and message he wanted to convey. “Although I frame an issue differently when briefing a diplomat in Geneva who is likely bound by instructions from her capital than when I discuss an idea with a grassroots activist who might have to later explain it to hundreds of other people in a specific local context, I always strive to understand their perspective and find common ground.”

For Shah, the Clinic was also a home and community. “The classmates I met became my close friends and the instructors became my mentors. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to issues I care about and make a small impact on people’s lives.”

Shah is going to be an associate at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C.

This profile is a preview of the 2018-2019 Human Rights Program Annual Report. You can also read this article on HLS Today’s website.

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August 23, 2019

As Satter Fellow, Anna Khalfaoui LL.M. ’17 assisted in trial of Congolese militia leaders

By Elaine McArdle

Between 2010 and 2014 in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), rebels from the Nduma Defence of Congo (NDC) militia murdered, raped, and looted hundreds of civilians and forced children to become soldiers. In November 2018, the trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity against NDC’s militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi, who goes by the war name “Sheka,” commenced before the Operational Military Court of North Kivu.

As a 2018-2019 Satter Fellow in Human Rights, Anna Khalfaoui LL.M. ’17 spent the year in the DRC working with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) to assist survivors and their lawyers through the trial, acting as a liaison in support of the justice system.

“After nine years, to finally have a trial that looks at these incidents is so important,” said Khalfaoui, a British-trained French attorney who chose Harvard Law School for its human rights training. “Being part of the team supporting survivors who’ve waited so long to tell their stories is an incredible learning opportunity.”

Khalfaoui also assisted survivors and their lawyers in the historic trial of militia leader Marcel Habarugira Rangira. With the support of a coalition of local and international actors, including ABA ROLI, Habarugira was convicted in February 2019 of the war crimes of rape and of conscription, enlistment and use of children as soldiers. The conviction for conscripting and using child soldiers was notably the first such conviction in the DRC.

These cases are very challenging, Khalfaoui noted, explaining that there is tremendous pressure on survivors to recant their stories. Diverse actors, from the military justice and local organizations, to NGOs like ABA ROLI and the UN peacekeeping forces in the DRC have worked together to make these trials possible. They are nevertheless expensive, often lengthy, and incredibly complex. Given the instability and insecurity in Eastern DRC, these trials face critical challenges from the lack of an effective investigative and prosecutorial strategy to difficulties providing protection for the survivors and witnesses.

Still, Khalfaoui is determined to continue working on these important issues. “I think it’s become clearer as I work on this trial that I’m more and more interested in doing direct legal work with people who are affected by human rights violations,” she said. During her fellowship, Khalfaoui is also supporting ABA ROLI’s early warning system for preventing atrocities, which allows people to alert security forces when there are signs of impending violence against civilian populations. The system, which is also being used in response to an Ebola breakout, is being expanded to new zones in Eastern DRC and to include conflict prevention activities to reduce community conflict.

After the fellowship, Khalfaoui plans to continue working on international human rights and international humanitarian law litigation.

The Satter Human Rights Fellowship is designed to support and promote human rights defense in response to mass atrocities. The fellowship is made possible by a generous gift from Muneer A. Satter J.D./M.B.A.’87. This profile is a preview of the 2018-2019 Human Rights Program Annual Report, which will be available soon on the HRP blog. You can also read this post on the HLS Today website.

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August 23, 2019

Setting the Stage for the Humanitarian Disarmament Season

By Jillian Rafferty JD ’20

The disarmament season in Geneva begins in earnest this month with diplomatic meetings on killer robots, the arms trade, and cluster munitions. To provide a frame for these discussions, Harvard Law School’s Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) and the Geneva Disarmament Platform (GDP) recently organized a humanitarian disarmament workshop for diplomats.

The event, which was held last week, aimed to raise awareness and increase understanding of humanitarian disarmament. This approach to governing weapons seeks to reduce arms-inflicted human and environmental harm through the establishment and implementation of norms. Representatives from about two dozen national missions in Geneva participated.

At the workshop, the ACCPI and PAX released a jointly published brochure that examines this cross-cutting approach to disarmament and introduces key arms-related issues to which it has been applied. A new tool for diplomats and campaigners, the brochure also provides a definition of humanitarian disarmament, a timeline, list of key players, and selected resources.

The workshop opened with an examination of the history, definition, and characteristics of humanitarian disarmament, distinguishing this people-centered approach from more traditional, security-focused framings of disarmament. The first session also addressed the effectiveness of humanitarian disarmament and ways in which diplomats can use it to advance their disarmament agendas. Maricela Muñoz, from the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica, guided the discussion with:

-John Borrie, UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR);

-Bonnie Docherty, ACCPI; and,

-Wen Zhou, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Setting aside their national positions, participants then engaged in a simulation. In small groups, diplomats reviewed the security-focused disarmament language of mock statements and discussed how to reframe rhetoric and positions in humanitarian terms.

Other presenters discussed the inclusive nature of humanitarian disarmament, emphasizing the importance of partnerships among governments, international organizations, and civil society. The speakers highlighted the need for open communication and close collaboration across these sectors. Moderated by GDP’s Richard Lennane, the panel included:

-Austrian Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi;

-Beatrice Fihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN); and,

-Hector Guerra, International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC).

The workshop set the stage for the Geneva meetings on three disarmament issues that are frequently framed as humanitarian. This week, states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons discussed options for dealing with lethal autonomous weapons systems. Also known as killer robots, these systems raise serious humanitarian, moral, and accountability concerns because they would select and engage targets without meaningful human control.

Next, week, countries party to the Arms Trade Treaty will hold their fifth annual conference. The theme this year is gender and gender-based violence (GBV), and the conference president will seek agreement on recommendations for states parties to improve gender diversity, understand and address the gendered impact of the arms trade, and improve implementation of the GBV risk assessment mandate by the treaty.

Finally, during the first week of September, states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions will convene for their annual meeting. This treaty exemplifies humanitarian disarmament’s combination of prohibitions on the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of problematic weapons and obligations to remediate the harm caused by past use.

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