For the Human Rights Program, fall 2020 was different — but no less busy. After a brief stint with remote schooling last spring, faculty, students, and staff committed to shifting their methods of advocacy and learning fully online this fall. Despite challenges, we all found ways of maintaining community and building connection virtually.

The International Human Rights Clinic held two introductory classes and an advanced seminar for third-year JDs. With almost 40 students this fall, projects examined the right to water in South Africa and the United States; killer robots; accountability for human rights violations by corporations and the United Nations; the arms trade treaty and gender-based violence; climate change and human rights; and more.

Fourteen students and a teacher smile on zoom in a grid format. Some have virtual backgrounds. It's a mix of women and men.
Bonnie Docherty (top, second from left) ran an introductory class in the Clinic on Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection.

These projects resulted in a number of important legal filing and reports. In October, a Clinic team submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in a pair of cases against U.S. chocolate companies Nestlé and Cargill for their role in aiding and abetting child slavery abroad. The brief dives into the history around the Alien Tort Statute, an 18th century law that Clinic staff and U.S. attorneys have been using for decades to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights abuses in foreign territories when redress is unavailable elsewhere.

The Clinic, along with the Conflict and Environment Observatory, published a major report, Confronting Conflict Pollution: Principles for Assisting Victims of Toxic Remnants of War, which establishes a new framework for addressing the human harm resulting from the environmental consequences of armed conflict. The Clinic also released new Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in Detention Settings with the All-Survivors Project.

Along with 19 other civil society organizations, the Clinic also released a report documenting and analyzing the role that hate speech, rampant misinformation campaigns, and ultranationalism have played in the resurgence of oppression and human rights violations in Myanmar. The report urged the government in Myanmar to tackle the root causes of hate speech ahead of its November elections.

HRP hosted a total of seventeen events online. Many events occurred in collaboration with long-time collaborators like the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World, such as an event with Clinic partner, Musawah, on Muslim Women Creating New Futures: The Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws. Other highlights included the first in a new series examining racial justice and human rights. Clinical Instructor Aminta Ossom moderated the panel, Advocating While Black: Navigating Black Identity in the Human Rights Field. Later events in the series will examine the intersection of domestic civil rights and international human rights. Clinical Instructor Beatrice Lindstrom collaborated with seven centers and student groups across Harvard to host 10 Years on: Lessons from the Cholera Epidemic in Haiti. The event, which commemorated the 10-year anniversary of UN peacekeepers’ introduction of cholera to Haiti, brought together UN representatives and Haiti advocates to discuss lessons learned and how to develop a better rights-responsive approach to disease moving forward.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, continued his collaboration with the program. HRP held two events in partnership with Madrigal-Borloz, who is also the HRP Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher. In November, Madrigal-Borloz presented his report on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBT persons, in addition to hosting a town hall to form plans for his 2021-2023 workplan as UN Independent Expert.

Gerald Neuman, HRP Co-Director and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, convened a private workshop with Madrigal-Borloz on the theme of indirect discrimination and sexual orientation and gender identity. This was the second workshop in a series designed to examine indirect discrimination and other topics.

Following the publication of his edited collection, Human Rights in a Time of Populism, Professor Neuman also continued to explore the theme of populism post-Trump and COVID-19 in essays and events. HRP hosted a panel with the HLS Library and other experts to explore the book’s themes. Panelists included César Rodríguez-Garavito, Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NYU School of Law; Richard Javad Heydarian, an academic, columnist, and policy adviser in the Philippines; and Ruth Okediji, Jeremiah Smith. Jr, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Co-Director of the Berkman Klein Center.

HRP hosted its first ever fully remote visiting fellow, Godfrey Odongo. Dr. Odongo, who is a Senior Program Officer at Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, began research for an article he is drafting on the new frontiers of human rights advocacy and activism in the age of populism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and contemporary challenges to the legitimacy and effectiveness of human rights.

We thank our community members for working so hard this semester — both on critical advocacy and to maintain a close-knit community in our virtual landscape. Harvard Law School will be on break from December 19, 2020 to January 3, 2020. We look forward to getting back to work after a chance to recharge.