Blog: Nepal

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April 16, 2020

Sabrina Singh JD’20 draws attention to the looming COVID-19 crisis in Nepal


Sabrina Singh JD’20 has been an active member of the human rights community during her time at Harvard Law School (HLS), including leading the Harvard Human Rights and Business Student Association (HuB) for a year and taking the International Human Rights Clinic for the past two years. In addition to her human rights concentration, she has worked to be a voice for international students at Harvard Law School, co-founding the organization, Coalition for International Students and Global Affairs, with Ayoung Kim JD’20. Born and raised in Nepal, Sabrina has been speaking out about how the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate conditions in her home country. The Human Rights Program (HRP) spoke with her recently to learn more about her background, what drew her to human rights, and how she is continuing to advocate for vulnerable populations during this time of uncertainty.

HRP: Why did you decide to specialize in human rights at Harvard Law School?

Sabrina: My introduction to law school was as an undergraduate summer intern at the Office of Public Interest Advising. That summer, I had the opportunity to interview a human rights lawyer, and I asked her why she chose her career. She said that she loved to be able to fight for what she knows to be good. Her conviction and energy stuck with me as I eventually came back to HLS as a student.  

Sabrina in front of the UN headquarters.

Last November, Sabrina Singh JD’20 attended the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva.

HRP: What kind of work have you been doing in the International Human Rights Clinic?

Sabrina: I have focused on business and human rights (BHR) and economic, social and cultural (ESCR) rights. I had the opportunity to work on BHR clinical projects with [HRP and International Human Rights Clinic Co-Director and Clinical Professor] Tyler Giannini and [former visiting clinical instructor] Amelia Evans LLM’11. With their clinical teams, I researched and helped write a report on multi-stakeholder initiatives, which are global governance bodies set up to create human rights standards for corporate actors; I also helped facilitate a BHR communities training for human rights practitioners in New York; most recently, I worked on a project on the cocoa industry in Ghana. Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva, which brings together more than a thousand participants who gather to take stock of the BHR field. The theme was ‘government as catalysts for business respect for human rights,’ but one of my principal takeaways was how underrepresented local and grassroots communities are in these spaces.

HRP: What lessons have you internalized from this work and your instructors in the Clinic that you hope to carry forward?

Sabrina: Tyler and Amelia have helped me understand how important it is to look at the human rights implications of economic growth and globalization. [International Human Rights Clinic Co-Director and Clinical Professor] Susan Farbstein was an amazing mentor for my paper titled, “Realizing Economic and Social Rights in Nepal,” which will be published in the forthcoming edition of the Harvard Human Rights Journal. That paper seeks to understand what role the judiciary can play to realize basic social and economic rights in a post-conflict context. In a poor country like my own, I often hear people ask, ‘What is the relevance of seemingly abstract human rights law when our day-to-day material needs like food and housing are not met?’ I believe human rights law can and must speak to issues such as poverty, hunger, health care, housing, and economic inequality on a global scale.   

HRP: You originally moved to the United States from Nepal for college. How have you remained connected to your community back home?

Sabrina: Co-founding HLS’s international student group and serving on the boards of Human Rights and Business as well as the Law and International Development Society have been ways to stay connected to the international issues that matter to developing countries and certainly to Nepal. I am a part of Nepal Rising, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that mobilized the Nepali diaspora for relief efforts after the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015. I am also a co-founder of a growing Nepali women’s collective that has expanded to four cities in the United States. Ours is the first generation of Nepali women to be receiving higher education and career opportunities at an unprecedented global scale; our collective exists to document our experiences and create solidarity among us.

HRP: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting Nepal? What particular issues are important for the local and international community to know?

Sabrina: COVID-19 has laid bare the inequities happening on a global scale. My home country is a case in point. First, many people lack access to basic social and economic rights like health care and social security. There are very few hospitals where you can get tested for COVID-19 in the country. We likely have less than 500 ICU beds. Many are likely to slip back into abject poverty with the economic downturn, particularly the 70 percent of the labor force in the informal economy. We have already started to hear some anecdotes about food scarcity on the ground. Second, responses to the pandemic have often not respected basic human rights. About 1,500 Nepali migrants leave every day for wage labor in the Middle East and East Asia. Some do critical work in factories that produce medical equipment to fight COVID-19. Migrant workers are the backbone of the global supply chain. But many of them have lost their jobs in the past few weeks. At the same time, Nepal instituted a nation-wide lockdown and closed its borders, even to its own citizens. Migrant workers are now literally stuck, some sleeping on roads and others trying to swim across a river to come back home.

HRP: How are you trying to raise attention to these issues?

Sabrina: At Nepal Rising, in collaboration with local partners, we are now raising funds to help build the health care system in Nepal to prepare for COVID-19, such as by procuring PPEs [personal protection equipment] and training healthcare professionals on how to use them. Former US Ambassador to Nepal, Scott DeLisi, is one of our partners for this initiative. We are trying to keep abreast of daily developments and coordinate with other initiatives in civil society. The diaspora and the international community can play a critical role when a fragile state or LDC [least developed country] has a looming public health and economic crisis.

HRP: Finally, how are you coping from day-to-day? How is balancing the daily work of HLS, keeping abreast of the news cycle, and trying to work on behalf of Nepal Rising?

Sabrina: I am precariously fine. It feels anticlimactic to not have a physical commencement and bar exam this summer, but trying to be an advocate for my community helps me too. I got breakfast from the Hark this morning. An individual in the dining staff told me that she is a single mother with three kids and that she is extremely worried about what will happen to her kids if she contracts the virus. So, I feel a mix of anxiety, gratefulness, and solidarity.  

Sabrina is interested in economic and gender issues and human rights and international law. She has spent her law school summers at Latham & Watkins, Human Rights Watch, and EarthRights International. Sabrina graduated from Swarthmore College with Highest Honors in Political Science and Sociology & Anthropology.

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September 26, 2013

Clinic Report: Nepali War Victims Need Long-Term, Expanded Assistance

PRESS RELEASE

Nepali War Victims Need Long-Term, Expanded Assistance

Government Programs to End Civilian Suffering Fall Short

 

September 26, 2013, Cambridge, Mass— Seven years after the end of Nepal’s armed conflict, civilian victims are still struggling in the absence of effective help from the government, according to a report released today by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), in partnership with the advocacy group Center for Civilians in Conflict. A government relief program, set to end in 2014, has failed to deliver sufficient services and support.

Nepal_Report_Front_Cover-9 9 13-FINAL FRONTAssistance Overdue: Ongoing Needs of Civilian Victims of Nepal’s Armed Conflict  documents Nepali victims’ calls for financial and in-kind assistance as well as justice and truth after a decade-long conflict between government and Maoist forces. The report also evaluates the Nepali government’s current programs and proposals in light of victims’ needs and expectations.

“Atrocities committed by both sides left thousands of Nepali civilians with permanent disabilities, lingering psychological trauma, and lost livelihoods,” said Bonnie Docherty, lecturer on law at IHRC and co-author of the report. “The government has failed to reach many victims and urgently needs to do so.”

During the armed conflict that raged in Nepal from 1996-2006, Maoist and government forces targeted civilians with impunity. The Maoists often executed civilians publicly to create fear, while the government routinely eliminated perceived enemies through enforced disappearances. Both sides also tortured, raped, and committed other forms of violence. Assistance Overdue is based on more than 100 interviews with survivors, government officials, and other experts as well as extensive legal analysis.

The government’s primary form of support for victims is its Interim Relief Program (IRP), which was established in 2008 and has provided immediate material assistance to some of those harmed in the conflict. The report finds that IRP falls short in the areas of financial aid, vocational training, educational support, and health care for families of the deceased or disappeared and the disabled. Two especially vulnerable groups—victims of torture and sexual violence—are not entitled to any assistance under the program.

The government has for several years debated creation of a truth, reconciliation, and disappearances commission that would focus on non-material issues, a measure important to many victims. But the commission has yet to be established and, as currently proposed, would have overly broad amnesty provisions, allow forced reconciliation against the will of victims, and have only two years to complete its work. A coalition of victims’ organizations filed a petition in April 2013 to block implementation of a seriously flawed law creating a commission.

IHRC and the Center call on the government to improve support for victims by creating a more inclusive and long-term assistance program and adopting a commission on truth, reconciliation, and disappearances that takes into account victim perspectives. IHRC and the Center also urge international donors to provide support for these initiatives.

“For Nepal to heal and rebuild, the government should rectify the failings of the Interim Relief Program and listen to its people who demand recognition and justice for the harm they have suffered,” said Sahr Muhammedally, senior legal and amends advisor for the Center for Civilians in Conflict. “People have been trying to recover from the horrors of the conflict for seven years. It’s time to fix a broken system.”

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For more information, contact:

Bonnie Docherty, +1-617-669-1636, bdocherty@law.harvard.edu

Liz Lucas, +1 202-716-0829, liz@civiliansinconflict.org

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