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February 16, 2022

HLS Student Sondra Anton Testifies Before Congress on Accountability in Sri Lanka

By Sarah Foote

On December 8, 2021, Sondra Anton, JD ’22, testified in front of members of the United States House of Representatives at a congressional hearing held by the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission focused on human rights in Sri Lanka. Anton’s testimony focused on efforts to hold state security forces accountable for international law violations against the Tamil population during the final stages of the country’s internal armed conflict in 2008-2009.

Anton relayed information on the crimes and human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan government and military forces in the last months of the 26-year-long war that ended in May 2009. She recounted how tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed during this period in one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history. Anton also stressed how survivors of these atrocities are still displaced and family members are often met with opposition and threats from the government there while searching for their missing relatives. Her testimony also observed that the same officials accused of orchestrating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during this period are back in power today.

Anton first joined the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) in Fall 2020. “I came to law school with the specific purpose of pursuing a career focused on seeking justice and accountability in conflict and post-conflict societies. I chose Harvard in large part because of the amazing work that the Clinic had done in this area on behalf of survivors of mass atrocity,” Anton said, specifically citing the IHRC’s involvement in the historic Mamani vs. Sanchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín case, a case that came to the Clinic at the initiative of then student Thomas Becker.

“The Clinic encourages students to take initiative and build expertise in areas that they are passionate about,” said Professor Tyler Giannini, a Director of the IHRC. “Since bringing the Sri Lanka work to the Clinic, Sondra has made a tremendous contribution and driven our efforts forward in this space.”  

While providing testimony, Anton noted that the United States should play a larger role in bringing Sri Lankan perpetrators to justice. Anton also identified ways the United States could strengthen its efforts while ensuring survivors’ voices are heard and by taking steps such as collection and preservation of evidence of these crimes. She said that the United States and other international communities must work together to bring the perpetrators to justice and provide important and necessary resources for the survivors.

Head shot of Sondra Anton wearing a black dress and standing in Harvard Law School courtyard.
Sondra Anton, JD ’22
Photo by Lorin Granger

“There are so many issues facing Sri Lanka today that were highlighted during the panel, such as the frightening rise in anti-Muslim violence and the resurgence of extreme ethno-nationalist violence under the current regime. By specifically addressing state-sponsored impunity for 2009-era crimes from an international human rights and criminal law perspective, my testimony sought to paint a fuller picture to lawmakers and the public about how salient the past is to the present on the island,” Anton said.

Both Anton and Giannini agree that more work needs to be done to help Tamil survivors of mass atrocity in Sri Lanka.

“Law is but one tool that can help recognize the fundamental human dignity that has been repeatedly denied to Tamils by successive Sri Lankan governments since independence,” Anton said in her testimony.

Anton will graduate in May and plans to do a post-graduate fellowship related to international accountability. She says that advances in international criminal law and renewed attention on Sri Lanka at the United Nations, including an increased investigative capacity in international crimes, will hopefully make it harder for Sri Lankan war criminals to run out the clock on justice.

“Whether through platforms like congressional hearings or in a court of law, I plan to use my training as a human rights lawyer to fight to ensure survivors’ calls for truth and justice do not go unanswered,” said Anton.

To read a copy of Anton’s complete statement to Congress click here.

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August 10, 2021

HRP Welcomes New Associate Director

Posted by Gerald Neuman

Today I have the honor of announcing an exciting new appointment at the Human Rights Program. Dr. Abadir M. Ibrahim has joined our team as the Associate Director of the Human Rights Program. Abadir will bring leadership and experience to the work of the HRP. He will also act as an important liaison between the HRP and other parts of the Law School and the University.

Abadir joins the Human Rights Program from the Legal and Justice Affairs Advisory Council of Ethiopia, where he was the Head of the Secretariat. The Advisory Council is an independent statutory body mandated with advising and providing technical support to the Ethiopian government in the latter’s endeavors to conduct pro-democracy and pro-rights justice sector reforms. In his role as Head of the Secretariat, Abadir oversaw the planning and implementation of the Advisory Council’s mandate. He also provided subject area expertise and participated in law-making processes on topics such as civil society, anti-terrorism, transitional justice, and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) legislation.

Previously, Abadir worked in different roles within the human rights field including as an advocate, as an educator, and a researcher. Abadir’s legal work has focused on African countries, and especially his home country of Ethiopia, and engaged with the African system of human rights. His broader research interests encompass the intersections between global human rights normative structures and non-western cultural/religious institutions and traditions with a special emphasis on normative ethics and religion. He earned his J.S.D. from the Intercultural Human Rights Program at St. Thomas University, School of Law. His dissertation, which was a comparative-historical study of transitions towards democracy, was published under the title of The Role of Civil Society in Africa’s Quest for Democratization.

At the HRP, Abadir will play a substantive and managerial role in innovating and implementing academic activities, including the speaker series, conferences, and the Academic Program’s various fellowships.

We welcome him warmly and look forward to your meeting him soon.

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February 24, 2021

WATCH: Human Rights, Civil Rights, and the Struggle for Racial Justice


From documenting historical incidents of mass racial violence to taking protests against police brutality to international forums, social justice lawyers have long turned to human rights law and strategies to advocate for racial justice in the United States. At the same time, US legacies of exceptionalism, isolationism and nationalism pose challenges for what is a fundamentally universalist human rights project. On February 4, 2021, the Human Rights Program hosted the second webinar in a series of events exploring racial justice and human rights. This event explored how international human rights approaches are being used in conjunction with domestic civil rights advocacy to push for law and policy change in the United States. Panelists spoke about their work raising awareness of, and seeking accountability for, racial injustice, while reflecting on circumstances in which the international human rights framework presents an imperfect vehicle for mobilizing change.The event, “Human Rights, Civil Rights, and the Struggle for Racial Justice, featured:

– Gay McDougall, Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham Law School; Former United Nations Independent Expert On Minority Issues (2005-2011); Former Vice-Chair United Nations Committee on the Elimination Of Racial Discrimination

– Nicole Austin-Hillery, Executive Director, U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch;

– Maryum Jordan, Counsel for the Special Litigation and Advocacy Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.

The event was moderated by Aminta Ossom, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law in the International Human Rights Clinic at HLS.

Thanks to our co-sponsors: the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, the Harvard Human Rights Journal, and the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

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March 30, 2011

Today, March 31: A Talk on Professional Ethics and Human Rights


“Toward a Unified Theory of Professional Ethics and Human Rights”

 
March 31, 2011
12:00 pm- 1:00 pm
Lewis 202


Please join us tomorrow for a talk by Jonathan Marks, human rights lawyer and fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

Headshot of Marks

Marks, Associate Professor of Bioethics, Humanities and Law at Penn State University, has worked for years on the issue of complicity of professionals (in particular, doctors, psychologists and lawyers) in torture and detainee abuse in the war on terror.  In this talk, he will discuss his paper on the topic, the first to advance a general unified theory of professional ethics and human rights.

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