Magnifico, et al.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) Docket: Advocating for the rights of trafficked workers: As part of a broader effort to enforce the rights of trafficked workers, the clinic represents 18 survivors of human trafficking in a lawsuit against their former employers. Clinic students have been actively involved in all aspects of the litigation, including selection of the case, interviewing clients, drafting discovery responses and drafting a successful opposition brief to defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' human trafficking, forced labor, and racketeering claims.
As set out in the complaint filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, defendants recruited plaintiffs from the Philippines and United States using fraudulent visa applications, false promises, and misrepresentations to induce them to work in the United States. Once employed by defendants, plaintiffs were compelled to live in severely crowded housing and to work long hours in country clubs and hotels in Florida and New York. During their employment, plaintiffs were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, deportation, cancellation of their visas, loss of work, lawsuits, and blacklisting.
The clinic is lead counsel in this case and students benefits from working with co-counsel World Organization for Human Rights USA and local counsel, experienced farmworker attorney, Greg Schell of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project.
International Litigation and Advocacy
Vélez v. Colombia:
Case 12.658, Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The GW International Human Rights Clinic will be litigating its first case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2011–2012. Case 12.658, Luís Gonzalo "Richard" Vélez Restrepo and Family v. Colombia involves an attack suffered by journalist Richard Vélez on August 29, 1996, at the hands of soldiers of the Colombian National Army. It also denounces the subsequent persecution of Richard and his family as a result of his unsuccessful pursuit of justice in the Colombian courts. The case was sent to the Inter-American Court on March 2, 2011, because the Inter-American Commission found that the Colombian State had not complied with recommendations contained in the Commission’s final merits report.
At the time of the attack, Richard Vélez was filming a protest in which soldiers beat several protesters, incidents documented by the journalist. These events were followed by death threats against Richard and his family, which intensified when he tried to move the judicial proceedings forward. In this context, and after he had suffered a kidnapping attempt, Richard was forced to flee Colombia on October 9, 1997; he was separated for a year from his wife, Aracelly “Sara” Román, and their two small children, Juliana and Mateo, who remained in hiding in Colombia. In the fall of 1998 the family was reunited in New York City, where the family currently resides (they were granted political asylum and recently acquired US citizenship).
According to the Commission’s findings, the serious human rights violations that led to Richard’s forced exile and that of his family remain in total impunity, as the Colombian State did not conduct serious, effective investigations to identify, much less punish, those responsible. The attack and subsequent acts of harassment, which were motivated by the journalist's determination to document and denounce the abuses by the Colombian armed forces, violated his rights to physical integrity and to freedom of thought and expression, and also had a chilling effect on other journalists and on Colombian society in general. The special protections afforded by the American Convention on Human Rights to the family and children were also violated by the Colombian State. Richard is currently unable to practice his profession as a journalist, and the family has endured tremendous hardship acclimating to a new country and culture.
The IHRC has been involved in the litigation of this case since it was submitted to the Inter-American Commission in 2005. Dozens of law students over the years have worked to defend Richard and his family’s rights through a range of activities, including legal research and drafting of pleadings, in addition to interviewing and counseling our clients. The public hearing, which acts as an abbreviated trial, is set for February 2012.
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, entitled 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).
Promoting LGBTI human rights in the Americas
LGBTI communities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual or intersexual people, are often confronted with severe human rights violations and discrimination. For example, in the Caribbean and Central America, LGBTI communities face persistent violent attacks, severe discrimination, and laws criminalizing behavior that is central to sexual or gender identities. Within this context, the clinic’s LGBTI Initiative utilizes numerous strategies to combat the ongoing discrimination and violation of human rights of LGBTI individuals.
Focusing primarily on the Americas, clinical students working on this initiative have been involved in a variety of projects aimed at promoting LGBTI rights in the region. Students have, in partnership with a local coalition of advocates in Trinidad and Tobago, conducted research and reporting on the activities of Christian religious forces in the Caribbean to assess the impact they are having on LGBTI communities there. Students collaborate with gay rights activists throughout the world and with the Heartland Alliance to draft shadow reports on the status of LGBTI individuals for submission to the UN’s Human Rights Committee . The clinic has recently submitted reports in collaboration with activists in Jamaica and Guatemala, advocating for those countries to fulfill treaty obligations regarding treatment of LGBTI communities. Finally, students have conducted outreach and built relationships among LGBTI communities and human rights advocates with the goal of utilizing the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights as a forum for protection of LGBTI rights.
*Read the Shadow Report “Human Rights Violations of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People in Jamaica.” This report was submitted for consideration at the 103rd Session of the Human Rights Committee October 2011, Geneva, lead-authored by IHRC students.
*Read the Shadow Report“Human Rights Violations of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People in Guatemala.” This report was submitted for consideration at the 104th Session of the Human Rights Committee, March 2012, New York, lead-authored by IHRC students.
*Read the Shadow Report "Human Rights Violations of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People in Armenia." This report was submitted for consideration at the 105th Session of the Human Rights Committee, July 2012, Geneva, lead-authored by IHRC students.
Advocating for LGBTI Refugees in Detention
Human rights abuses associated with immigration detention conditions have become increasingly concerning to human rights advocates as more and more governments use detention to address influxes of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers. Human rights violations against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons propel thousands to flee their countries. Yet many refugees continue to be deprived of basic safety even after leaving their home countries. Sexual minorities—particularly those who are non-gender conforming— are vulnerable to a wide array of abuses while held in immigration detention. In most countries, detention authorities are at best unaware of LGBTI protection concerns, and at worst, place LGBTI inmates in solitary confinement to “protect” them or even condone violence against them by guards and other inmates.
The clinic is working to identify specific harms suffered by sexual minorities in immigration detention, identify best practice examples, and develop targeted policy recommendations.
Kpadeh v. Taylor
In 2009, IHR Clinic students began collaborating with lawyers from the World Organization for Human Rights, or Human Rights USA as it now known, in support of their litigation efforts under the Alien Tort Statute. Clinic students are researching a range of legal issues related to planned and pending ATS actions, as well as alternatives that might exist under U.S. law. For example, in January 2009 Human Rights USA filed a civil suit against Chuckie Taylor, son of notorious Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, currently on trial at The Hague for international crimes committed while president of Liberia. After a landmark prosecution, Chuckie Taylor was convicted in October 2008 of committing several federal crimes while working for his father as chief of Liberia’s anti-terrorism unit. These included torture and conspiracy to commit torture, for which he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The ATS action filed by HRUSA is a class action brought by five victims on behalf of all persons subjected to severe abuses by Chuckie Taylor and/or persons acting under his command from 1997 through 2003. Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Students are currently analyzing how defendant’s assets and those of his family might be attached to satisfy a successful judgment under Florida law, given that there is an Executive Order from 2004 ordering that all such assets be frozen, pursuant to a U.N. Resolution to the same effect.
*More on this case here
**We have also assisted with research and analysis of the class action issue.
Wiwa v. Royal Dutch/Shell
In 2009 the Clinic came to the assistance of ERI and its co-counsel in this high profile ATS case on its way to trial in the Southern District of New York. The Shell Oil Group is charged with complicity in human rights abuses against Ogoni people in Nigeria. It is alleged that during the 1990s Shell provided arms and transportation, collaborated with, and directed the Nigerian military to suppress Ogoni opposition to Shell's operations in Ogoni, with a motive of restarting oil operations on Ogoni territory. The plaintiffs in the case include surviving family members of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Noble Laureate, who along with several other Ogoni community leaders, was arrested, tortured, and eventually executed on November 10, 1995. The case is scheduled for trial in federal court in New York City on April 27, 2009. Clinic students are currently assisting the preparation of jury instructions under both state and federal law, and will continue to support the legal team as needed up to trial.
Fujimori Amicus Brief in Peruvian Supreme Court
On June 26 a representative of the International Human Rights Clinic met with the Chief Justice of the Peruvian Supreme Court's Special Criminal Chamber, Dr. César San Martín, to submit the Clinic’s amicus brief on behalf of 14 US law professors in the ongoing case against Alberto Fujimori for grave human rights abuses committed during his tenure as President of Peru (1990-2000). The GW amicus brief outlines the principles of international criminal law applicable to the case and argues that these norms are legally relevant to the justices' analysis under Peruvian criminal law. In June 2006, the GW International Human Rights Clinic had submitted a similar amicus to the Chilean Supreme Court in the extradition proceedings against Fujimori, who was sent back to Peru in September of 2007. It was the first time a former head of state was extradited back to his county to face trial for human rights violations.
During spring break 2008 GW three IHR Clinic students traveled to Lima where they observed two days of live hearings in the Fujimori trial before meeting in person with the three justices from the Special Criminal Chamber of the Peruvian Supreme Court sitting in the case. The Clinic consulted the justices on the proposed amicus brief to obtain their input on the legal issues of primary concern to them; one such issue they raised was that of how international criminal law should be utilized or referenced by judges applying the Peruvian criminal code.
The final amicus brief directly addressed these concerns. It is divided into three parts. The first, written by Clinic collaborator Carlos Zelada, a Peruvian attorney formerly of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, analyzes the domestic constitutional and legal order to situate the complementary role of international law in the interpretation of domestic norms relating to human rights. Parts two and three were written by GW students working under Professor Carrillo’s supervision. Part two maps the theories of command responsibility and joint criminal enterprise in international criminal law, with emphasis on the standard of liability for civilian leaders. Part three summarizes related principles such as the applicable evidentiary standards. The brief concludes that under these theories, and in light of the known evidence, Alberto Fujimori would be responsible under international criminal law for the crimes committed by paramilitary death squads operating within the armed forces under his direct authority.
*More on the case here
**A hard copy of the GW amicus brief in Spanish is included in the supporting binder on file in the Faculty Lounge.
Ethiopia-Eritrea Claims Commission (EECC) Project
Since fall 2004, IHR Clinic students have been participating in a first-of-its-kind international arbitration proceeding involving laws of war claims brought on behalf of civilian victims. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a disastrous two-and-half-year border war that ended with the signing of a peace agreement in December 2000. As part of the peace accord, a claims commission was established to decide through binding arbitration all claims for injury and loss brought by one government against the other, as well as by citizens of one nation against the government of the other. Under this novel procedure, all claims were to be decided under international law, especially international humanitarian law, known as the laws of war.
By 2006, the Ethiopia-Eritrea Claims Commission (EECC) had finalized its adjudications and established liability for violations of international law on a wide range of issues. It determined inter alia that Eritrea had started the war, and was moreover liable to Ethiopia for a series of widespread and pervasive abuses of its civilians carried out by Eritrean troops, including executions, beatings, disappearances, abductions, forced labor, looting, and destruction of property. Our extensive work on behalf of Ethiopian victims of Eritrean abuses can be summarized as follows:
In the fall semester of 2004, Clinic students drafted sections of a memorial (an international law brief) prepared by the law firm of Hunton & Williams on behalf of Ethiopian nationals who claimed serious violations of their human rights at the hands of Eritrean soldiers during the course of the conflict. Students analyzed first-hand testimonies taken from hundreds of Ethiopian victims to argue the existence of a widespread and systematic pattern of abuse by Eritrean forces under the relevant legal standards for liability established by the Claims Commission’s practice.
During the spring 2005 semester, Clinic students actively assisted counsel for Ethiopia, including GW Law Professor Sean Murphy, in preparing for oral arguments and their presentation of Ethiopia’s affirmative case before the Claims Commission at the hearing in April. To this end, the students carried out in-depth analyses of the pleadings and supporting evidence to produce exhibits (comparative charts, tables, PowerPoint presentations, "judges books," etc.) in support of counsel’s efforts to establish patterns of liability for widespread or systematic laws of war violations by Eritrea. They also "mooted" the attorneys, that is, conducted a practice hearing under simulated real-life conditions. In April 2005, Clinic student Lina Fattom (GW ‘05) attended the hearing at The Hague in support of the counsel for Ethiopia.
In the fall of 2006, students drafted various sections of the memorial (brief) submitted to the in November on the question of damages. The memorial set out Ethiopia’s proposal for implementing a viable reparations and compensation scheme with respect to victims of humanitarian law violations. In addition to drafting the relevant sections, students assisted legal counsel by researching novel issues under international law and practice relating to mass claims procedures and reparations, for example, by looking at the question of how to compensate individual rape victims under the laws of war.
Human Rights in US Courts: Arar v. Ashcroft
The New York based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) brought suit in federal district court on behalf of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, against former Attorney General Ashcroft and other U.S. officials. The suit sought redress for the illegal detention and rendition of Arar to Syria where he was detained incommunicado and tortured as a terrorist suspect. Visit Maher Arar’s website: www.maherarar.ca for more info, including the Canadian government’s official report absolving him of any connection to terrorism. Suit was brought under the Torture Victims Protection Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the U.S. Constitution challenging, among other things, the U.S. Government’s policy of "extraordinary renditions." A New York District Court in February of 2006 dismissed the majority of Arar’s claims.
In the fall of 2006 the case was pending on appeal. At that time, students in the Clinic assisted CCR staff attorneys as counsel for Maher Arar in the preparation of the appellate brief to the Second Circuit. They contributed directly to the drafting of discrete sections of the brief and carried out cutting-edge research on a range of legal issues relating to the litigation of human rights claims in federal court under both U.S. law. Issues addressed include the proper standard with respect to acting under "color of law" for purposes of the Torture Victims Protection Act, as well as how properly to interpret the TVPA in light of other domestic legislation relating to the prohibition or prevention of torture.
Human Rights in US Courts: Bowoto v. Chevron
In May of 1999, victims of gross human rights abuses associated with Chevron's oil production activities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria filed suit against Chevron in federal court in San Francisco. The case is based on two incidents: the shooting of peaceful protestors at Chevron's Parabe offshore platform and the destruction of two villages by soldiers in Chevron helicopters and boats. It was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which permits suits in U.S. courts against individuals or corporations that commit international human rights violations anywhere in the world, if that person or corporation resides in or visits the United States. The lawsuit has been brought by a coalition of private civil rights and human rights lawyers and non-profit human rights organizations, led by Earthrights International. For details on the case, click here.
Since the spring of 2006, students in IHR Clinic have been assisting Earthrights International (ERI) as counsel for plaintiffs to litigate this complex case. ERI is a Washington based NGO dedicated to promoting respect for human and environmental rights through groundbreaking litigation and advocacy. Students have researched and/or drafted sections of pleadings as part of ERI’s pre-trial motion practice. They have addressed issues critical to the litigation such as the status of civil aiding and abetting liability under international law for corporations, and the rules governing how to obtain civil redress for human rights violations under Nigerian tort law. In addition, students have assumed the responsibility of directly interviewing Nigerian lawyers and potential legal experts in relation to the issues they have been assigned.
Housing as a Human Right: WLCH Project
This project focuses on local human rights dynamics with an emphasis on the implementation and enforcement of the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act (HRA), which prohibits discrimination in all its forms. IHR Clinic students assist the disability rights project of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (WLCH), a local NGO, by educating, counseling and representing indigent homeless persons with disabilities who may have been discriminated against by public or private persons in the District of Columbia. At the same time, they research international human rights standards and practices pertaining to disability rights with a view to developing a strategy for integrating those norms into WLCH’s domestic advocacy.
Students engage in outreach and education by conducting workshops at public shelters to inform homeless persons about disability rights and how to assert them. At these events, they also carry out screening and intake functions. This consists of interviewing victims of discrimination, counseling them, and, in the case of clients, writing up their experiences for submission as complaints to the DC Office of Human Rights under the HRA. In addition, students represent clients by assisting them in requesting reasonable accommodations; investigating complaints; researching legal issues; as well as co-counseling or assisting with the litigation of disability rights issues before the Office of Human Rights, the Office of Administrative Hearings and/or the Commission on Human Rights.
Amicus Brief in Extradition of Alberto Fujimori
In 2006, the GW Law International Human Rights Clinic prepared an amicus curiae brief for submission to the Chilean Supreme Court on behalf of 20 U.S. law professors in support of Peru's 2005 extradition request against former President Alberto Fujimori. Mr. Fujimori is sought in extradition from Chile to his home country, where he is facing corruption charges and indictments for serious human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity (specifically, for the Barrios Altos massacre and the disappearances at La Cantuta). For more information on Fujimori's sojourn in Chile and the proceedings against him, click here.
The amicus brief is an experts' submission that focuses on the international law dimensions of the extradition proceedings, especially Chile's obligations under international criminal and human rights law. It concludes that to honor its international legal commitments, Chile must extradite Mr. Fujimori to Peru so that he may face the criminal charges pending against him. The brief was prepared by Thomas Antkowiak, a visiting scholar at The George Washington University Law School and IHR Clinic supervising attorney, with student input and support.
Human Rights in US Courts: Al Odah, 2005-06
In June of 2004, the Supreme Court in the consolidated case of Rasul v. Bush decided that the federal courts did indeed have jurisdiction over the habeas claims of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The other case before the Court was Al Odah v. United States. During the 2005-06 academic year Clinic students assisted attorneys from the law firm of Shearman & Sterling who represent the Kuwaiti petitioners in Al Odah v. United States in litigation before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In the spring of 2006, for example, students researched and analyzed issues arising from the adoption by Congress of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which stripped sought to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over the detainees’ habeas corpus petitions.
UN Consultation on Women and the Right to Housing, Fall 2005
The United Nations’ Consultation on Women and the Right to Adequate Housing in North America was held during October of 2005 at GW Law School. Hosted by the IHR Clinic, the Consultation was the fifth regional event on women and housing undertaken by U.N. Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari of India since 2002. The North American consultation covered the United States and Canada; it provided input for the Special Rapporteur’s Women, Housing and Land report submitted to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2006. The report assessed the special impacts of housing rights violations on women throughout the world. For further information on this event, click here.
IHR Clinic students were actively involved in organizing and running the North America Consultation event. Students prepared the conference materials and acted as the rapporteurs for the information-gathering and interview sessions conducted by the Special Rapporteur. They collected additional testimonies from the victims and housing/women’s rights activists who attended the conference. Students’ work in recording, compiling and analyzing the numerous testimonies received by the Special Rapporteur contributed directly to the report he submitted in 2006 to the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Housing as a Human Right: NLCHP Project 2005
This project with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (www.nlchp.org) was organized to follow-up on the IHR Clinic’s prior collaboration with the NLCHP in relation to the UN Consultation on Housing and the Rights of Women. Clinic students in the spring of 2006 assisted attorneys from the NLCHP in the development of a national strategy for litigating housing rights that involved using international human rights standards in domestic courts. Students carried out in-depth research and analysis of federal and state law (e.g. California, Florida) regarding the right to housing with a view to assisting NLCHP in the formulation of concrete initiatives to promote human rights standards through test cases in select fora.
Project with Inter-American Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
During 2004 – 2005 students in the Clinic worked as law clerks in the office of the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Dr. Eduardo Bertoni. The Rapporteur’s mandate is to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression in all its dimensions throughout the Americas. See link to website. Clinic students assisted lawyers in the office of the Special Rapporteur to research and prepare legal opinions in freedom of expression cases pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In such cases the Rapporteur is not a party to the litigation but rather acts as a resource for the Commission by providing it with technical analysis and objective recommendations regarding the pertinent legal decisions to be made. Clinic students worked primarily in the preparation of studies and reports relating to the admissibility and merits of cases in which the Rapporteur was involved.
Supreme Court Oral Argument, Fall 2005
The Clinic in the fall of 2005 assisted counsel for respondents, including GW Law Professor Ralph Steinhardt, in preparing for oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the case of Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal. The Supreme Court had agreed to consider whether a church in New Mexico could continue using hallucinogenic tea in its religious services. At issue was whether use of the tea, which contains a drug banned under the federal Controlled Substances Act, was protected under religious-freedom laws and international human rights treaties. The students helped organize a mock oral argument at GW Law School, in which they participated alongside counsel for the church, and attended the actual argument in November 2005 before the Supreme Court.
Human Rights in the US: CIW Project, 2004-05
The human rights award-wining Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was created by farm workers in Southwest Florida in an effort to end modern-day slavery and sub-poverty wages in fields across the United States. View the CIW webpage.
The IHR Clinic was part of a broader network of advocates working together to support CIW’s efforts, which includes the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. During 2004-05, the Clinic drafted a series of research memos that analyzed the domestic and international legal options available to the Coalition to advance their advocacy goals. The Clinic also formulated a number of recommendations to CIW and its members for redressing slavery-like practices as well as other human rights abuses suffered by migrant farm workers within the relevant national, regional and international legal regimes.
CIW adopted a number of the recommendations formulated, while keeping others under study. For instance, the IHR Clinic arranged a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March of 2004 on behalf of the Coalition to allow it to present its concerns regarding the human rights abuses suffered by migrant farm workers to the international community. For more information, see IHRC News. It was also the first time that corporate social responsibility issues were raised before the Commission under the Inter-American human rights regime. View the written submissions prepared by the Clinic and presented by CIW and its allies to the Commission. Shortly after the hearing, CIW reached an historic agreement with Taco Bell’s corporate parent to increase wages, improve conditions and work with others in the industry to improve life for farm workers in Florida. In addition to pursuing remedies in the Inter-American human rights system, the Clinic in 2005 began working with CIW on strategies for promoting its agenda before the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Military Commissions Project, 2004-05
This project involved providing legal research and analysis under international law to attorneys in the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of General Counsel. The lawyers were from the Office of Military Commissions, and they were charged with representing a Guantanamo Bay detainee in criminal proceedings before the military commissions established by President George Bush to try "terrorist" suspects accused of committing crimes under the laws of war.
Students in the IHR Clinic prepared memoranda for the military defense attorneys addressing novel questions of international human rights and humanitarian law. The trials had already begun, though they have been suspended for some time pending a final determination of their legality by the federal courts. Students assisted the military attorneys by preparing research memoranda addressing novel questions arising under international humanitarian and human rights law, such as those relating to the jurisdiction of the military commissions and the legal status of the Guantánamo detainees. See GW memo. In 2005, students deepened the Clinic’s research on the nature of the conspiracy charges against the defendants in the Military Commissions, as well as the legality of the coercive interrogation techniques and detention conditions to which they are subject.
Human Rights and Transitional Justice in Colombia Project, Spring 2005
In 2005, the Clinic analyzed human rights policies and programs in Colombia and the extent to which they contribute to achieving compliance with the international recommendations formulated by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bogotá. This project entailed an array of research and advocacy initiatives related to the ongoing internal armed conflict in Colombia and the human rights situation in that country. This project also involved research relating to President Alvaro Uribe’s peace process with the so-called "self-defense" or right wing paramilitary groups that were in talks with the government. Specifically, the Clinic researched, analyzed and advocated around transitional justice issues including the right to truth, the state’s duty to ensure accountability for gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and its obligation to provide reparations to the victims of those abuses.
Human Rights in the Supreme Court: Sosa v. Alvarez- Machain, Spring 2004
Students in the inaugural semester of the IHR Clinic were members of the legal team that briefed and argued the seminal case of Sosa v. Alvarez Machain before the U.S. Supreme Court. This case raised the issue of whether the Alien Torts Claims Act (ATCA), a statute allowing aliens to bring human rights cases in federal court, in fact created a cause of action for violations of the "law of nations" or a U.S. treaty. On June 29, 2004, the Supreme Court issued its decision in this case effectively preserving the use of the ATCA as a mechanism for foreign human rights victims to obtain justice in U.S. courts – an important victory for human rights advocates everywhere.
GW Law students working on this project carried out research on a range of legal issues and drafted memos relied upon by the lead attorneys in preparing the written pleadings submitted to the Supreme Court. As a result of its substantial contribution the IHR Clinic is recognized on the briefs as counsel for Respondent Alvarez-Machain. The Clinic also hosted a "moot court" session for Paul Hoffman, the attorney charged with arguing the case before the Court, with the participation of GW law faculty and students. This was in preparation for the oral arguments held on March 30, 2004, which the Clinic team attended. For more information, see IHRC News.
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