Blog: Uncategorized

February 7, 2018

Staff perspective: How mass incarceration harms U.S. health, in five charts

Last week, Emily Nagisa Keehn, Associate Director of HRP’s Academic Program, and J. Wesley Boyd, J. Wesley Boyd, Faculty, Center for Bioethics and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, co-authored a compelling Op-Ed in The Conversation, examining how mass incarceration harms U.S. health. They write in part:

“Each year, an estimated 1,000 people die while incarcerated in U.S. jails, most of whom were unconvicted. Suicide rates for incarcerated people is 3-4 times higher than the general population. To us, the evidence is clear: Mass incarceration is a public health scourge in the U.S. The only reasonable response is to limit the unnecessary use of incarceration across the board.”

This commentary comes on the heels of a two-day conference, “Behind Bars: Ethics and Human Rights in U.S. Prisons.” which Emily helped to organize on behalf of HRP late last year. That conference, co-sponsored by the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, explored a range of topics, from treatment of pregnant women in prison to health care workers in prison to the psychopathological effects of solitary confinement.

Here’s a slideshow of the event (with photographs by, along with the keynote speech by Danielle Allen, Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University and
James Bryant Conant University Professor.



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December 12, 2017

Student Perspectives on Working in the International Human Rights Clinic

We’re so pleased to reprint below two student perspectives on the International Human Rights Clinic, published recently on the blog for the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. First, Salomé Gómez Upegui LL.M. ’18, reflects on her work on women’s rights in the Arab world. Next, Zeineb Bouraoui LL.M. ’18, describes her work on detention-related abuses in Yemen. Both students worked under the supervision of clinical instructor Salma Waheedi.

Great work, all!


My Time at the International Human Rights Clinic
by Gómez Upegui LL.M. ’18

I believe in law as an instrument for social change, and I came to Harvard interested in focusing on that. A year is not much time, and as any LL.M. student can confirm, we all suffer from “fear of missing out”.  I’m happy to say the International Human Rights Clinic, was perfect to curb this fear. In a short time I was able to do so much more than I expected. It was a unique opportunity for hands-on learning, while engaging in public service, and making a difference.

Salomé Gómez Upegui LL.M. ’18

Women’s rights are something I particularly care about, and when I got into this clinic I was eager to learn more about how International Human Rights Law is relevant to feminism. Thankfully, I joined Salma Waheedi’s team for a project on this subject, and my expectations were exceeded. We worked in coordination with Musawah, an NGO advocating for equality of Muslim women. In this project, creative thinking was at the center; using comparative law, alternative interpretations of Islamic law, and human rights standards, we drafted thematic shadow reports on women’s rights for the Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. I had the opportunity to travel to Geneva and participate in the 68th CEDAW Session at the United Nations, where the reports we drafted where presented. This trip was a rare chance to network and learn first-hand how international institutions, governments, and NGOs serve to advance (or sometimes set-back) feminist agendas.

The International Human Rights Clinic allowed me to strengthen fundamental lawyering skills. I especially enjoyed learning innovative advocacy strategies, and I have to say I was happily surprised by the people I met. Working alongside individuals with such passion and dedication to human rights was the highlight of this experience. I felt part of something meaningful from day one, there is a real sense of community, and the value of teamwork is constantly stressed. In a world where individuality is the rule, this was an exceptionally wonderful learning environment, and I’m so grateful to have been part of it.

“Advancing Human Rights in the Middle East”
by Zeineb Bouraoui LL.M. ’18


Following the escalation of the Syrian Civil War in 2012, I began working for the Syrian American Medical Society in Washington DC, assisting Syrian refugees in emigrating to the United States, mainly through public policy initiatives. This experience greatly influenced my desire to apply to law school. I was craving the opportunity to acquire effective tools that would allow me to fight back against the injustices that outraged me and to advance economic and social equality in my native region, the Middle East and North Africa.

Zeineb Bouraoui LL.M. ’18

At Sciences Po Law School, I focused my studies on international investment law and economic development, and graduated in 2016 with a masters’ degree in Economic Law and Global Business Law and Governance. I then started working at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, working on policy coordination efforts in order to help governments resist protectionist pressures and develop effective policies to respond to legal concerns raised by international investment.

It was especially important to me to pursue my commitment to advance human rights in the MENA region at Harvard Law School, leveraging the numerous tools that the university provides to its students, in order to conduct the most effective research, and hope to have the most effective impact on the region.

At the International Human Rights Clinic, I am working on the Yemen project. My team, led by Salma Waheedi, is contributing to a Human Rights Watch report on the growth of the missing file in Yemen. Since 2014, Yemen has become home to one of the most violent non-international armed conflicts in the world. Egregious human rights violations are being committed there on a daily basis. My team focuses mainly on investigating detention-related abuses currently being carried out by all sides to the conflict. We are in the process of mapping the network of secret prisons, and outlining the human rights abuses committed in them. We will then determine the international legal obligations of state and non-state actors involved in the conflict, and investigate enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

The Clinic constituted an eye-opening experience to me, allowing me to understand firsthand the challenges that human rights lawyers and activists are routinely facing with funding, media outreach and advocacy, or even the simple act of gathering accurate and reliable information. It was particularly challenging to work on a non-international armed conflict, as raising awareness on a conflict happening on the other side of the world, with very little interest for the United States can be at times frustrating.

I particularly enjoyed conducting in-depth factual research and interacting with local Yemeni NGOs such as Mwatana, which are doing an incredible job in producing exhaustive accounts of the human rights violations committed throughout the course of the civil war, often at the peril of their lives.

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October 13, 2017

UPDATED: New Information Conflicts with Syrian Human Rights Filmmaker’s Reported Assassination Attempt

UPDATE:  Since we posted this statement, new information has come to light which appears to contradict the widely reported story that Muhammad Bayazid was stabbed in an assassination attempt. More on that in The Guardian and the BBC

The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School is shocked and saddened by news of the reported assassination attempt on Syrian filmmaker Muhammad Bayazid, whom we hosted – along with his wife and partner in filmmaking, Samah Safi Bayazid – only days earlier for a discussion with our students. They were here in conjunction with a co-sponsored screening of two of their award-winning short films, “Fireplace” and “Orshena.” Bayazid was stabbed in the chest in Turkey on Tuesday night, as he sought funds for his new film project detailing Assad regime’s abuses at notorious Tadmur prison.

“When we chose this life we knew what it meant, because we aren’t from places like America where we can express our opinions,” Samah Safi Bayazid told the Guardian Newspaper. “It’s very hard if you’re an Arab to fight against oppression, your life is always in danger. He was stabbed and I nearly had a stroke just because we wanted to do a film on human rights.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with Muhammad, Samah, and their family and we wish him a speedy recovery.  We would also like to express our support of his work in exposing human rights violations and shedding light on the devastating humanitarian cost of the Syrian crisis, and urge a full and proper investigation of this incident.

The attempt on Muhammad Bayazid’s life was the latest in a series of attacks that took place in Turkey targeting outspoken supporters of the Syrian opposition.  Last month, prominent Syrian opposition activist Orouba Barakat and her journalist daughter Hala Barakat were stabbed to death in Istanbul.  Other victims in the past two years include Syrian journalists and anti-Isis activists Naji Jarf and Zaher Al-Shurqat.

For more details on the incident, read this article in The Guardian or this piece on the BBC.


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October 2, 2017

Today, Oct. 2: The Syrian Crisis in Film

Monday, October 2, 2017

“The Syrian Crisis in Film:
Two Award-Winning Short Narratives”

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 1023


Join us for the screening of two short films inspired by true events of the Syrian war. “Fireplace” (2017) and “Orshena” (2016) both recount tales of the devastating human consequences of war and give deep intellectual insights into the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with award-winning directors Muhammad Bayazid and Samah Safi Bayazid.

In “Fireplace,” a 12-minute film, it is Christmas Eve in Syria; a small child plays hide and seek with his dad and picks the most unexpected place to hide in: the fireplace. Within a few seconds, a jet fighter bombards their house to the ground. The fireplace stands still; however, the small child finds himself trapped alone.

In “Orshena,” which means “Land of Peace” in the ancient Syriac language, an old man loses his youngest daughter while migrating to Europe on a rubber boat. The accident changes his life forever. He keeps imagining his daughter everywhere he goes, while trying to make peace with himself.

This event is co-sponsored by ILSP: Law and Social Change, the Human Rights Program, and the Criminal Justice Program at Harvard Law School


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September 13, 2017

HRP Welcomes New Staff and Visiting Fellows

Now that the semester is underway, we want to extend our warmest welcome to all of the new staff and Visiting Fellows at the Human Rights Program. They are, in a word, fantastic.

Debbie Frempong, the new Program Assistant for the International Human Rights Clinic, comes to us from Harvard Divinity School, where she graduated with an MTS in Religion, Politics and Ethics. She holds a B.A. in Public Policy and Politics from Pomona College.

Debbie Frempong and Dana Walters, the new program assistants at HRP.

Debbie is taking on many of the responsibilities previously held by Katherine Young, who until recently worked as Program Associate. This summer, she was promoted to Program Manager, in charge of administrative management of the International Human Rights Clinic and the financial administration of the Human Rights Program.

Dana Walters, the new Program Assistant for the Academic Program, comes to us from the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, where she was a coordinator, and the Atlantic Media Company, where she was a fellow. Dana holds a B.A. in English and American Literatures from Middlebury College and an M.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago, where she was previously pursuing a doctorate.

This semester, we’re also so pleased to welcome three Visiting Fellows. Continue Reading…

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September 6, 2017

Moving On: Gabriela Gonzalez Follett to Explore the World

Posted by Cara Solomon

Yesterday, when we converged on Harvard’s campus to protest the end of DACA—when we listened to stories of pain and resistance; when we snapped our support; when we linked our arms, and chanted together, several hundred strong—one person was missing.

That person was Gabriela Gonzalez Follett, who never missed a fight for the rights of other people in her three years with us, first as Program Assistant, and later Program Coordinator. She left HLS last Friday, headed to teach English to children in a small Spanish town.

We could say that Gabriela was superb at her job, and it would be true. She organized nearly 100 events in her three years at the Human Rights Program, including conferences on everything from the role of African women in the post-2015 Development Agenda to climate change displacement and human rights. She became a master of managing the moving parts: speakers flying in from around the globe, last-minute technical breakdowns, calming the community’s fraying nerves.

On a daily basis, she supported the ever-changing needs of several clinical instructors; the staff of the Academic program; the Visiting Fellows; and hundreds of students seeking guidance on everything from the fellowship process to clerkship letters.

But now that Gabriela has officially left HRP, her job performance is not what many of us will remember.

We will remember her power.

In her speech on Class Day 2016, Gabriela Gonzalez Follett, described her mother, Nohra, as having wisdom, power and magic that others did not always see.

Like so many great stories, Gabriela’s has an arc. By her own telling, she came to Harvard Law School intimidated, feeling less than the sum of her considerable parts. But she pushed past that feeling, followed her curiosity, and sat in on clinical seminars, collecting all the knowledge she could.

Then, when a crisis point came—the non-indictment of a white police officer, Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri—Gabriela quickly rose to meet the need. She reached out to students of color—not just as a friendly face in the office, but as a friend. In public and in private, on the job and off, she showed up in ways that went late into the night, and made others feel less alone.

One of those students, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, JD ’16, returned the favor nearly a year later, when the community gathered yet again to discuss racial equity on campus, in the aftermath of someone—or some people—defacing the portraits of black professors. In her comments, Keaton used her privilege as a student to raise concerns about the treatment of staff of color, a community that had gone overlooked in the discussion to that point.

Gabriela, inspired, rose to represent. She spoke about her own experience as a woman of color on campus—about the stereotypes that flew around her, and at her, and about the differences in the way she saw staff or color treated. When she finished speaking, she had become a leader in what became Reclaim Harvard Law School, a movement of students and staff pushing for institutional change and racial equity in education.

Gabriela spent the next several months strengthening the ties between students of color and staff of color while working tirelessly for the movement overall. At nights and on weekends, she sat through hours-long meetings, helping to substantively shape the content of the movement’s demands and manifesto. She hosted workshops; led art-actions; wrote an Op-Ed; coordinated critical email lists; spoke at community forums. She organized “family dinners” for staff of color. She slept overnight with the students in Belinda Hall, the student lounge the movement renamed in honor of Belinda Sutton, a former slave of HLS benefactor Isaac Royall.

And so it was that, less than two years into her time at HLS, Gabriela received the ultimate honor from HLS students: their Suzanne L. Richardson Staff Appreciation Award. (See video of her speech below.)

Gabriela would continue to support the Reclaim movement in ways small and large, right up until the day she left HLS. But it is hard to shake the power of her image on Class Day, rising to speak, and draping the traditional cloth from her mother’s homeland over the dais before she began—a woman completely at home, and entirely her own.

Thank you for the inspiration, Gabbie—and for the many gifts you brought to our door.

For more on the decades-old racial justice movement at HLS, see this timeline. For selected coverage of the recent movement, including Op-Eds by students, staff and faculty, see here.  


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November 28, 2016

Wednesday, Nov. 30: “A Conversation with the Honourable Irwin Cotler”

                                                                              November 30, 2016

15032808_1673664776297691_6884898516327755650_nA Conversation with the Honourable Irwin Cotler

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 1019

Please join us for a conversation with the Honourable Irwin Cotler, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and international human rights lawyer. Professor Cotler has been called “Counsel for the Oppressed” and “Freedom’s Counsel” by Canada’s MacLeans Magazine and the Oslo Freedom Forum, respectively. He was Canadian Counsel for Nelson Mandela and main counsel for former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, and was a law professor at McGill University. Professor Cotler is the recipient of eleven honorary doctorates and various awards including the Order of Canada, which is Canada’s highest civillian honor, and the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation’s Centennial Medal.

This event is organized by the Harvard Canadian Law Students Association and is co-sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, the Human Rights Program, and ACS. Lunch will be provided.



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April 21, 2016

TODAY: Screening and Discussion of “No Más Bebés”

April 21, 2016

“No Más Bebés”:

A Film Screening and Discussion with Renee Tajima-Peña

4:00- 7:00 p.m.
Wasserstein 1010

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required here.


Photo credit: Alva Helms

Please join us for a film screening and discussion of No Más Bebés, which tells the story of a landmark event in reproductive justice, when a small group of Mexican immigrant women sued county doctors, the state, and the U.S. government after they were pushed into sterilizations while giving birth at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s.

This screening will be followed by a discussion with Harvard University alumnus and Director, Renee Tajima-Peña. Professor Tajima-Peña is an Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker whose films on immigration, race and social issues include Who Killed Vincent Chin?My America…or Honk if You Love BuddhaLabor WomenThe New Americans, and Calavera Highway. She is currently the Director of the Center of EthnoCommunications at UCLA, where she is a professor and holds an endowed chair in Japanese American Studies.

This event was organized by the Asian American Studies Working Group and the Latina/o Studies Working Group in EMR, and co-sponsored by Observatory of the Instituto Cervantes, The Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and SexualityThe Latino Medical Student Association, and The Harvard Chan Women, Gender and Health Interdisciplinary Concentration


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November 19, 2015

Joint Clinic Report: Company’s Remedies for Rape in Papua New Guinea Deeply Flawed


Company’s Remedies for Rape in Papua New Guinea Deeply Flawed

Legal experts at Columbia and Harvard law schools find major deficiencies with remedies given by multinational company to women raped by its security guards

Geneva & New York, November 19, 2015—A controversial process created by one of the world’s largest gold mining companies to compensate women for rapes and gang rapes in Papua New Guinea was deeply flawed, said human rights investigators and legal experts at Columbia and Harvard Law Schools in a study released today.

The three-year study of Barrick Gold’s remedy mechanism at its Porgera gold mine found that the effort to provide packages to 120 rape survivors was flawed from the start and fell far short of international standards.

“These are some of the most vicious assaults I have ever investigated,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, one of the lead authors of the report, and the Director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Institute. “The women and local communities had to struggle for years just to get the company to admit what happened.”

Most women were offered less than $6,000 USD each in compensation, and were also given some counseling and healthcare. Knuckey continued, “They had been suffering for far too long, and deserved much more.”

For several years, security guards at the Porgera mine physically assaulted and sexually abused members of the community. It was only after repeated pressure by local and international groups that the Canadian mining company finally acknowledged the sexual violence and launched an internal investigation in 2010. The company created a remedy mechanism to handle claims by survivors two years later.

The legal investigators interviewed dozens of survivors for the 129-page report, Righting Wrongs?, which found that, in this situation, the women should not have had to sign away their legal rights to sue in order to receive remedies. In addition, the process excluded survivors of many other, non-sexual assaults by company guards, and had insufficient outreach, so some survivors did not know about the mechanism in time to bring their cases. The report also says that inadequate security measures were put in place for survivors, and that some women have reported being threatened and beaten up by family members when their rapes were discovered.

“If remedy mechanisms are to have any chance of addressing egregious violations, they must take on the gross power imbalance between a company and survivors,” said Clinical Professor Tyler Giannini, one of the lead authors and Clinical Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. “Many of the women signed the company’s agreements because they felt that they simply had no other choice.”

The importance of power was highlighted again this year, when eleven women who obtained U.S.-based lawyers refused to accept the company’s packages, and were given confidential settlement packages believed to be about ten times greater than the amount given to the roughly 120 women who used Barrick’s process. Upon learning this, the lesser-compensated survivors came together to demand more. The company quickly more than doubled their packages, which are still far less than what those who had U.S. lawyers received, and women in Porgera continue to demand that they should receive equitable packages.

The report found that there were some positive features of the mechanism, but that necessary safeguards such as consultation and prior engagement with the survivors and robust legal counsel for the women were either unimplemented or poorly implemented.

“When a company creates and controls the process on its own, there’s an inherent conflict of interest,” said Giannini. “Survivors should be involved early in the process, and on equal footing throughout, so that they do not feel forced into compensation packages that fall seriously short.”

Rather than company-created models, the report suggests an approach that brings companies, survivors, and communities into the joint design of the remedy process. This approach centers the survivors in the process from the outset, and can help address power differentials. The report also calls on the company to provide additional remedies to the 120 women so that their agreements are in line with the amounts received by the eleven women represented by U.S. attorneys; void all legal waivers signed by women; provide remedy to individuals who faced other security guard abuses, including physical assaults; and to provide urgent security protection to women who are currently at risk.

The remedy mechanism is one of the first to be created after the release of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, which set out the responsibilities of companies for human rights. The Porgera mine has been open since 1989. Barrick Gold became majority-owner and operator of the mine in 2006. Since then, the clinics have actively investigated the situation at the mine. The Columbia and Harvard human rights clinics presented the report this week in Geneva at the 4th Annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights.


Media contacts:

Sarah Knuckey, Director, Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic: + 1 (917) 685 9098 | (Geneva/NYC)

Tyler Giannini, Director, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School: + 1 (617) 669 2340 | (Boston)

Clinical Advocacy Fellow, Amelia Evans, LLM ’11, supervised a research trip that contributed to this report. In addition, numerous students, including Flora Amwayi, JD ’13; Skawenniio Barnes, JD ’14; Marie Cita, JD ’14; Krizna Gomez, LLM ’13; Reeba Muthalaly, LLM ’14; Tamaryn Nelson, MPA ’14; Kiri Toki, LLM ’16; and Helen Zhang, JD ’16, contributed to the report.

The report is available at:



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November 5, 2015

Syrian Refugees and the Documentation of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Jordan

Yesterday, Anna Crowe, clinical advocacy fellow, and Danae Paterson, JD ’16, took part in a roundtable discussion in Amman, Jordan, on civil documentation – in this context, birth, marriage, and death registration – for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

A recent International Human Rights Clinic report, “Registering Rights,” examines the processes, challenges, and significance of civil documentation for Syrian refugees living outside camps in Jordan. Civil documentation plays a crucial role in securing legal identity within a society, helping to prevent statelessness, and protecting a range of human rights.


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