April 18, 2011
Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic is working on a number of major projects and cases on the cutting-edge of human rights work. They include:
Thailand in Crisis
Thailand was plunged into political crisis in 2010. More than 80 civilians were killed and almost 2000 injured in confrontations with the military and government. While the immediate violence has ended, the underlying causes of the conflict persist. This project is gathering diverse reflections on the recent conflict and violence. The ultimate aim is to elevate Thai voices and Thai solutions through a dialogue to help the country begin to move forward. To date, the Clinic has conducted three research trips to Thailand to collect perspectives that will shed more light on the complicated underpinnings of the crisis.
Documenting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Violations of HIV-positive Women in Namibia
Working with the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) and the Namibian Women's Health Network (NWHN), the Clinic is documenting violations of sexual and reproductive health rights in Namibia. In April 2010, a clinical team traveled to Namibia to conduct on-site research. The Clinic continues to investigate possible violations of the rights of HIV-positive women, and to contribute to ongoing efforts to litigate sexual and reproductive rights in Namibia. A report based on the Clinic’s research will be released in spring 2011.
Cluster Munitions: Negotiating and Implementing a New Treaty
Cluster munitions are large weapons that disperse dozens of smaller sub-munitions and cause significant numbers of civilian casualties both during attacks and afterwards, given that many linger after a conflict. For more than five years, the Clinic has played an active role in the campaign to ban cluster munitions. Students went on a fact-finding mission to investigate in Lebanon in 2006 and participated in negotiation sessions for the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since the adoption of the convention, students have advocated for its strong implementation and interpretation. The Clinic has co-published numerous legal advocacy papers with Human Rights Watch, and students have taken part in international conferences where those papers have been released.
Mamani et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín
The Clinic serves as co-counsel in an Alien Tort Statute suit, brought in a U.S. federal court on behalf of ten plaintiffs, against former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and former Minister of Defense José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín for their involvement in a series of civilian massacres in 2003. In December 2009, the district court largely denied defendants' motion to dismiss, allowing plaintiffs' claims for extrajudicial killing and other violations to proceed. The case is now on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit. This term, the Clinic will work with co-counsel to prepare the appellate briefs.
Crimes in Burma
In May 2009, the Clinic released a major report, “Crimes in Burma,” commissioned by five top international jurists: Judge Richard Goldstone (South Africa), Judge Patricia Wald (United States), Judge Pedro Nikken (Venezuela), Judge Ganzorig Gombosuren (Mongolia), and Sir Geoffrey Nice (United Kingdom). The report called on the UN Security Council to create a Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes in the country. The report has received widespread press attention, including an editorial in The Washington Post. Following elections in Burma last November, the Clinic continues to work with civil society organizations to advocate for accountability in Burma and an end to human rights violations, especially in ethnic minority areas.
Indigenous Rights and Consultation in Colombia and Chile
In partnership with human rights clinics in Colombia and Chile, the IHRC has been working on the implementation of the right to be consulted in International Labour Organization Convention 169. In November 2010, the U. Diego Portales and the IHRC partnered to draft an amicus curiae brief to the Colombian Constitutional Court to support an earlier landmark decision on indigenous consultation rights. The IHRC has researched consultation processes in Colombia (2009-2010) and in Chile (2010) and is preparing a report on these issues jointly with its Latin American University partners.
In re South African Apartheid Litigation
Since 2005, the Clinic has worked with a team of South African and U.S. lawyers to litigate an Alien Tort Statute case known as In Re South African Apartheid Litigation. The case, in which the Clinic has served as co-counsel since 2008, seeks to hold major corporations accountable for aiding and abetting human rights violations committed by the apartheid government, including torture, extrajudicial killing, and denaturalization. In April 2009, the district court largely denied defendants’ motion to dismiss, and the case is currently on appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. Clinical students have taken multiple trips to South Africa to work on the case.
São Paulo May 2006 Attacks
The Clinic, along with NGO partners in Brazil coordinated by Justiça Global, has been conducting a multi-year study of the period in São Paulo known as the attacks of May 2006. On May 12, 2006, a criminal faction called the First Command of the Capital led a wave of prison riots and attacks on security officials and others. The nine days that followed marked an alarming spike in the level of violence in São Paulo. Over the course of 2009-2010, students engaged in ongoing research, including a fact-finding trip to Brazil in January 2010. The work will culminate in the publication of a book-length report by mid-2011 on human rights abuses, governmental responses to date, and avenues for reform.
Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch/Shell
In September 2010, a divided panel of the Second Circuit held that corporations cannot be subject to suit in U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) for violations of international law. In the fall 2010 term, the Clinic drafted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of legal historians in support of a petition for rehearing en banc. The brief argues that interpreting the ATS to disallow cases against corporations would run counter to the text, history, and original purposes of the statute.
Incendiary Weapons: Strengthening International Law
In a new initiative, IHRC has joined forces with Human Rights Watch to campaign for stronger international laws on incendiary weapons. The existing treaty has multiple loopholes and allows problematic incendiary weapons, including white phosphorous munitions, to escape regulation. Students have researched and written two advocacy papers, one calling for that treaty to be amended, and the other detailing the harm that incendiary weapons cause. The joint IHRC-Human Rights Watch papers have generated initial support at international disarmament conferences. The Clinic will continue to work on this issue through publications and conference participation.
Mining and the Rights of First Nations
In 2010, the Clinic published an independent, in-depth look at how mining has affected the Takla First Nation—“Bearing the Burden: The Effects of Mining on First Nations in British Columbia.” That book explored the human rights implications of mining and mapped the possible human rights approaches for advancing indigenous interests. The Clinic is currently preparing for a round table discussion with government officials and representatives of First Nations in 2011.