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On the morning of Feb. 28, 2012, a team from Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic took their seats in the U.S. Supreme Court. Clinical Professor Tyler Giannini and Assistant Clinical Professor Susan Farbstein ’04, co-directors of the clinic and nationally recognized leaders in Alien Tort Statute litigation, had waited months to hear oral arguments in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., a case that would test the limits of the centuries-old ATS. It was the highest-profile human rights case to come before the Supreme Court in years. “What’s at stake in Kiobel is the future of the ATS itself, and whether it will remain an example of how the United States takes its international legal obligations seriously,” said Farbstein.
This summer Thomas Buergenthal LL.M. ’61 S.J.D. ’68 will begin writing a sequel to “A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy,” published in 2009. It is a harrowing, moving account of how Thomas, age 5, and his mother and father were trapped in Poland in 1939 after the invading Germans bombed their train as they fled toward England. Forced into a Jewish ghetto and work camps, four years later the Buergenthals were put on a train to the most feared destination of all: Auschwitz. There Thomas was separated from his parents—first his mother, Gerda, then his father, Mundek—and struggled by his wits and courage to survive alone.
There she stood, in northern Libya, a spread of explosive weapons before her: mortars and rockets and surface-to-air missiles almost 20 feet long. For all her work in post-conflict zones, senior clinical instructor Bonnie Docherty ’01 had never seen anything like it. The weapons stretched on for miles. It was March, five months after the revolution had ended, and Docherty was supervising a team from the International Human Rights Clinic on a trip to assess the humanitarian risks of abandoned weapons. As the team traveled from city to city, the scale of the problem was startling.
Thirty-five years ago, after majoring in mathematics at Harvard and receiving a Ph.D. in the same subject from MIT, HLS Professor Gerald Neuman ’80 switched from the field of math to the field of law—from “truth to justice,” he said in an interview in his office in Griswold Hall. That decision has led to a career of teaching and writing on international human rights law and comparative constitutional law, and to his election last fall to the U.N.’s Human Rights Committee, a body of 18 independent experts who assess and critique countries’ records on civil and political rights.
Rebecca Hamilton ’07 has traveled extensively in Sudan, interviewing powerful generals in the north and refugees in Darfur who had survived murderous government raids. But that was easy, she says, compared to the delicate task of talking about the book that resulted. “Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide” is a look at the advocacy movement that Hamilton was part of and which she has now come to critique.
Last month, Joseph G. Phillips ’12 and Joanne Box LL.M. ’11, students in the HLS International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), attended a U.N. disarmament conference, where they met with diplomats to urge adoption of stronger international laws regarding the use of incendiary weapons. The students worked under the supervision of HLS Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty ’01, who is one of the country’s leading legal experts on cluster munitions and has expanded her work to other disarmament issues, including incendiary weapons.
Last year, as part of Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic, Susannah Knox ’10 and Lauren Pappone ’11, traveled to British Columbia with Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty '01 to investigate how mining affects the Takla Lake First Nation people.
Last spring, a young woman named Grace Akallo sat in the U.N. Security Council chamber and told its delegates her story. In 1997, when she was 15, soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army abducted Akallo from her school in northern Uganda. She learned to use an AK-47 in battle and shot other girls who tried to escape, so as not to be shot herself. She was repeatedly raped over the course of seven months, until one day she herself escaped. When she finished telling her story, she asked the delegates to help bring home other girls and boys who hadn’t been so lucky. Sitting at Akallo’s left in the chamber was Radhika Coomaraswamy LL.M. ’82, U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict.
At the southwestern tip of the Amazon, in Porto Velho, Rondônia, Brazil, stands Urso Branco, a prison notorious for deadly human rights violations. It’s nowhere anyone would choose to be. But it was into this dank, dark, and volatile world that Clara Long ’11, Fernando Delgado ’08, and James Cavallaro, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program, insisted on going.
In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the UN’s Human Rights Program, the UN’s highest human rights official, Navanethem Pillay, LL.M. ’82 S.J.D. ’88, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, came to Harvard Law School to discuss her current position as a human rights diplomat and how it differs from her previous roles as a judge and an impassioned activist.
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