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June 30, 2020
Rights experts call on UN to provide remedy to victims of Haitian cholera epidemic
(June 30, 2020) — The United Nations (UN) published two previously embargoed letters from fourteen UN independent rights experts on Saturday, calling on the organization to deliver overdue remedies to victims of cholera in Haiti. Addressed to Secretary-General António Guterres and the Haitian government, the letters respond to a complaint submitted by the International Human Rights Clinic, the Haiti-based human rights law firm Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), and its U.S.-based partner organization, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) in January.
The experts’ letters adopts the Clinic’s arguments that the UN’s approach following its public apology in 2016 amount to violations of the right to effective remedy. The experts found “glaring limitations” in the UN’s approach, including that the UN has failed to pay any compensation and that its subsequent underfunded effort has amounted to little more than a spate of symbolic development projects. They stressed that “the continued denial of effective remedies to the victims is not only a violation of their human right to an effective remedy, but also a grave breach of public confidence in the Organization’s integrity and legitimacy.” The letters conclude that a “fundamental shift in approach is necessary if the Organization is to uphold the respect for human rights and rule of law.”
Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, led a clinical student team in working on the January complaint. She was recently interviewed by Harvard Law Today, diving into her nearly-decade long advocacy on behalf of Haitian cholera victims. The interview explores the UN’s failure to adequately respond to the epidemic and provide appropriate reparations to victims.
As Lindstrom says in the Q&A, “In the absence of an independent mechanism to determine responsibility, the decision becomes a political one driven by the self-interests of powerful member states and officials within the UN bureaucracy. I think there have always been people within the U.N. who have wanted to see the organization do the right thing in Haiti, but without adequate leadership from the Secretary-General, the forces pushing for inaction have prevailed.”
June 25, 2020
In Q&A, Beatrice Lindstrom calls for international human rights organization to deliver remedies to cholera victims
In 2010, United Nations (U.N.) peacekeepers caused a devastating cholera outbreak in Haiti. Nearly a decade later and with COVID-19 threatening an already fragile situation, affected communities are still waiting for access to remedy. Beatrice Lindstrom, clinical instructor and supervising attorney in Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, has been working for nearly a decade on pathbreaking advocacy to secure accountability from the U.N. for the destruction it caused. Lindstrom was lead counsel in Georges v. United Nations, a class action lawsuit on behalf of those injured by cholera. Prior to joining Harvard Law School, Lindstrom was the legal director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.
Harvard Law Today: How and why did the 2010 cholera outbreak begin in Haiti?
Beatrice Lindstrom: Cholera was introduced to Haiti when the U.N. deployed peacekeepers from Nepal—which was experiencing a cholera outbreak—without testing or treating them for the disease. The peacekeepers were stationed on a base in rural Haiti that had reckless waste disposal practices. Untreated waste from the base’s toilets was routinely dumped into unprotected open-air pits that overflowed into the surrounding community and into a nearby tributary. That tributary feeds into the Artibonite River, the primary water source for tens of thousands of Haitians. The resulting outbreak is the deadliest cholera epidemic in the world: At least 10,000 people have died and approximately one million people have been sickened since 2010. To put it in context, the number of cholera infections per capita in Haiti still exceeds the COVID-19 infection rate in any nation.
HLT: How has the United Nations responded?
Lindstrom: Despite scientific consensus that the U.N. base was the source of the outbreak, the U.N. denied responsibility for six years and refused victims access to any forum to hear claims for remedies. The U.N. enjoys broad immunity, but is required to settle claims by civilians out of court. In 2011, the Haitian human rights organization Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and its U.S.-based partner Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), where I then worked, filed claims on behalf of 5,000 victims. The U.N. rejected the claims without offering any legal justification, and has refused to refer the claims to an independent claims commission as required under international agreements. The U.N.’s own Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights called the U.N.’s response “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible, and politically self-defeating.”
It took an extraordinary mobilization of cholera-affected communities and allies in Haiti and abroad to persuade the U.N. to shift course. In 2016, the Secretary-General finally issued a public apology and launched a $400 million “New approach to cholera in Haiti.” But over three years later, the U.N. has raised only 5% of the $400 million promised, and has not paid any compensation to victims. Despite initially pledging to center victims in decision-making, critical decisions about the direction and content of the New Approach have been made without victim input. These deficiencies stem from the U.N.’s continued denial of legal responsibility for the outbreak, which would trigger funding through assessed contributions from its member states and ensure that responsibility is shared collectively across the organization. Instead, remedies for cholera victims is treated as charity and left to compete with other humanitarian causes.
HLT: Why do you think the U.N. has been reluctant to accept responsibility?
Lindstrom: In the absence of an independent mechanism to determine responsibility, the decision becomes a political one driven by the self-interests of powerful member states and officials within the U.N. bureaucracy. I think there have always been people within the U.N. who have wanted to see the organization do the right thing in Haiti, but without adequate leadership from the Secretary-General, the forces pushing for inaction have prevailed. The U.N.’s Legal Counsel has reportedly waged “an extraordinary internal campaign” against anything that would resemble an acceptance of responsibility. Lawyers are often concerned about setting precedent, but here there is consensus among legal experts that the claim falls within the U.N.’s existing duty to compensate for “private law” claims, so the only precedent set would be one of compliance. If the concern is that it would in practice invite claims in other contexts, this implies that the U.N. anticipates many other situations where civilians will be harmed by U.N. negligence. Others resist accepting responsibility because of the financial implications. The $400 million that the U.N. is now seeking for cholera, however, is only a fraction of the $4 billion that it has spent on its stabilization mission in Haiti since the outbreak started. And as governments are now rightly investing trillions of dollars in financial support for households impacted by COVID-19, it is increasingly clear that more could be done for cholera victims if the political will was there.Continue Reading…
May 19, 2020
A new paper, “Mass Protest and State Repression in Bolivian Political Culture: Putting the Gas War and the 2019 Crisis in Perspective,” by Carwil Bjork-James, Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, has just been released as part of the HRP Working Paper Series. The paper explores Bolivian political conflict since 1982 and the range of protest tactics and political actors’ acceptance of or willingness to repress mass protest. Bjork-James zeroes in on two episodes: the 2003 Gas Wars and the recent upheaval following the 2019 election. The bulk of the white paper presents and extends the results of a report he drafted as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Mamani et al v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín case before the United States Federal Court for the Southern District of Florida. Staff in the International Human Rights Clinic have been litigating Mamani for over a decade.
As Bjork-James describes in a blog post on his website:
“Overall, Bolivia has a political culture of frequent mass participation in disruptive protest, which is reflected in laws, legal precedents, traditions of tolerance, popular attitudes toward protest and repression, and the words and actions of politicians and other leaders. For nearly a century, many Bolivian government leaders have claimed their legitimacy as representatives of recent outbursts of mass protest, but this history has been interrupted many times by military and authoritarian rulers who cracked down on protest. During the shorter, but current period of electoral democracy (since 1982), politicians of various political stripes have contrasted their values and actions with those of the pre-1982 dictatorships, creating a certain space for protest and an incomplete but nonetheless real aversion to deadly repression of protest.
However, there are now two exceptional moments that burst the bounds on deadly repression: the 2003 Gas War and the 2019 political crisis that saw the overthrow of Evo Morales. The white paper examines each of them in detail. In 2003, President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada moved to criminalize longstanding forms of protest, and orchestrated a military response that directly killed at least 59 civilians. In 2019, three weeks of dueling protests over the October 20 election prompted Morales’ November 10 resignation under pressure from security forces. After Morales’ ouster both military commanders and interim president Jeanine Áñez presided over deadly repression.”
February 6, 2020
Three years after admitting its responsibility for cholera, UN continues to violate victims’ rights
February 6, 2020 (New York, NY; Cambridge, MA; Port-au-Prince, Haiti) — Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, Haiti-based human rights law firm Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), and its U.S.-based partner organization, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), filed a formal complaint last week asking UN experts to investigate human rights violations linked to the UN’s response to introducing cholera to Haiti. The complaint is a request to the UN “Special Procedure” system, a group of UN-appointed human rights experts charged with reporting and advising on human rights issues worldwide.
In 2016, after years of denial, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly apologized for the UN’s role in introducing cholera to Haiti and launched a “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti,” a $400 million plan to eliminate cholera and provide “material assistance” to those most affected by the disease. The epidemic has killed 9,789 people and sickened 819,000 since 2010, and Haiti remains vulnerable to cholera due to inadequate investments in water, sanitation and health systems.
“Three years after admitting it was responsible for cholera, the UN continues to unconscionably violate victims’ right to reparations and deny its legal obligations,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the BAI. Since 2010, BAI and IJDH have worked to advance cholera victims’ struggle for justice, including by filing 5,000 claims with the UN and a class action lawsuit in U.S. federal court.
Earlier this week, Foreign Policy revealed that the UN’s lawyers waged “an extraordinary internal campaign” to keep the Organization from accepting full responsibility for cholera. In his parting email, the outgoing Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, slammed UN leadership for failing to honor cholera victims’ rights, calling it “the single greatest example of hypocrisy in our 75-year history.”
The complaint filed last week documents serious deficiencies in the UN’s response under Secretary-General António Guterres’ leadership that violate the right to effective remedy protected under human rights law. Major findings include:
- The UN refused to fund the New Approach through its regular budget, instead relying on charitable donations that have raised only 5% of the $400 million promised.
- The UN made key decisions about the New Approach without victim input. Victim groups organizing for cholera justice were sidelined and labeled a “risk” by the UN Development Programme.
- The UN is denying victims direct compensation for the devastating harms they suffered, in violation of both human rights law and its own legal framework.
- The UN has done little to prevent similar health disasters in the future, with internal UN audits showing that the UN continues its unsafe sanitation management in peacekeeping missions around the world.
“We are appealing to UN Special Procedures to protect victims’ rights to remedies for the harms they suffered. This is as urgent for the countless families who lost loved ones and struggle to survive as it is for the UN’s own legitimacy,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, who led a team of students in drafting the complaint.
UN Special Procedures previously took up the cholera issue in a joint allegation letter in 2014, raising concerns that the UN was denying cholera victims access to legal remedies. Efforts to persuade the UN to change course culminated in a highly critical 2016 report from the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston. This engagement amidst an extraordinary mobilization of cholera-affected communities and allies played a key role in prompting the UN to eventually admit its role in the outbreak.
“UN Special Procedures are the eyes and ears of the human rights system. We are calling on these experts to again take action to protect the integrity of the UN human rights system by holding the UN to its commitments and the rights it claims to protect and promote world-wide,” said IJDH Legal Advocacy Director Sienna Merope-Synge.
A full copy of the 32-page complaint can be found here. Harvard Law School Clinical students Steven Jiang JD ’21, Gigi Kisela JD ’21, and Saranna Soroka JD ‘20 contributed to the drafting of the complaint.
Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney
Bureau des Avocats Internationaux
T: +509 3701 9879 | E: email@example.com
(Kreyol, French, English)
Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor
International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School
T: +1 617 495 1654 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sienna Merope-Synge, Legal Advocacy Director
Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti
T: +1 917 864 6901| E: email@example.com
(English, French, Kreyol)
November 19, 2019
Indigenous Bolivian Family Members Urge Appeals Court in Miami: Reinstate Judgment Against Former Bolivian President and Defense Minister for Civilian Massacre
Judge Erroneously Set Aside Jury Verdict of Liability, Lawyers Say
November 19, 2019, Miami – Today, Indigenous Bolivian family members urged the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a judgement against Bolivia’s former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and former defense minister, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for the massacre of unarmed Indigenous civilians in 2003.
A U.S. jury found the two former officials liable under the Torture Victim Protection Act in April 2018 and awarded the victims’ families $10 million in damages. The unanimous verdict came after a month-long trial that included six days of deliberations. The judge later set aside the jury verdict and entered his own ruling holding the defendants not liable.
“I was proud, during the trial, to be able to hold these two men to account in their adopted country,” said Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a plaintiff whose pregnant wife Teodosia was shot and killed while praying inside her sister’s home. “We have faith that the Court of Appeals will see what the Bolivian people and the American jury also saw: that Goni and Sánchez Berzaín are responsible for these killings, and that justice must be done.”Continue Reading…
March 29, 2019
Posted by Thomas Becker JD'08, Julia Wenck JD'20, and Fabiola Alvelais JD'20
For women, Bolivia is a land of paradoxes. The Bolivian government has enacted some of the world’s most progressive legislation to advance women’s rights. It was one of the first countries to criminalize femicide − the killing of women because they are women – and maintains strict protocols to combat gender violence. Yet despite these efforts, violence against women remains a pervasive problem. Bolivia’s femicide rate is the second highest in South America and one of the highest in the world.
In April 2018, Mujeres Creando, a Bolivian feminist collective, asked the International Human Rights Clinic to examine femicide in Bolivia. Throughout this academic year, clinical students Fabiola Alvelais JD ’20, Isabel Pitaro JD ’20, and Julia Wenck JD ’20 have worked on this issue under the supervision of Clinical Instructor Thomas Becker JD ’08, conducting extensive desk research and traveling to Bolivia to interview families of femicide victims, activists, and government officials involved in the investigation and adjudication of femicide cases.
Last Friday, the Clinic released its report, “ ‘No Justice for Me’: Femicide and Impunity in Bolivia.” Becker and Alvelais presented the report at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in La Paz. Family members of femicide victims, academics, and the former Human Rights Ombudsman of Bolivia (and current Chancellor of the University) participated in the presentation before an overflow crowd of roughly one thousand people.
“No Justice for Me” identifies three key areas that have hindered the government’s efforts to prevent femicide and hold perpetrators accountable: (1) investigative barriers, (2) judicial barriers, and (3) institutional discrimination. The report calls on actors in the Bolivian government and civil society to address these obstacles, adhere to the country’s own progressive legislation on femicide, and work together to address the pervasiveness of femicide and impunity in the country.
Helen Alvarez, whose daughter Andrea Aramayo was killed by her boyfriend in 2015, was interviewed for the report and remains concerned about the prevalence of femicide. “All women can be victims of femicide in Bolivia,” she noted. “Unfortunately, impunity sends a signal to men that they can get away with killing women.”
Though Alvarez recognizes that preventing femicide and holding perpetrators accountable will continue to be difficult, she is hopeful that the Clinic’s report can be a powerful tool in this struggle and ultimately bring her daughter’s case one step closer to justice.
The clinical team shared its report with the public, conducting dozens of radio, print, and television interviews. “I was genuinely moved by the widespread interest in battling femicide in Bolivia,” Alvelais reflected.
Becker and Alvelais also met with high level members of the Bolivian government, including the President of the Senate, the Vice-President of Congress, the President of the Justice Commission of Congress, and the Director General of the Plurinational Service for Women and Depatriarchalization, to discuss the report.
To Becker, these meetings signaled a sincere effort to confront the problem of femicide. “We had a unique opportunity to sit down with members of the government, who showed a genuine interest in collaborating to eradicate femicide in the country,” he explained. “We are optimistic about the possibilities for meaningful change.”
October 7, 2011
“Accountability After Katrina: Community Lawyering and Organizing for Justice”
A Talk by Norris Henderson, of Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE)
and Davida Finger, Community Justice Clinic, Loyola University New Orleans
Pound Hall 204
Join us for a discussion about the ways in which community organizers and lawyers are working together to address justice issues in New Orleans. Norris Henderson is a community leader and the Founder and Executive Director of Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE), a non-profit justice organization founded by and run by formerly incarcerated people. Davida Finger, a former Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard Law School, teaches the Community Justice Clinic at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.
This event is co-sponsored by the Human Rights Program, Office of Public Interest Advising, HLS Mississippi Delta Project, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, Harvard Immigration Project, ACLU-HLS, National Lawyers Guild – HLS Chapter, HLS American Constitution Society, and Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.
October 3, 2011
Posted by Meera Shah
Today, Raji Sourani, one of the foremost human rights lawyers and advocates in the Middle East, will come to speak at Harvard Law School. Personally, as someone who worked in the Middle East for several years, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to meet him. The founder of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza City in 1995, Sourani began his human rights career challenging Israeli prison conditions and defending Palestinians facing deportation in Israeli military courts. As a human rights defender, he was detained by Israeli authorities on multiple occasions, prompting Amnesty International to name him one of their Prisoners of Conscience in both 1985 and 1988.
With the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s, Sourani’s work took on another dimension, exposing and documenting human rights violations on the part of both Israeli and Palestinian officials. While this even-handedness was not always popular, it demonstrates Sourani’s commitment to a universal standard.
This principled stance and the courage to speak out continue to drive Sourani’s work. Today, he will be talking about the need for accountability for violations committed as part of Israel’s offensive in late 2008 and the human rights implications of the ongoing closure of the Gaza Strip. I hope you will join us for this important and timely discussion!
March 25, 2011
Former GITMO Psychologist Claims to be Named to White House Task Force on “Enhancing the Psychological Well-Being of The Military Family”
Posted by Cara Solomon
Larry James, former Guantanamo psychologist and subject of a professional misconduct complaint filed by the International Human Rights Clinic, has claimed he was appointed to a White House Task Force on “Enhancing Psychological Well-Being of The Military Family.”
“That’s just a scary thought,” said Michael Reese, a former U.S. Army private, a member of Disabled American Veterans, and one of the Ohio residents who filed the complaint. “I just don’t trust him.”
In an e-mail to colleagues and students of Wright State University, where Dr. James serves as Dean of the School of Professional Psychology, he announced “with great pride and pleasure” that he had been “appointed by the First Lady,” and that he would be attending the Task Force’s first meeting at the White House, to be hosted next Tuesday by Mrs. Obama and her staff.
In a Salon post today, Glenn Greenwald asks:
“Of all the psychologists to choose from, why would they possibly choose to honor and elevate the former chief psychologist of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib at the height of the Bush abuses? More disturbing still, among those most damaged by detainee abuse are the service members forced to participate in it; why would the White House possibly want to put on a task force about the health of military families someone, such as Dr. James, who at the very least is directly associated with policies that so profoundly harmed numerous members of the military and their families?”
Today, Greenwald received an interesting response from the White House in which it disputes some—but not all—of Dr. James’s statements. As a result of this response, we changed the language in the headline from “Named to White House Task Force” to “Claims to Be Named to White House Task Force,” and, in the text, changed the wording of the first paragraph from “reportedly appointed” to “claims he was appointed.” We also included additional quotes from the e-mail circulated by Dr. James to the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology community.
In an update this afternoon, Greenwald wrote:
“In an email to me from the First Lady’s Communications Director, the White House claims:
Several members of the White House staff are convening a meeting with multiple mental health professionals on Tuesday to discuss issues pertaining to the wellness of military families. SAMHSA and the American Psychological Association have both been asked to attend. We understand that Dr. James is involved with these groups and may have been indirectly invited to attend this meeting.
She claims, however, that he now will not be at that meeting, and further states that ‘Dr. James has not been appointed to serve in any capacity with the White House.'”
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