Our members have worked across the world on an array of human rights and humanitarian issues. In each project, our members work under the supervision of the International Human Rights Clinic and leading international or domestic human rights NGOs. Learn more about some of our previous project work below!
Students worked with lawyers at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to build on a convening on campus discussing an initiative to promote the ICC’s jurisdiction in a number of thematic areas. Following this meeting, students drafted a report on their takeaways and recommended further action. In the spring, students also completed a research assignment to move forward key recommendations that came out of the meeting.
Students worked with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to create “Know Your Rights” pamphlets on laws applicable to protesters in cities across the US, as part of its Protestor Protection Program, which protects the First Amendment rights of peaceful demonstrators. Through the program, the Special Litigation and Advocacy Project trains volunteer attorneys to serve as legal observers (monitor of law enforcement activity) during large scale protests and has created similar materials for a number of cities.
Collaborating with the UN Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (2019 – 2020)
Students worked with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (and senior visiting researcher at HLS), to prepare a report prior to a country visit that he is undertaking in his capacity as Independent Expert. Students researches the factual circumstances and legal framework of this country as it relates to protection of sexual orientation and gender identity, framing the areas of focus and analysis for Mr. Madrigal Borloz’s visit.
Students worked with the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) to conduct international humanitarian law analyses of selected airstrikes conducted in Yemen via open source evidence analysis. Students synthesized these strike analyses into a written report that identified patterns and themes of aerial bombardment and the international legal issues posed.
Students supported Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) West Africa division with its advocacy on the human rights impacts of bauxite mining and aluminum production. Students produced a memo analyzing global supply chain laws as they apply to the aluminum sector, also examining how other metal industries have sought to police their own supply chains.
Students partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to support its work with displaced peoples from Myanmar based in Thailand. Students conducted research on means of strengthening alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in the camps and on local integration schemes around which to conduct advocacy.
Corporate Accountability for Human Rights Abuses in Israel and Palestine (2016 – 2017)
In collaboration with Israeli, Palestinian, and European partners, a team of students spent the fall of 2016 drafting a 200-page memorandum to assess the viability of litigation and non-litigation strategies for holding accountable corporations that are committing ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (“OPT”). Although previous cases have been brought against corporations involved in such abuses in the United States, Canada, and France, this memorandum breaks new ground as the first initiative to systematically survey the factual and legal landscape across the globe with the aim of identifying the most viable target companies for litigation. The team then spent the spring of 2017 developing a case against a single target company, which was identified as a prime target for corporate accountability efforts.
Villagers in Thailand who have been protesting against the operation of a gold mine have been violently attacked and faced criminal defamation lawsuits. This Advocates team worked with Fortify Rights to engage with United Nations Special Rapporteurs on human rights abuses relating to the mine, which also included environmental pollution and corruption issues. The work also involved conducting background research on the Special Rapporteurs and letter templates to the UN bodies.
Advocates partnered with Sonke Gender Justice, a South African based NGO, to produce a comparative memorandum highlighting different policy and advocacy efforts advanced in 14 countries to reduce sexual violence in prisons. Countries studied were selected by the students involved in the project with a specific focus on gathering a cross-section of those in the developed and developing world. Advocates team members used this research to develop recommendations to reduce sexual violence in prisons in Malawi, South Africa, and Zambia.
In this project, students partnered with the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG), a global pro-bono law firm that engages directly with states and non-state actors on issues that include war crimes prosecution, peace negotiations, and post-conflict constitution drafting. Students supported PILPG’s work with Syrian clients engaged in peace negotiations. The project incorporated key tenets of international criminal law, international humanitarian law (the laws of war), and international human rights law. Students researched core issues relating to the Syrian conflict and major violations of international law frameworks in the Syrian context. The final work product produced by team members was a client- sample memorandum detailing the prima facie case for the indictment of President Bashar al-Assad.
In partnership with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, a team of Advocates students researched and wrote an internal memorandum for our partner on the issue of criminalization of homelessness in Massachusetts. The student team did research on municipal codes of over 40 cities throughout Massachusetts to identify laws that have criminalized aspects of homelessness such as sleeping outside, loitering, and begging. The team then did public records requests to quantify the costs to society of these laws, as well as interviewed several local employees to learn about how the police interact with homeless people in Cambridge and the policies that are in place to combat criminalization.
Developed by the Helen Suzman Foundation, Project Constitution is an outreach initiative to teach inner city high school students in Johannesburg, South Africa the basic principles of a constitutional democracy. The goals of the project include: creating a greater awareness of the Constitution, furthering civic education on all aspects of constitutional democracy, and supporting young people in developing skills and knowledge that enable and power them to be reflective, active, and participative citizens. University students will facilitate workshops on six topics: democracy, citizenship, separation of powers, rule of law, rights, and socioeconomic rights. Participants in the project assisted the Foundation in reviewing, critiquing, and refining materials for the workshops and devising creative ways to teach high school students about these issues.
Anti-Torture Legislative Toolkit
The purpose of this project was to create a reference manual and handbook for individuals and organizations interested in advocating for state legislation that would prohibit health care professionals from participating in torture and interrogations. Among other things, the toolkit aimed to: provide background information on the United States’ use of torture during the War on Terror and the United States’ reliance on health care professions in interrogations and torture; orient advocates to the official positions of national and international health care professional organizations and NGOs; introduce advocates to the international legal framework addressing issues of torture and interrogations; provide model legislation with detailed explanatory memorandum; and orient advocates to the legislative process. Project participants developed research, writing, and advocacy strategy skills and increased substantive knowledge of these issues through their work on this toolkit.
Innovating Human Rights
Innovating Human Rights is a project and workshop in which JD and LLM candidates discussed the cutting edge of human rights, met with leading experts, and proposed strategies for future innovation. The workshop connected participants to human rights experts in the Harvard community, tailored to fit participants’ areas of interest. We started the semester by considering common challenges that human rights advocates face and held an external workshop for social entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to us in exchange for feedback. Project participants then worked together to develop projects that could be conducted within the Harvard and Boston communities. Participants in the Innovating Human Rights workshop deepened their advocacy and project development skills, created and became involved with impactful projects, and joined a vibrant community passionate about human rights.
Additional previous projects have included:
- Leading a reading group on sex trafficking and developing an externship project as part of a Thinking Big workshop
- Assisting with a legislative advocacy project to advance corporate accountability in state courts in the wake of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, in conjunction with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable and EarthRights International
- Writing a brief to the European Court of Human Rights about a case of torture in Chechnya, on behalf of the torture victim and in close collaboration with Russian human rights organizations
- Conducting field research on the persecution of the Ahmadiyya minority in Bangladesh, with a subsequent article published in the Wall Street Journal describing the situation
- Developing a conflict analysis tool for use by the Office of the Prosecutor and the International Criminal Court in The Hague
- Writing an Amicus Brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in a case about torture in Somalia