Blog: Student Perspectives

October 16, 2020

“Deep Shame Within the Ranks of UN Staff”

Posted by Joey Bui JD'21

Assessing the UN’s Haiti Cholera Response 10 Years On

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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September 22, 2020

Planning for a Year of Activism with HLS Advocates for Human Rights

Posted by Marie Sintim

HLS Advocates for Human Rights (Advocates) is a student practice organization (SPO) at Harvard Law School (HLS). Many students first join the HLS human rights community through Advocates their 1L year. In the SPO, students work on human rights projects with partner organizations around the world. Over the last year, the organization has decided to formally renew its commitment to social justice by creating Executive Board roles to lead activism within the organization. Sondra Anton JD’22 is one of the new Directors of Activism for the 2020-2021 academic year; Advocates is currently soliciting applications for a Co-Director to further assist with this work.

Originally from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Sondra attended Washington University in St. Louis before receiving her master’s degree in politics from the University of Oxford. Sondra is interested in the field of international human rights law, particularly topics surrounding justice and accountability in post-conflict societies. After graduation, she hopes to use her law degree to represent victims and survivors of mass atrocity and severe human rights abuses in national courts or international tribunals. She is also very passionate about domestic social justice movements and the fight for racial justice in the United States.

Marie Sintim, Program Assistant in the International Human Rights Clinic, spoke with Sondra recently about her role and what she she envisions for activism with the organization this year.

A woman wearing a yellow romper smiles.
Sondra Anton JD’22
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September 15, 2020

Clinic Intern Q&A: Edi Ebiefung JD’21

Edi Ebiefung JD’21 was one of three interns in the International Human Rights Clinic this summer, who worked on various human rights projects under clinical staff. He recently spoke with the Human Rights Program about his summer with the Clinic and how he sees it influencing his future trajectory. You can read about interns Sondra Anton JD’22 and Laura Clark JD’20 on our blog, and read below to find out about Edi.

A man wearing a plaid shirt poses for a headshot in front of a white wall.
Edi Ebiefung JD’21

Human Rights Program: What projects did you work on this summer? What work product were you most proud of?  

Edi Ebiegung: I worked on projects concerning the intersection of environmental issues and human rights in India, the impacts of the coronavirus in South Africa, the possible international legal responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic, and professional responsibility issues concerning the clinic here in the United States. 

A difficult question as everything was rather interesting, but if forced to choose perhaps the work related to the pandemic as there was a certain urgency and topicality to it. 

HRP: What was challenging about interning remotely? How did you work with your supervisors to overcome those challenges? 

EE: The hardest part was probably developing a rapport with colleagues and clinicians since everything was remote and we were not actually meeting. This was overcome with a regular and surprisingly successful balance of Zoom meetings and check-ins that were not long enough to be annoying but not so short that they were ineffective.

HRP: How do you think this internship will influence your law school career and beyond? 

EE: It reaffirmed my interest in the international impacts and significance of the law. I would very much aspire to have an international element in my future practice of the law. 

HRP: Outside of interning in the Clinic, how did you spend your time this summer?

EE: I tried to actively spend some time outside, even if just for short bicycle rides around my neighborhood or up and down Mass. Ave.

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September 8, 2020

Clinic Intern Q&A: Laura Clark JD’20

This summer, the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) hosted three Harvard Law School interns. We recently spoke with intern Laura Clark JD’20, a 3L graduating in December, who started work as a student in the Clinic in Spring 2020 and returned for the summer. During law school, she also interned with the UNHCR in Turkey, the World Bank Group in Belgium, and the UNODC. She has also volunteered for the Mexican Permanent Mission to the UN, the International Law Journal, and PILAC. Learn more about Laura’s summer in the Clinic below.

A woman smiles in front of a tree. She wears a beige sweater and a floral tank top.
Laura Clark JD’20
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August 31, 2020

Clinic Intern Q&A: Sondra Anton JD’22

This summer, the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) was lucky to host three Harvard Law School interns. Marie Sintim, IHRC Program Assistant, spoke with Sondra Anton JD’22 recently about her experience interning remotely in the Clinic. Sondra was also a Summer Fellow with the Human Rights Program, an opportunity that awards funding to students to intern at human rights organizations around the world.

Sondra Anton smiles with a blue background behind her. She wears a black tank top and her hair is on top of her head in a bun.
Sondra Anton JD’22
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August 27, 2020

Learning About Business and Human Rights with MSI Integrity

Q&A with Rebecca Tweedie JD’21

Last month, the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (MSI Integrity) reflected on 10 years of trying to make the world better for workers and rights-holders in the business world in a new report, “Not Fit-for-Purpose.” MSI Integrity, an organization Amelia Evans LLM’12 and Human Rights Program and International Human Rights Clinic Co-Director Tyler Giannini co-founded in 2013, has spent the last decade dedicated to understanding the human rights impact and value of voluntary multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs). MSIs are collaborations between businesses, civil society, and other stakeholders that were originally piloted to give rights-holders a seat at the table with corporations. The new report explains in detail how, after years of trial and error, MSIs have failed to deliver on their promise and ensure best practices in the business and human rights landscape. The organization has promised a new way forward for their organization: exploring a world beyond corporations.

Over the years, International Human Rights Clinic students and staff have contributed dozens of hours of research and writing to projects with MSI Integrity. Rebecca Tweedie JD’21 worked closely with Giannini and Evans this year on the report and spent January Term 2020 interning with MSI Integrity. We recently spoke with her to learn more about what she learned on the project and her interest in human rights.

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August 25, 2020

Human Rights Clinic team submits amicus brief in Chiquita Brands lawsuit

Posted by Dana Walters

Chiquita bananas on display in grocery store
Credit: cbarnesphotography/iStock

If everything had gone according to schedule, the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) would have filed an amicus curiae brief in December 2019 in a case against Chiquita Brands International, the world’s largest banana company. The suit, on behalf of families who suffered mass atrocities by paramilitary groups during the Colombian armed conflict, seeks accountability for the reign of terror Chiquita aided and abetted from 1997 to 2004.

However, after several delays and further challenges caused by the pandemic, the clinic and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) finally filed the brief on behalf of human rights experts on June 5, 2020. The process included dozens of drafts and memos, multiple back-and-forths with amici, and hundreds of hours of time of a dozen alumni and students in multiple time zones. The amicus brief is one small part of a larger, evolving corporate accountability litigation landscape, one in which the clinic has been involved for decades. In a globalized economy where supply chains are diffused, attorneys and affected communities have sought to use U.S. courts to stop U.S. corporations and executives from assisting in violating human rights abroad.

“Chiquita and cases like it present a central question facing U.S. courts today—whether the United States is going to become a safe haven for U.S. corporations implicated in human rights violations outside the country,” said Tyler Giannini, co-director of Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program (HRP) and the IHRC.

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May 28, 2020

COVID-19 Response Can Help Reimagine Climate Change Response

Posted by Ayoung Kim JD'20

For the past three years, my peers and I at HLS have worked towards earning our law degrees in the hopes of contributing to a more equitable society.  As the Class of 2020 graduates this month, I realize that the path toward justice has become more urgent and increasingly challenging. Our class will spend some of our most formative years navigating the enormous human and economic consequences of the pandemic. We must also prepare for a crisis that we already know will be more disruptive, painful, and irrevocable than COVID-19—climate change. Which lessons we take away from this pandemic will determine whether we are able to prevent human suffering of an equivalent—or even larger—scale.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that inequality kills. During COVID-19, low-wage workers have been exposed to disproportionate risk of death without commensurate pay, protections, or status. We can expect the same of those that will work on the frontlines of climate change. These climate essential workers will work in construction, landscaping, delivery, commercial kitchens, bakeries, factories, and manufacturing—under punishing heat waves, lethal air pollution, and increased disease. Others will include incarcerated individuals whose labor is often used to combat extreme weather events for pay as low as $1 an hour plus $2 a day. Scholars fear the rise of “green gig workers”—volunteer laborers who will be tasked with responding to extreme weather events but whose precarious labor would not be acknowledged or as socially protected as those in formal employment.

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May 26, 2020

HLS Advocates Co-Presidents Reflect on 2019-2020

Posted by Emma Broches JD'20 and Samantha Lint JD'20

Two students standing at a table advertising HLS Advocates for Human Rights
Emma Broches (left) and Samantha Lint (right) are 2019-2020 co-presidents of HLS Advocates for Human Rights.

On March 9, 2020, HLS Advocates for Human Rights hosted a discussion on the oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang China. As murmurs about classes moving online circulated, and US leadership continued to doubt the threat of COVID-19, we held what turned out to be our final Advocates lunch talk of the year. 

If we had known this would be our final “big event”, it might have felt bittersweet. As Co-Presidents, Advocates has been the most significant part of our 3L year and our entire HLS experience. Since we joined the organization in our first year, it has served as a place of refuge, community, inspiration, and learning. That week, as information about the law school’s operations changed each day, we focused on the task at hand. We felt proud to have played a role in facilitating such a critical discussion. One of the speakers Rayhan Asat LLM’16, has now shared her story beyond HLS as well. 

Although the spring semester changed substantially in March, this event, fortunately, was just one of many of Advocates’ accomplishments. With over 70 members supporting 11 projects with NGOs around the world; seven events; four trainings; and a special anniversary project, Advocates had a productive — even if abbreviated — year!

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