Human Rights Clinic Docket

Clinic Docket 2012–13

Jamaica Project on Extrajudicial Killings and other Police Abuses in Jamaica

The IHRC works in partnership with Jamaicans for Justice a Kingston-based NGO, to implement a campaign against excessive use of force and extra-judicial executions by the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF), the Jamaican police. In March 2008, JFJ and the IHRC published a joint report on the subject, titled "Killing Impunity: Fatal Police Shootings and Extrajudicial Executions in Jamaica: 2005-07," which was submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR or IA Commission). As a result in part of this initiative, the IA Commission agreed to carry out a weeklong mission to Jamaica–the first ever to an English speaking Caribbean nation–to investigate police killings, impunity and other human rights abuses. The IACHR visit took place in December 2008; the IHRC helped the Commission prepare for the visit with legal memos and a background paper analyzing the Jamaican human rights situation.

At the same time, we are in the process of litigating jointly with JFJ several cases before the Commission. The first is the case of Patrick Genius, submitted in May 2007; Patrick Genius was a young Jamaican man arbitrarily executed by JCF agents in 1999. The most recent is the case of Janice Allen, a 12-year-old girl shot in the back and killed in 2000 by a police detective, filed in August 2009. In the summer of 2010, the IHRC filed two more actions before the Commission. Once concerns the killing of a 14-year-old boy, Amanie Wedderburn, and his uncle; the other a Jamaican man, Shaun Duncan, who has been repeatedly detained and harassed by police on the basis of Jamaica’s arbitrary detention laws and practices. Students were actively involved in all aspects of the case planning, inter-American legal research and analysis, client interviewing and counseling, petition (complaint) drafting, and fact development (investigation).

*Listen to hearings

The Anti–Trafficking Project

Coordinators: Prof. Susan French, Prof. Arturo Carrillo

Human trafficking may be a global human rights issue, but it is rife in the United States. Documented cases in this country have occurred in a wide range of sectors, including the domestic, agricultural, construction and sex industries. This year, the Clinic will be actively engaged in developing and supporting strategic litigation to advance protections for trafficking survivors provided by US law, especially (though not exclusively) the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the Alien Tort Statute. Abuses are largely concentrated among the immigrant guest worker population, on which we focus.

In the fall of 2012 we began partnering with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a highly regarded NGO in the field, to develop litigation on behalf of a number of Central American guest workers in the United States. These workers had to pay (relatively) exorbitant recruitment and visa fees. Several of them had their passports taken upon arrival at the United States. When faced with difficult living conditions, unpaid wages, and a lack of work opportunities, they were told that if they tried to leave they would be reported to the authorities and deported. SPLC arranged for the rescue of several of these workers, who are now potential clients. Several dozen other victims have requested similar help.

The Clinic will assist the SPLC in the preliminary investigation of the workers’ complaints to determine if it is a viable human trafficking case for a civil lawsuit. This will involve, among other possible activities, reviewing and analyzing SPLC’s evidence so far (victim statements, etc.), and may require further fact development on our part, such as follow-up intake interviews, to determine whether the federal statutes that provide remedies for trafficking survivors are met. Other similar case development initiatives are underway as well.

In addition to strategic litigation, the IHR Clinic is engaged in a groundbreaking initiative to prevent labor and other abuses of internationally recruited foreign heath care workers. We’ve joined forces with the Alliance for Ethical International Recruitment Practices to develop a series of pro-active education modules for these workers that can be accessed via Internet. Whether in their home countries or the United States, foreign health care workers recruited into this country will have access to the resources they need to orient them as to the legal and non-legal issues they face and how best to address them.

Inter-American Litigation and Advocacy Project (IALAP)

Coordinators: Professor Carrillo

The Clinic maintains a diverse portfolio of cases in the Inter-American Human Rights system.  This coming year, we will likely focus on actions pending against two countries: Honduras and Jamaica (we have cases pending against Colombia as well, but these are not as active). 

On June 28, 2009 President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras and his democratically elected government were abruptly overthrown by an alliance of the country’s armed forces, legislature and judiciary. President Zelaya and his Foreign Minister (Canciller) Patricia Roda were forcibly removed from their homes and expelled from the country. The rest of his cabinet was forced into exile amidst widespread human rights abuses directed at the Zelaya government’s supporters. Subsequently the new authorities initiated criminal actions against Zelaya and all the members of his cabinet for corruption and abuse of power, most of which are currently still pending (the charges against Zelaya were dropped as part of the political deal that allowed him to return to the country early this year).

Six months after the coup, former President Zelaya, and five member of cabinet, including Patricia Roda, filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission alleging violations of their rights under the American Convention as a consequence of the coup and the political persecution that ensued. The case was fast-tracked by the Commission, which has followed and repeatedly reported on the Honduran crisis. It is currently awaiting a decision on admissibility. The litigation is spearheaded by lawyers at CIPRODEH, one of Honduras principal human rights NGOs.

Professor Carrillo is an advisor to the CIPRODEH legal team in the Zelaya case. Accordingly, he and the Clinic will be supporting the organization and its clients as they press to get their case admitted to the merits stage of the proceedings. The short-term goal is to focus the Commission’s attention on the primary facts and arguments at issue in the admissibility process. The Clinic’s job will be to assist in all aspects of this strategy, ranging from analyzing drafts of CIPRODEH’s admissibility report to mooting their lawyers who will be attending the hearing. In the mid to long term, the goal is to provide CIPRODEH with any additional support they need to effectively litigate the case through the merits stage and secure a positive resolution from the Commission in the case.


The Clinic has partnered with Jamaicans for Justice since 2007 to engage the Inter-American Commission on the twin issues of police brutality and impunity. JFJ is one of the country’s primary human rights NGOs; we have four cases with them pending before the Commission, three for extra-judicial killings, and one for abuse of power resulting in arbitrary detentions and other due process violations.

This year, the Clinic will work to pressure the timely processing of these claims, and otherwise assist JFJ in advancing the joint litigation and advocacy project. One priority is to finalize the amended complaint in the 2004 case of Amanie Wedderburn, a 14-year old boy shot and killed in front of a crowd of people by a police inspector who was subsequently absolved of any wrongdoing. Another priority is to strategize with our partner about how to move the Jamaica cases forward in the face of Commission’s institutional incapacity to process claims in a timely manner.

International Law Commission Project 

Coordinators: Prof. Carrillo, Annalise Nelson

This is a new project that seeks to support the work of GW Law Professor Sean Murphy, the United States’ Member on the United Nations’ International Law Commission, which is charged with codifying and progressively developing international law. Professor Murphy has proposed to the Commission that it embark on the drafting of a convention on crimes against humanity, which would focus on inter-State cooperation in the prosecution of persons who commit such crimes. Among other things, the convention would require a State Party to incorporate the offense into its national laws, to participate in mutual legal assistance for identifying and investigating offenders, and to extradite or prosecute offenders who are present in its territory. Such a convention would be designed to complement and reinforce existing international criminal law and courts.

Working from an existing draft of a proposed convention developed by the Crimes against Humanity Initiative (a rule of law project of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute), students in the IHR Clinic will be asked to research and develop commentary for the various articles organized by themes, such as general principles relating to contemporary definitions of crimes against humanity, or the nature of states’ domestic and international obligations in relation to crimes against humanity, including the duty to extradite or prosecute perpetrators. Students will work closely with Clinic supervisors to research and draft their respective commentaries. These will then be vetted and discussed with Professor Murphy. Our objective is to provide an in-depth legal analysis of a draft convention on crimes against humanity, highlighting both its strengths and weaknesses, for use by Professor Murphy in pursuing formal consultations within the ILC.

This project may require some travel. The work of the ILC will be on the agenda of the Sixth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City from Oct. 29– Nov. 9. Our goal would be to attend one or more sessions Sixth Committee debates of the ILC’s work during the time Professor Murphy is present to learn more about the Commission’s program and procedures. The Commission itself meets in Geneva in May and July.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) & Human Rights Project

Coordinators: Prof. Carrillo and Prof. Dawn Nunziato

Funding for this project is provided in part by Microsoft as part of the GW Global Internet Freedom and Human Rights Program:

Students will have the opportunity to research vanguard issues arising from the intersection of ICTs and human rights law. For 2012–13, the IHR Clinic has joined forces with the Human Rights Clinic [Grupo de Acciones Públicas] of the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota, Colombia, to engage in a comparative law study of digital copyright protections and their impact on freedom of expression. As a consequence of its Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Colombia recently enacted Law 1520, which strengthened enforcement provisions for violations of copyright protections. Several of Law 1520s provisions, however, are dangerously overbroad or ambiguous, creating a substantial threat to human rights in that country, especially in relation to freedom of expression on the Internet. There is currently a strong civil society movement in Colombia that seeks to draw attention to these dangers and to respond to them through a variety of advocacy strategies (legal, political social).

A transnational group of students and faculty–the GW-UR Clinic team–will research the reform and implementation of copyright laws in Colombia and other select countries to explore how free speech guarantees can be better protected. By looking at how other countries have approached the regulation of Internet freedom and copyright issues, the GW-UR Clinic team will develop contemporary case studies that can provide practical guidance to policy makers in Colombia and elsewhere. Many such policy makers are struggling to balance the interests protected by copyright and related rules, on the one hand, with those advanced by freedom of expression and due process, on the other. The work of the GW-UR Clinic team will eventually be disseminated through online and real world publication, as well as through collaboration with domestic and regional organizations engaged in related advocacy. Some travel may be required; working knowledge of Spanish a plus, but not required.

Litigation and Advocacy in the United States

Doe v. Chiquita Banana International

On July 19, 2007, Colombian families represented inter alia by Earthrights International (ERI), an international NGO based in Washington DC and IHRC partner, filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Chiquita Brands International, Inc. (CBI), the multi-national produce company formerly known as the United Fruit Company. Chiquita is accused of funding and arming known terrorist organizations in Colombia starting in the mid-1990s in order to maintain its profitable control of Colombia’s banana growing regions. 

In March of 2007, Chiquita pled guilty to criminal charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice; it confessed to making more than 100 payments, totaling more than $1.7 million, to the United Self-Defense Committees of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC), designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. government. Chiquita agreed to pay a $25 million fine. Chiquita’s payments to the AUC were approved by senior executives of the corporation, and supported the targeted killings of thousands of individuals, including trade unionists, banana workers, and political organizers. The ERI case was filed pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) , and is one of at least seven civil suits pending against Chiquita (it is the only class action). The IHRC is co-counsel on the case, along with several of the leading ATS litigators in the country; collectively we represent the relatives of nearly 250 victims killed by the AUC in Urabá between 1997 and 2004.

On June 3, 2011, a federal judge in the Southern District of Florida denied Chiquita’s motion to dismiss the various claims brought under international law and the ATS, including, extrajudicial killings, torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity. This case is now in discovery. Since its filing, IHRC students have worked on the case in support of the legal team by research and writing legal memoranda and motions, as well as assisting in the preparation of client communications. On a parallel front, the IHRC in 2008 initiated a fact development strategy in partnership with the National Security Archives at GW University to obtain case-related information from federal agencies through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests.

After years of insistence, this strategy is bearing fruit. For example, the Department of Justice and various related law enforcement agencies have produced thousands of pages of heretofore classified information. Many of these documents were published online by the NSA as “The Chiquita Papers”. IHRC students have participated not only in the analysis of Chiquita-related documents received  in response to our FOIA requests, but also in advancing our ongoing litigation strategy against federal agencies that are not cooperating in the timely production of requested information. Currently, one such suit is pending against the SEC.

*See DOJ Press Release and Chiquita MTD order

**In addition to the cases summarized here since 2007 the IHR Clinic has assisted ERI on several other projects including research for amicus briefs as well as support on non-litigation campaign initiatives that promote greater corporate responsibility in relation to human and environmental rights in their spheres of influence.