Blog: Africa

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March 6, 2015

March 9-10: “The Role of African Women in the Post 2015 Development Agenda and +20 Beijing”

March 9-10, 2015

“The Role of African Women in the Post 2015 Development Agenda &  +20 Beijing”

9:00 a.m.- 6:00 p.m.
Austin Hall (on March 9)
Wasserstein Milstein AB (on March 10)

Please join the Human Rights Program, Urgent Action Fund–Africa, and the Ford Foundation-East Africa Office for a two-day round table discussion on the role of African Women in the Post 2015 Development Agenda and the Beijing +20. Review the program here.The meeting brings together approximately 50 African women leaders from across socio-economic and political arenas. They, and their US-based counterparts, include women’s rights advocates, femocrats, academics, United Nations representatives, corporate and media professionals. Together they will share success stories, challenges, innovations, knowledge, and history to advance and cement women’s leadership as part of the 2015 global agenda for integration, development and social change.

ALSO on March 9, a rescheduled event:

“Gender (Re)assignment: Legal, Ethical and Conceptual Issues”

12:00 p.m.
Pound Hall 102

Lunch will be served

Trans and intersex individuals face a series of legal, medical, and social challenges. This panel explores these overlapping issues, including: healthcare coverage of treatments such as gender reassignment therapy, the legal recognition of trans identities, intersexuality, and asexuality. Join us for a wide-ranging panel discussion with panelists Noa Ben-Asher, Visiting Associate Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Elizabeth F. Emens, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia Law School; Gerald L. Neuman, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, Harvard Law School; Matthew J.B. Lawrence, Academic Fellow, Petrie-Flom Center; with moderator I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center.

May 2, 2012

Renewed Threat to Freedom of Expression in South Africa

Posted by Susan Farbstein

In the forthcoming issue of the New York Review of Books, Nadine Gordimer writes about two disturbing pieces of legislation under consideration by the South African parliament: the Media Tribunal and the Protection of State Information Bill (or so-called “Secrecy Bill”). Both would significantly curtail freedom of expression and access to information.  Nearly twenty years after the end of apartheid, the acts are eerily reminiscent of the legal architecture that upheld the apartheid system itself—laws banning political parties, newspapers and books, and advocacy of political, economic, and social change.

Five protestors in South Africa hold a sign that says, "The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to be silent or silenced!!" The protest appears to be a candlelight vigil.
Protesters show their opposition to the so-called “Secrecy Bill” at a candlelight vigil in Johannesburg, September 2011. Photo: Heather Mason at

If the Media Tribunal is established, journalists will be required to inform it about topics that they plan to investigate or write about; the Tribunal will then have the power to determine whether these subjects pose a threat to state security.  However, under a new plan recently proposed by the Press Freedom Commission, a compromise seems more likely.  The Commission has recommended a system of “independent co-regulation” between the public and press, without involvement of political parties or state officials, which may mitigate some concerns raised by critics of the Tribunal.

The Secrecy Bill may be the greater threat.  It has received heavy criticism from South African civil society and media, and would impose significant prison sentences on those who expose corruption in government and industry.   It lacks a public interest defense, meaning that journalists or whistle-blowers could be imprisoned for up to 25 years for sharing information deemed classified by the government, even in the face of a compelling public interest such as exposing corruption or malfeasance.  In addition, the Bill will insulate various intelligence agencies from public scrutiny, ensuring that ordinary constitutional checks and balances will not apply to the intelligence services.

The powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a traditional ANC ally, is strongly opposed to the Bill, as is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said that it “makes the state answerable only to the state.”  The final hearing on the Bill is set for May 17th.  If passed into law, expect to see a Constitutional Court case challenging the Bill in the near future.

In many ways, this legislation contradicts the founding ideals that the ANC promised to a new South Africa.  Should the Secrecy Bill be enacted into law, former Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs’ warning may prove disturbingly prescient: “There is no guarantee that somebody who is a freedom fighter, who is willing to sacrifice his life for freedom, will not violate the rights of others when he takes over power.”

February 21, 2011

Event Feb. 22: “The Cash Nexus: Advocacy at the Intersection of Development, Human Rights, and the Global Economy”

“The Cash Nexus: Advocacy at the Intersection of Development, Human Rights, and the Global Economy”

February 22, 2011
12:00- 1:00 pm
Lewis 202

Please join us for a brown bag talk featuring Peter Rosenblum, the Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein Clinical Professor in Human Rights Law at Columbia Law School and the Co-Director of its Human Rights Institute.

Prior to joining Columbia, Rosenblum was the Clinical Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard University.  His research has taken him around the world, but his main focus remains Africa, where he has spent much of his career exposing corruption and promoting financial transparency in natural resource contracts.  He has served as a human rights officer with the Geneva-based precursor to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, a program director of the International Human Rights Law Group, and a researcher for Human Rights Watch and the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights.

This event is co-sponsored by the Harvard Law & International Development Society.


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January 25, 2011

Upcoming Event on South Sudan

“The World’s Newest Nation: What Follows South Sudan’s Independence?”

February 3, 2011
5:30- 7:00 pm
Pound Hall 203

Rebecca Hamilton Headshot

Join us Thursday for a talk with Rebecca Hamilton, JD ’08, human rights lawyer, journalist and author of “Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide.”  A graduate of both Harvard Law School and Harvard’s JFK School of Government, Hamilton is a fellow at the New America Foundation and a Special Correspondent on Sudan for The Washington Post.

The Human Rights Program is co-sponsoring this event with HLS Student Advocates and the Harvard African Law Association.

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