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Blog: racial justice

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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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September 25, 2020

WATCH: Navigating Black Identity in the Human Rights Field

Five Black individuals talk on zoom in a grid pattern. Three are women and two are men. The person speaking has a light green box around her image.
Top left to right: Aminta Ossom, Cassandre Théano; Middle: Godfrey Odongo, Christopher Richardson; Bottom: Rosebell Kagumire.


On September 24, the Human Rights Program hosted the first event in a series exploring racial justice in the human rights field. Aminta Ossom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic, convened the series and moderated the first event, Advocating While Black: Navigating Black Identity in the Human Rights Field. Read an interview with Ossom on our blog about why she convened the series and what she hopes to discuss throughout the year.

Panelists for the September 24 event included:

  • Rosebell Kagumire, Editor, AfricanFeminism

  • Godfrey Odongo, Senior Program Officer, Wellspring Philanthropic Fund

  • Christopher Richardson, Immigration Attorney, General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer, BDV Solutions

  • Cassandre C. Théano, Assistant Director, Human Rights and Public International Law, Columbia Law School

Watch a recording of the event with captions at this link or below:


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

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September 23, 2020

Event Series Explores Racial Justice and Human Rights


During the 2020-2021 academic year, the Human Rights Program (HRP) at Harvard Law School is organizing a series of virtual events on racial justice and human rights. Convened by Aminta Ossom JD’09, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic, the series aims to foster dialogue between students, scholars, and practitioners on the role that race plays both in the practice and substance of international human rights work. The first event, “Advocating While Black: Navigating Black Identity in the Human Rights Field,” will take place on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 12 pm. Register on Zoom here.

HRP spoke with Ossom about the series and what she hopes to unpack throughout the year.

Event poster for Advocating While Black, which will feature:
Rosebell Kagumire, Christopher Richardson, Godfrey Odongo, Cassandre Théano, and Aminta Ossom.
“Advocating While Black” is the first in an event series focused on racial justice and human rights.
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August 5, 2020

Families, Civil Society Orgs Endorse Letter on Police Violence to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


On August 3, 2020, 143 families of victims of police violence and over 360 civil society organizations endorsed a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the implementation of the recent Human Rights Council Resolution (A/HRC/43/L.50) adopted on June 19, 2020. This resolution followed an Urgent Debate “on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests.” The letter was spearheaded by the ACLU and the US Human Rights Network, with the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, along with human rights clinics at the University of Chicago and Duke University, as well as NGOS around the world, signing on.

Addressed to H.E. Michelle Bachelet, the letter says:

“As you know, the resolution has mandated your office, with the assistance of relevant Special Mandate Holders, ‘to prepare a report on systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent, to contribute to accountability and redress for victims.’ The resolution has also requested that your office ‘examine government responses to antiracism peaceful process peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists.’ In addition, the resolution also requested that the High Commissioner ‘include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in all her oral updates to the Council.’

While we were disappointed that the Council adopted a watered-down resolution due to enormous diplomatic pressure from the United States and other allied countries, we consider the outcome of the urgent debate a crucial first step towards full accountability for systemic police violence against Black people in the United States and more generally against people of African descent around the world. “

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