Director, International Human Rights Clinic
Susan Farbstein is the Co-Director of the International Human Rights Clinic and a Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School, where she has taught since 2008.
Her current work focuses on human rights in South Africa; socio-economic rights and racial justice in the United States; the role of civil proceedings in writing history and shaping memory, truth, and collective understandings of past abuse; and gender equity and women’s leadership in human rights organizations and institutions. She is an expert on South Africa, having worked on a variety of human rights and transitional justice issues in that country for nearly twenty years. Her writing has been published in scholarly journals including the Harvard Law Review and the Harvard International Law Journal, as well as popular media outlets including The New York Times and SCOTUSBlog. In 2015 she was selected by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as one of the Commonwealth’s “Top Women of Law.” In 2018 she was selected by the Harvard Women’s Law Association as a “Woman Inspiring Change.”
Farbstein serves as co-counsel in Mamani v. Sanchez de Lozada, a landmark case in which a federal jury found the former Bolivia president and minister of defense liable for extrajudicial killings carried out by the Bolivian military in 2003. She also participated in litigating Wiwa v. Shell, which charged Shell with complicity in the torture and killing of non-violent Nigerian activists in the 1990s and successfully settled in 2009. For her work as a member of the Wiwa legal team, Farbstein was honored as a finalist for the 2010 Public Justice Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. She was also co-counsel in In re South African Apartheid Litigation, a suit against major multinational corporations for aiding and abetting human rights violations committed by the apartheid state.
She has authored numerous amicus curiae briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court on a variety of legal questions—from corporate accountability for human rights abuse to the immunity of former foreign government officials—including in Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC (on behalf of legal historians), Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (on behalf of legal history scholars), Presbyterian Church of Sudan v. Talisman (on behalf of international law scholars), and Samantar v. Yousuf (on behalf of human rights organizations).
Farbstein has engaged on a range of transitional justice issues including in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola, South Sudan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Argentina. In the Clinic, she has led projects that seek accountability for apartheid-era abuses in South Africa; advance the right to equitable, quality education guaranteed by South Africa’s constitution; consider models for the provision of post-harm assistance to civilian survivors of the conflict in South Sudan; offer options to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights in Zimbabwe; and suggest policy reforms to improve civilian protection and change military behavior in Myanmar.
Farbstein has a strong interest in clinical pedagogy and, in 2011-2012, was a recipient of the Harvard President’s Innovation Fund for Faculty Grant for her creative clinical teaching. Building on this interest, between 2012-2014 she developed and implemented a training and exchange program on clinical pedagogy with practitioners and academics in South Africa. She enjoys advising and engaging with nascent human rights clinics and has done so at universities in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Before joining the Harvard Law School faculty, Farbstein worked at the Cape Town office of the International Center for Transitional Justice. Prior to that, she clerked for the Honorable Morris E. Lasker of the Southern District of New York. She holds a B.A. from Princeton University, an M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
Human Rights Advocacy and Litigation: Clinical Seminar
Advanced Skills Training for Human Rights Advocacy
Litigating Using the Alien Tort Statute: Case Studies and Advocacy: Seminar
Transitional Justice in Southern Africa
Books and Reports
“Legal Memorandum: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Eastern Myanmar”
(International Human Rights Clinic, November 2014)
“Policy Memorandum: Preventing Indiscriminate Attacks and Wilful Killings of Civilians by the Myanmar Military”
(International Human Rights Clinic, March 2014)
“Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in Zimbabwe: Options for Constitutional Protection”
(Joint publication: International Human Rights Clinic, National Constitutional Assembly, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, 2009)
Prosecuting Apartheid-Era Crimes? A South African Dialogue on Justice
(Harvard University Press, 2009) Co-authors: Tyler Giannini, Tyler Giannini, Samantha Bent, and Miles Jackson
Articles and Chapters
“Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa: The Struggle Continues in the Niger Delta”
“Reflections on the Question of When, If Ever, Violence is Justified in the Struggle for Social and Political Change”
27 Harvard Human Rights Journal 1 (2014)
“Justice Ginsburg’s International Perspective”
(in “Essays in Honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,”Martha Minow, ed.; Harvard Law School, 2013)
“Supreme Court to Hear Major Human Rights Case Again: Much More At Stake the Second Time Around
(JusticeWatch blog, Alliance for Justice, 9/29/12) Co-author: Tyler Giannini
“Online Kiobel Symposium: The Alien Tort Statute and the Importance of Historical Evidence”
(SCOTUSblog, 7/17/12) Co-author: Tyler Giannini
“Liability for Harms”
(The New York Times, Room for Debate: Corporate Rights and Human Rights; 2/28/12) Co-author: Tyler Giannini
“Supreme Court Hears Major Corporate Human Rights Case”
(American Constitution Society blog, 2/28/12) Co-author: Tyler Giannini
“No Corporate Exemption: Supreme Court to Hear Major Corporate Alien Tort Statute Case”
(JusticeWatch blog, Alliance for Justice, 2/22/12) Co-author: Tyler Giannini
“The Alien Tort Statute and Corporate Liability”
Debate, 160 U. Pa. L. Rev. PENNumbra 99 (2011) Co-author: Tyler Giannini
“Corporate Accountability in Conflict Zones: How Kiobel Undermines the Nuremberg Legacy and Modern Human Rights”
52 Harv. Int’l L. J. Online 119 (2010) Co-author: Tyler Giannini
“Did Kiobel Get Nuremberg Wrong?”
(The Cockle Bur blog, 12/14/10)
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s Release: Not A ‘Mandela Moment’”
(The Cockle Bur blog, 11/23/10)
“The Effectiveness of the Exercise of Jurisdiction by the International Criminal Court: The Issue of Complementarity”
(European Center for Minority Issues, 2001)