News

Lindsay Harris '09 Wins Sax Prize for Excellence in Clinical Advocacy

International Human Rights Law Clinic Students Brief Policymakers on Guantanamo

Clinic Demands That Mother of Murder Victim Be Allowed to Speak at Sentencing of Drug Lord

A Former Guantanamo Detainee Speaks Out, Demanding Accountability

"Closing Gitmo is not enough": International Herald Tribune op-ed

UC Berkeley Report Details Shattered Lives of Released Guantánamo Detainees

Carmen Atkins '08 Receives Sax Prize for Excellence in Clinical Advocacy

Human Rights Clinic Expert: Colombia’s Justice System Must End Impunity for Gross Violations of Human Rights

Boalt Human Rights Clinic Seeks to Hold Guatemala Accountable for Forced Disappearances

Olympics-Related Advocacy Could Help Change Chinese Policy on Darfur, says Boalt Human Rights Expert

Human Rights Clinic Preps Activists for U.N. Hearing on Migrant Abuse

Clinic Associate Director Roxanna Altholz '99 Leads International Outcry Against Dominican Government's Attack on Human Rights Defender

UC Berkeley-Tulane Study Reveals Worker Abuse in Katrina Reconstruction

Clinic Participates in Public Hearing and Briefing on Behalf of Hurricane Survivors

Boalt Clinic Joins in Dominican Rights Victory

Clinic's Counsel on Bills Leads to Legislative Action Against Human Trafficking

Clinic Students Present First Case Against Dominican Republic Before International Court for Violating Nationality and Education Rights

Professor Laurel Fletcher Releases New Report on Forced Labor in California

Laurel Fletcher's Research on Hidden Slaves Featured on Nightline

U.S.-Mexico Anti-Trafficking Working Group

Clinic Helps Victims of Human Rights Abuse Pursue Justice in U.S. Supreme Court

Laurel Fletcher Gives Fulbright Lectures in Sri Lanka

International Human Rights Law Clinic Students Brief Policymakers on Guantanamo

Three students from the International Human Rights Law Clinic traveled to Washington, DC, over the March 2009 spring break to brief Executive Branch officials, Congressional staff, and human rights organizations on a policy paper released this week by the International Human Rights Law Clinic and UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, “Returning Home: Resettlement and Reintegration of Detainees Released from the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

This policy paper recommends that the U.S. promote programs to assist former detainees released from the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to reintegrate into their communities.  These programs should be an integral part of any comprehensive plan to close the camp.
    
Based on a review of available data on released detainees as well as analysis of similar reintegration programs, the paper finds that assistance to released Guantánamo detainees will help support U.S. national security, repair America’s image abroad, and provide an appropriate humanitarian response to former detainees held for years in U.S. custody without trial or conviction.

The policy paper proposes the establishment of comprehensive, locally-tailored resettlement and reintegration programs.  These should offer short-term financial assistance and job support, an opportunity for former detainees to clear their names, and mental and physical health services. 

The trip culminates over a semester of work for clinic interns Nandini Iyer ’10, Krista Kshatriya ’10, and Jonas Lerman ’10. The interns were supervised by International Human Rights Law Clinic Director and Clinical Professor Laurel Fletcher, Clinic Program Officer Jamie O’Connell, and Human Rights Center Faculty Director and Adjunct Professor Eric Stover.[add links to the faculty profiles]

“Repairing the damage of Guantánamo is one of the most pressing human rights issues we face as a nation,” Kshatriya says. “Our research reveals an urgent need for reintegration programs for detainees released from Guantánamo.”

The group plans to meet with representatives from the offices of Senators Boxer, Lugar, and Durbin, as well as a number of nonprofit organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First.

“Any comprehensive plan to close Guantánamo must include reintegration programs for released detainees,” says Iyer. “These meetings are valuable opportunities to present our findings and policy recommendations to those who will be involved in the discussions on closing Guantánamo.”

An Under-examined Problem

Most of the policy focus on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay has been on the detainees who remain there. However, to date, the United States has released more than 500 detainees, and this number is expected to grow in the coming months. Many of these men were detained in error, due to flawed in intelligence; many never posed a threat to the United States.

However, the United States still has no formal program for helping these released detainees reenter their communities and begin to rebuild their lives. Few released detainees have received reintegration assistance of any kind—from the United States, from their home governments, or from private organizations—and upon their return home, they often face difficulties finding work, overcoming physical and psychological problems, and being fully accepted by their communities.

Lerman, Kshatriya, and Iyer all hope to work in the fields of human rights and international development after graduating.

“This project was a great first step toward the kind of work we hope to do after we leave Berkeley Law,” says Lerman. “I feel really lucky to have been a part of the Clinic.”

3/23/09

Clinic Demands That Mother of Murder Victim Be Allowed to Speak at Sentencing of Drug Lord

The International Human Rights Law Clinic is asking a federal judge in New York this week to allow the mother of a victim of a Colombian drug lord to speak at his upcoming sentencing on drug trafficking charges.

Associate Director Roxanna Altholz is asking the judge to recognize the mother’s rights under the 2004 Crime Victims Rights Act, which gives crime victims broad rights to intervene in criminal proceedings.

A Colombian court convicted Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, one of Colombia’s most powerful and violent drug lords and the leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), of kidnapping and murdering this mother’s son in Medellín, Colombia. Murillo’s troops targeted the victim after he refused to work with them.

Last year, he was extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges, before revealing information about his crimes in Colombia. He pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiring to import tons of cocaine into the U.S. and distribute it. His sentencing is scheduled for March 9th.

The victim’s mother is appealing to federal court because she wants to know why Murillo’s troops kidnapped and murdered her son and to ensure that Murillo’s punishment reflects the seriousness of his crimes, Altholz said.

Drug Running, Human Rights Violations Linked

Although Murillo’s sentencing involves drug trafficking, not murder, his drug running and human rights violations were integrally linked, Altholz said. Murillo justified mass killings and forced displacements under the pretext of the war on Colombia’s left-wing guerrillas. Widely viewed to have inherited Pablo Escobar’s drug empire, Colombian authorities have seized more than $20 million worth of assets belonging to Murillo.

“Murillo used drug profits to pay for the killing of dozens of Medellín residents, including our client’s son,” said Altholz.

Once Murillo had control of the Medellín neighborhood where the victims lived, he began operating a drug lab from there. “It was a cycle,” says Altholz. “Violence was used to secure strategic locations in the drug trade, and then drug money was used to fund further violence.”

Students, Wilson Sonsini Help With Case

Altholz has been working on this case along with four students— Sarah Jaffe '10, Elizabeth Mauldin '09, Chris Raftery '10, and Sarah Sexton '10—who did fact-finding and investigation to support the motion. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati attorneys Leo Cunningham and Lee-Anne Mulholland '06 joined Altholz as co-counsel.

"If it were not for Wilson Sonsini and my students, this would not have been possible,'' she said.

The victim in this case is one casualty of Murillo’s violent drug trafficking conspiracy. He was a resident of Comuna 13, an impoverished neighborhood of Medellín and a strategic corridor for narcotics trafficking. This neighborhood was the site of at least 46 abductions and murders between summer 2002 and fall 2003. The victims were targeted because they refused to support Murillo’s illegal activities. Just before he was extradited, a Colombian court convicted Murillo and sentenced him to 26 years in prison.

Murillo was one of 15 paramilitary leaders extradited to the U.S. last May on drug trafficking charges. At least 6 of the 15 paramilitary leaders have negotiated plea agreements.

“The extradited paramilitary leaders are seeking agreements with the Department of Justice in order to lower their sentences,” said Altholz. “It is up to government prosecutors and courts to incentivize them to talk about the assassinations and disappearances committed in Colombia.”

With Murillo in a U.S. prison, the U.S. courts represent the best opportunity for this mother to obtain a measure of justice, she said.

At a hearing on Wednesday, Judge Richard Berman of the federal district court in Manhattan will hear arguments about whether Altholz’s client is a “crime victim” for the purposes of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. This 2004 federal law grants victims broad rights, including the right to confer with prosecutors about plea negotiations, the right to be heard at sentencing, and the right to full and timely restitution. Federal prosecutors and the defendant oppose the victim’s motion, arguing that the murder had nothing to do with the Murillo’s drug conspiracy.

3/3/2009

A Former Guantanamo Detainee Speaks Out, Demanding Accountability
An Interview with Moazzam Begg

In January, 2002, Moazzam Begg, a British citizen of Pakistani descent, was seized in Islamabad. Although never officially charged with a crime, the US alleged that he had terrorist ties. A married father of two, with a new baby on the way, Begg spent eleven months at Bagram Air Base and two years in Guantánamo, largely in solitary confinement in a six-by-eight foot cell, before being released in 2005. Well-educated and multilingual, Begg has become a human rights advocate and often speaks on behalf of other detainees. In 2006 he published a memoir, Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantánamo, Bagram, and Kandahar.

An excerpt from this interview was printed in the 2008 fall-winter issue of the Transcript, Berkeley’s alumni magazine. Begg spoke with freelance journalist Kara Platoni by telephone from his home in London. Read the full transcript.

 

"Closing Gitmo is not enough": International Herald Tribune op-ed

International Human Rights Law Clinic Director Laurel E. Fletcher and UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Faculty Director Eric Stover published an op-ed in the November 21, 2008 International Herald Tribune based on the findings of "Guantanamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Former Detainees." Fletcher and Stover write:

"President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to close the notorious Guantanamo prison camp. This will be a first step toward restoring America's reputation abroad, but it must not end there. To ensure that our fight against terrorism is consistent with U.S. laws and values, the new Administration must launch a full investigation into the treatment of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other U.S. detention centers since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
[continue reading]

 

UC Berkeley Report Details Shattered Lives of Released Guantánamo Detainees

Demands Investigation of ‘War on Terror' Policies


Download the report here.
Download the Arabic translation.
Download the Pashto translation.

Video of Report Briefing at National Press Club sponsored by the Aspen Institute

Listen to audio of the press conference.

WASHINGTON, DC—Detainees released from U.S. detention in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and Afghanistan live shattered lives as a result of U.S. policies in the "war on terror," according to a new report by human rights experts at the University of California, Berkeley.

The report, "Guantánamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Detainees," based on a two-year study, reveals in graphic detail the cumulative effect of Bush Administration policies on the lives of 62 released detainees. Many of the prisoners were sold into captivity and subjected to brutal treatment in U.S. prison camps. Once in Guantánamo, prisoners were denied access to civilian courts to challenge the legality of their detention. Almost two-thirds of the former detainees interviewed reported having psychological problems since leaving Guantánamo.

"The nightmare of Guantánamo did not end with the detainees' release. Men never convicted of crimes or given the opportunity to clear their names are suffering from a lasting 'Guantánamo stigma,' and are unable to find work,'" said Laurel Fletcher, Director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law and co-author of the report.

Researchers conducted interviews with released detainees in nine countries. The comprehensive study also includes in-depth interviews with key government officials, military experts, former guards, interrogators and other camp personnel.

"Guantánamo, like Abu Ghraib, has become a stain on the reputation of the United States," said Eric Stover, director of the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center and co-author of "Guantánamo and Its Aftermath."

The authors call for an independent, nonpartisan commission to lift the shroud of secrecy from Guantánamo and other detention sites. They further argue that the commission should have subpoena power and, if applicable, recommend further investigations of those allegedly responsible for any crimes committed at all levels of the civilian and military chain of command.

The authors warn that such a commission should not be undercut by the issuance of pardons, amnesties, or other measures that would protect those culpable from accountability. President-Elect Barack Obama has called for the closure of Guantánamo. The UC Berkeley report asks for even broader remedies.

Released in partnership with the nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights, the report opens a window onto the plight of detainees, from arrest and imprisonment to the return home. It is available at http://www.law.berkeley.edu/clinics/ihrlc/pdf/guantanamo.pdf.

"There is no doubt that these men and their families have suffered the gravest consequences of the Bush Administration's so-called war on terror," said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. "Overturning the legal atrocities at Guantánamo and the countless warrantless infringements of basic rights of detainees is only one step in undoing the damage done to these men and their families."

Over half of the study respondents who discussed their interrogation sessions at Guantánamo (31 of 55) characterized them as "abusive." Detainees reported being subjected to short shackling, stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures, loud music, and strobe lights for extended periods—often simultaneously. The authors conclude that the cumulative impact of these methods, especially over time, constitutes cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment and, in some cases, rises to the level of torture.

"Carefully researched and devoid of rhetoric, the UC Berkeley report adds a new chapter to America's dismal descent into the netherworld of prisoner abuse since the tragic events of 9/11," said the Honorable Patricia Wald, who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. "It provides new insights into the lingering consequences of unjust detention," Wald added.

Most detainees interviewed for the study were not vengeful toward America, but simply expressed a desire for justice and an opportunity to clear their names.

Of the more than 770 detainees who have endured Guantánamo since it opened in 2002, over 500 have been released without formal criminal charges or trial. So far, of the 250 or more who remain in detention, only 23 have been charged with a crime. Two have been convicted and one has pleaded guilty.

 

Carmen Atkins '08 Receives Sax Prize for Excellence in Clinical Advocacy

 Carmen Atkins and Roxanna Altholz
Carmen Atkins and Roxanna Altholz

Everything about the April 21 luncheon that honored Carmen Atkins '08 for winning this year's Sax Prize made clear why she received it.

A packed audience came to pay tribute to her achievements. International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) associate director Roxanna Altholz '99 fought back tears while praising her legal acumen and unwavering dedication. And when Atkins concluded the event with her own moving speech, the crowd instantly rose for a prolonged standing ovation.

Altholz said Atkins "arrived at the clinic possessing the qualities that all of us desire in our students: intelligence, determination and a passion for social justice. Over the last four semesters, Carmen's skills in promoting teamwork, remaining poised in the face of deadlines and demands and making good decisions earned the respect of everyone who worked with her. In fact, each of her teammates requested that I nominate her for the Sax Prize. I did not need to be convinced."

The Sax Prize for Excellence in Clinical Advocacy was established in memory of lecturer Brian M. Sax '69, and is awarded annually to a graduating student in a Berkeley Law clinic who has demonstrated excellence in advocacy, sound professional judgment, and reflection on the lawyer's role. A faculty committee selected Atkins among a group of nominees from the law school's various clinics.

Giving Victimized Families a Voice

At IHRLC, Atkins has played a vital role helping Fundación Myrna Mack, a human rights organization, try to hold Guatemala accountable for human rights violations that occurred during its internal armed conflict in the 1980s. She is part of a team representing family members of 28 victims who were forcibly "disappeared" by Guatemala's military high command.

These families have filed suit against Guatemala in the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, with the case focused largely on a document known as the Death Squad Dossier. Written by Guatemalan military intelligence, it details the disappearances of 183 people by security forces.

Under Altholz's supervision, Atkins excelled at a diverse set of difficult tasks: researching and drafting key legal pleadings, conducting the direct examination of an expert witness at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission in Washington D.C., and helping to depose more than 20 family members and witnesses in Guatemala.

"Carmen is an inspiration and an example of the kind of young person we need to help us bring truth and justice to Guatemala," said Helen Mack, president of Fundación Myrna Mack. "Her work is a great credit to the clinic, the law school, and human rights lawyers everywhere."

Although the dossier contained details implicating individuals who were high-ranking political and military officials—some of whom continue to wield power—no one has been held responsible. Atkins noted that many victims of the disappearances lost their lives advocating for social justice, and that their families have risked their own lives seeking answers.

"Nevertheless, in spite of these enormous risks, the families have not given up on their search for justice and continue to fight even 25 years after their relatives' disappearances," she said. "Contributing to their representation is undoubtedly an honor. Working with these families is also an immense responsibility. They have entrusted us with their lives' struggle, and vindication of their rights depends on the quality of our work."

Personal Motivations

Something more than a general wish to help the disenfranchised inspired Atkins to join IHRLC as a 2L—and to work there four consecutive semesters. Her own family fled Nicaragua's civil war in the 1970s, and moved from Colombia to Ecuador in 1990 because of Colombia's mounting terrorism. When an Ecuador-Peru border war broke out in 1995—and Atkins' father was suspected of being a spy because he owned land near the border—they moved to Nicaragua. Her family returned after peace was signed, and now lives in northern Peru.

Atkins came to the United States in 1997 to attend Cornell, graduating in 2001. She opened a seafood export business with her husband in Ecuador and worked as a paralegal before coming to Berkeley Law in 2005. After her first year of law school, Atkins spent the summer in Ecuador helping street children routinely harassed by police. She brought a renewed passion for social equality to IHRLC, and hopes that justice in Guatemala will eventually be served by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has power to issue reparations.

"Carmen, I admire your humanity and humility," Altholz said in her speech. "You demonstrated enormous empathy … and used these feelings not only as motivation during the hours upon hours you spent working in the clinic, but they informed and enriched your legal work."

Atkins, who will join Davis Polk & Wardwell's Menlo Park office as an associate this fall, called her time at IHRLC "the most rewarding experiences I've ever had….In representing these families I have expanded my own family. As an immigrant from Latin America, one of the hardest things about coming to this country has been feeling like I sacrificed ties to my friends and family. However, my colleagues at the clinic and my supervisors have become a part of my new family in the United States."

— By Andrew Cohen 4/24/08





Human Rights Clinic Expert: Colombia’s Justice System Must End Impunity for Gross Violations of Human Rights

In a January 28, 2008 article on the political website Alternet, International Human Rights Law Clinic Associate Director Roxanna Altholz ’99 decries the recent acquittal of Colombian general Jaime Humberto Uscátegui on charges related to the 1997 Mapiripán massacre of 50 civilian villagers. Paramilitary forces tortured the victims for days before hacking them to death. Soldiers under General Uscátegui’s command helped the paramilitaries reach the village and refused to intervene to stop the atrocities. “Colombia has failed to prosecute those responsible for murder, torture, and other abuses during the country's ongoing civil war,” Altholz writes. This failure, she argues, should cause Congress to view with skepticism the claims by the Bush Administration that Colombia has dramatically improved its human rights record. (2/4/08)

 

Boalt Human Rights Clinic Seeks to Hold Guatemala Accountable for Forced Disappearances

International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) students Carmen Atkins '08, Katherine Burdick '09, and Jason Guerrero-Phlaum '09, recently traveled to Washington, D.C. with the clinic's associate director, Roxanna Altholz, to advocate on behalf of Guatemalan survivors of human rights violations.

On October 12, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights heard both expert and witness testimony about Guatemala's failure to investigate forced disappearances carried out by security forces during that country's civil war. Family members of 28 of 183 victims are represented by the Myrna Mack Foundation (Fundación Myrna Mack), a Guatemalan human rights organization, with the support of the IHRLC. The two witnesses who testified at the hearing were family members of victims.

The victims' names were recorded in a logbook known as the "Death Squad Dossier," which was found among secret Guatemalan military files and which was made public in 1999. It also contains photos of 183 victims, as well as coded references to secret executions for which nobody has been held responsible. (A copy of the logbook is available.)

Guatemalan prosecutors have virtually ignored the logbook despite its evidentiary value. At the hearing, Atkins conducted the direct examination of the expert, Kate Doyle, who testified that the Death Squad Dossier is an authentic document created by Guatemalan military intelligence. Doyle is a Guatemala expert at the National Security Archives and has compiled more than 15,000 declassified U.S. documents on Guatemala.

Witnesses Elizabeth Josefa Andrade and Mirtala Linares testified about their two-decade long struggle to bring those responsible for their family members' disappearances to justice. Burdick and Guerrero-Phlaum prepared the witnesses' written affidavits and oral testimonies. "Attending the hearing made abstract concepts about human rights real," said Guerrero-Phlaum.

The families are asking that the commission rule on the complaint and hold Guatemala accountable for the disappearances of their loved ones and for its failure to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. "If Guatemala is serious about human rights, it must prosecute those responsible for these crimes," says Altholz.

(A video of the Death Squad Dossier hearing is available and listed under Case 12.590 -José Miguel Gudiel Alvarez and Others)

After the hearing, Burdick said, "The experience reminded me of why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place, and it will make me a better advocate."
(11/13/07)


Olympics-Related Advocacy Could Help Change Chinese Policy on Darfur, says Boalt Human Rights Expert

China will use the 2008 Summer Olympics, to be held in Beijing, "as an international coming out party, casting itself as an economic power, technological innovator and diplomatic leader of the first rank," writes Jamie O'Connell, program officer in Boalt Hall's International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) in a September 23 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece. Human rights activists, however, have labeled the games the "Genocide Olympics," highlighting the Chinese government's support for genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. This strategy has promise, writes O'Connell, who conducts research and advocacy on genocide and crimes against humanity for the IHRLC , but he argues that this strategy must be accompanied by more vigorous action on the part of the United States and European governments.

Since 2003, the government of Sudan and Arab militias have bombed and raided villages inhabited by non-Arab Muslims in Darfur. More than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have fled to refugee camps inside the country and in neighboring Chad. The Bush administration and Congress have described the government's actions as "genocide." "China has made the atrocities possible," O'Connell writes, through its economic and diplomatic support of Sudan. China's purchases of Sudanese oil and investments in developing oil fields saps the force of the U.S. government's decade-old trade embargo on Sudan. The likelihood of a Chinese veto has stymied efforts in the UN Security Council to impose international economic sanctions.

O'Connell explains that human rights activists are using the Olympics to try to change Chinese policy. Public events, celebrity statements, and petition drives "have three goals: shaming China into action, persuading the Olympics' corporate sponsors—such as Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Visa—to urge Beijing to change its policies on Darfur, and educating the public and policymakers on Darfur and China's role."

China appears to be responding to the pressure, O'Connell believes, but the "Genocide Olympics" campaign needs to be part of a larger strategy. He urges readers to press the U.S. government to intensify its diplomatic efforts in Sudan, working with France and, if possible, China. "Darfur activist movements in Europe and key developing countries, such as South Africa, also need to grow," O'Connell adds. Finally, O'Connell considers continued divestment from the small number of corporations that are lending key support to the Sudanese government—already undertaken by the state of California—to be critical.

"Olympics-related activism also shouldn't go too far," O'Connell cautions, singling out the call by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) for the United States to boycott the Olympics. O'Connell endorses the conclusion by leading U.S. Darfur activist group the Save Darfur Coalition that pushing for a boycott would be counterproductive. "A boycott would erode the marketing power that Darfur activists are harnessing," writes O'Connell. "Boycott calls are also divisive, pitting some activists—and politicians—against athletes, sports fans, and others who are equally concerned about Darfur but believe the Olympics should go forward at full strength."

O'Connell's work in the IHRLC also examines the relationship between human rights and counter-terrorism policy. He teaches a survey of countries emerging from dictatorship and civil war. Before coming to Boalt, he worked on post-conflict reconstruction and human rights in Sierra Leone, East Timor, South Africa, and Argentina.
(10/5/07)

 

Human Rights Clinic Preps Activists for U.N. Hearing on Migrant Abuse
The International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) earlier this month offered strategic counsel to activists in California's Central Valley, which led to dramatic testimony about human rights abuses of migrant farm workers at a United Nations hearing.

Dr. Jorge Bustamante, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, held meetings in Los Angeles as part of a broader mission to investigate human rights conditions of migrants and immigrants across the U.S. He met with advocacy groups, community leaders, migrant laborers, and others.

IHRLC students Irene Gutierrez '07 and Harini Raghupathi '07 and IHRLC associate director Roxanna Altholz '99 persuaded Central Valley organizations to travel to Los Angeles and testify. The three met with community groups working closely with Boalt Hall's Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, including the California Rural Assistance Program.

At the hearing, testimony focused on shoddy subcontracting operations in the Central Valley, the inhumane working and living conditions for migrant workers, and the struggle of indigenous farm workers for language-access rights. Altholz says this work is "just the beginning of a larger legal project" to secure clean water rights for farm laborers in the region.

IHRLC's initiative to promote migrant rights in the Central Valley illustrates how U.S. advocacy groups can leverage international human rights standards and bring worldwide attention to the plight of marginalized communities in this country.
(5/22/07)

 

Clinic Associate Director Roxanna Altholz '99 Leads International Outcry Against Dominican Government's Attack on Human Rights Defender
Roxanna Altholz '99, associate director of Boalt's International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRC), played a central role this past week in rallying opposition to the Dominican Republic government's effort to strip human rights activist Sonia Pierre of her citizenship. Pierre is a vocal defender of the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. The government's action follows days after it complied with a 2005 order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to pay $22,000 in damages to clients of the IHRC, Violeta Bosico and Dilcia Yean, Dominican girls to whom the government had denied birth certificates because they are of Haitian descent. [Read the text of the Miami Herald story.]

On March 31st, the Dominican Central Electoral Commission issued a report alleging that Pierre, the 2006 winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award, was not entitled to a Dominican birth certificate and citizenship because her mother was in the country illegally when she registered Sonia's birth in 1963. The government began its probe into Pierre's status after receiving fraud allegations from the Fuerza Nacional Progresista, an extreme right-wing political party.

Altholz was attending a conference in the Dominican Republic when the government leaked news of its investigation to the local press, and she immediately alerted the international officials and local activists attending the conference. Altholz and her colleagues devised a strategy that both mobilized public support from a wide spectrum of Dominican organizations and brought about quiet diplomacy by major international figures. The resulting groundswell of support has been accompanied by a sympathetic outcry from major Dominican politicians who oppose the government's actions against Pierre.

Pierre is the general coordinator of the Association of Women of Haitian Descent and--with IHRLC and the Center for Justice and International Law--represented the two Dominican girls in an eight-year legal battle that culminated in the Inter-American Court's decision against the Dominican government. The landmark international ruling ordered an overhaul of the Dominican Republic's birth registration system to eliminate the discriminatory policies and practices that leave thousands of children of Haitian ancestry unable to claim their rightful Dominican citizenship.

Pierre's plight has been covered by the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times, among other major news outlets. To date, the Dominican government has not called off the process of stripping Pierre's citizenship. The IHRC is continuing to play a central role in the work of the ad hoc coalition that has sprung up to defend her.
(4/9/07)

UC Berkeley-Tulane Study Reveals Worker Abuse in Katrina Reconstruction
Undocumented workers helping to rebuild New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina lack adequate access to health care, are subject to wage discrepancy and are operating under unsafe working conditions, among other employment rights violations, according to new study released in June 2006 by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Tulane University.

Clinic director, Professor Laurel Fletcher is a co-author of the study in which the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Boalt Hall and UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center joined with Tulane's Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer in a comprehensive survey of more than 200 workers in March 2006. The study found that a quarter of the workforce involved in reconstruction efforts is made up of undocumented Latinos, hired after the federal government granted special waivers of immigration employment laws in the aftermath of the storm.

The report, Rebuilding After Katrina: A Population-Based Study of Labor and Human Rights in New Orleans, specifically found:

  • On average, documented workers received significantly higher wages—an average of $6.50 per hour more—than undocumented workers performing the same jobs;
  • Nearly a third of workers surveyed reported operating with harmful substances and under dangerous conditions, while nearly 20 percent said they did not receive any protective equipment for hazardous work;
  • Only nine percent of undocumented workers surveyed had health insurance, whereas more than half or 55 percent of document workers were covered by health plans. Some 83 percent of documented workers reported that they received needed medications, while only 38 percent of undocumented workers said they were able to obtain medication when needed; and
  • Construction workers, particularly those among the undocumented workforce, reported problems receiving wages.

"Reconstruction after natural disasters exposes workers to some of the worst on-the-job hazards in situations where services, especially access to health care, are scarce. Public officials at all levels—federal, state, and local—need to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of worker health and safety protections," noted Laurel Fletcher, Clinical Professor of Law and director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Boalt.

Significantly, the study showed that 87 percent of the undocumented workers were already living in the United States before they moved to New Orleans, sharply refuting prior reports that hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused an influx of illegal immigrants across the U.S. border.

This project is supported by the Koret Foundation.

Clinic Participates in Public Hearing and Briefing on Behalf of Hurricane Survivors
To demand government attention to human rights violations in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, under the supervision of Clinical Lecturer Roxanna Altholz, Clinic students presented a report and attended a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and at a legislative briefing in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 2006. The historic hearing and briefing focus on the continuing humanitarian crisis experienced by African American and immigrant/refugee communities living and working in the Gulf Coast region. Among the featured presenters were hurricane survivors who detailed shortcomings and continued failings in the government’s response to the enduring devastation.

This project is supported by the Koret Foundation.

Boalt Clinic Joins in Dominican Rights Victory
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights announced in October, 2005 a victory for two girls of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic who had been denied basic citizenship rights--a case initiated in 1998 by Boalt's International Human Rights Law Clinic and two other groups.

In the decision, the court found that the Dominican Republic had violated the rights of children of Haitian ancestry and rendered them stateless by refusing to issue birth certificates and denying basic citizenship rights because of their race. The court recognized the right to nationality as the gateway to the enjoyment of all other rights and found that children who are denied their birth certificates are also denied their membership to a political community.

"This watershed decision will change the Dominican Republic just as Brown v. Board of Education changed the United States," said Professor Laurel Fletcher, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic. Fletcher and Roxanna Altholz (a 1999 Boalt graduate and currently a lecturer in residence with the clinic) argued the case before the Costa Rica-based court in March. (For more details, read the full story.)

The complete judgment can be found in English and Spanish.

Clinic's Counsel on Bills Leads to Legislative Action Against Human Trafficking
On Wednesday, September 21, 2005, California Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law two bills designed to combat human trafficking and modern-day slavery. The International Human Rights Law Clinic served as legislative counsel to the California Anti-trafficking Initiative, a statewide coalition of service providers that proposed the legislation.

"With the passage of this new law, California has taken the lead in combating the scourge of human trafficking. Other states will look to this law as a model," says Professor Laurel Fletcher, director of Boalt's International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) and the Forced Labor Project at UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center. Fletcher supervised IHRLC students Nasrina Bargzie '05, Shelley Cavalieri '06, Neha Desai '06 and Maximino Fuentes '06 in their work on the project.

The California Trafficking Victims' Protection Act, AB22, and the related bill SB180, criminalize trafficking as a felony, establish a privilege clause between victim and counselor to facilitate trust-building, provide civil remedies that allow victims of trafficking to receive compensation for damages suffered, and create a statewide task force to review and make recommendations about ways to improve the statewide response to human trafficking. To date the bills are the most comprehensive state legislation enacted in the United States to combat modern-day slavery.
(9/22/05)

Clinic Students Present First Case Against Dominican Republic Before International Court for Violating Nationality and Education Rights
On March 14-15, 2005 the clinic presented the first case against the Dominican Republic before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the highest human rights tribunal in the Americas. Under the supervision of Director Laurel Fletcher, clinic students Justin Berger '06, Anu Menon '05, and Tara Lundstrom '06 worked alongside advocates from the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and the Movement of Dominico-Haitian Women, Inc. (MUDHA) to press the claims two Dominican girls, Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico, who are victims of violations of the rights to a nationality, equality before the law, and judicial protection, as well as the rights to a name and to protection of the family.

The facts of the case date to 1997, when the State Civil Registry of the Dominican Republic rejected Dilcia's and Violeta's applications for late registration of their births, although the girls' families presented evidence they were born within Dominican territory. Professor Fletcher argued during closing argument that the Dominican state refused to issue the girls' birth certificates on discriminatory grounds, a decision that was arbitrary and illegal in terms of the guarantees provided for in the Dominican constitution. As a consequence of the refusal, Dilcia and Violeta were placed at risk - and remain at risk - of expulsion from the country. They also lack access to education, lack nationality and legal status, and have suffered alienation from their families.

This project is supported through the generous contribution of the Mertz Gilmore Foundation.

Professor Laurel Fletcher Releases New Report on Forced Labor in California
Clinic Director Laurel Fletcher released a new report on forced labor in California and testified about the findings during a state Assembly committee hearing in Los Angeles on Friday, February 25, 2005.

The report, "Freedom Denied: Forced Labor in California," is a project with UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center and follows an influential national report, "Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States" that the center released on this issue in Washington D.C. last fall. Clinic students Nasrina Bargzie '05, Shelley Cavalieri '06, Neha Desai '06, and Maximino Fuentes '06 contributed to the report.

The new report looks at the nature and scope of the problem of forced labor in California, finding that such cases take place across the state, though 80 percent of the incidents occur in just three metropolitan areas, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Individuals are forced into prostitution, domestic service, and sweatshop work, often with little or no compensation.

The report recommends that California legislators enact new criminal laws against forced labor, train law enforcement officers and other first responders to recognize forced labor situations, and increase critical support services -- such as safe housing and access to legal counsel -- for forced labor victims.

Laurel Fletcher's Research on Hidden Slaves Featured on Nightline
On September 21, 2004, ABC's Nightline featured Professor Laurel Fletcher, director of Boalt's International Human Rights Law Clinic, in a story on hidden slaves in the United States. Professor Fletcher is a co-author of a new report on forced labor. The program examined the plight of some 10,000 people in at least 90 cities across the country who are currently working in conditions that meet the definition of forced labor --working for little or no compensation under threats or violence. The practice frequently involves the international trafficking of adults or children into the United States. Individuals may be compelled to work in deplorable conditions as domestic workers, prostitutes, restaurant and hotel workers, factory workers and field workers. The story generated a tremendous response from Nightline viewers. For more information, visit Nightline's website.

The report was released on September 23, 2004, in a Washington, D.C., news conference. It is the first comprehensive look at contemporary slavery in the United States. Professor Fletcher co-authored the report with Eric Stover, director of the International Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley, and a Washington, D.C., non-profit group, Free the Slaves. Students from the International Human Rights Clinic assisted Professor Fletcher in her research. You can also read a Washington Post article about the report.

U.S.-Mexico Anti-Trafficking Working Group
In April 2004, the Clinic and the Human Rights Center convened a conference of international anti-trafficking experts to strengthen protections for Mexican victims of human trafficking. Clinic research on forced labor in the United States indicates that hundreds and possibly thousands of Mexican men, women, and children are trafficked into this country each year and forced to work in brothels, agriculture, and sweatshops as modern day slaves. Yet even when victims manage to escape or are rescued, their ordeal is not over. Family members of survivors who prosecute their perpetrators have been intimidated or attacked in home countries. Fear of reprisal against family members in the survivors' home country once perpetrators are released from prison in the United States is an on-going concern to survivors and delays their rehabilitation. Similarly, fear that law enforcement will be unable to protect them or their families discourages many victims from assisting in prosecution of their traffickers.

Participants in the conference, "Safety After Slavery: Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking," met to develop a transnational model for protection of Mexican trafficking survivors and their families and to identify a research agenda to generate and implement policy in this area. Clinic interns Noura Erakat '05, Andrea Fitanides '05, and Katie Glynn '05 presented their paper, Transnational Frameworks for Prosecuting Traffickers and Protecting Survivors. The paper sets forth the legal framework for transnational prosecutions of Mexican traffickers, protection measures available to survivors in Mexico and the United States , as well as international models for protecting victim of this illicit trade. Conference participants included officials from the Mexican and U.S. governments, service providers and human rights advocates in both countries, and trafficking survivors. The Clinic will continue its work on victim protection during the 2004-05 academic year.

The Conference was supported by the Ford Foundation, Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, Townsend Center for the Humanities, War Crimes Documentation Center, and the Wang Family Foundation.

Clinic Helps Victims of Human Rights Abuse Pursue Justice in U.S. Supreme Court
Students in Boalt's International Human Rights Law Clinic filed an amicus curiae brief involving two cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain and United States v. Alvarez-Machain will decide whether survivors of severe human rights violations can use the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) to sue their perpetrators in U.S. courts. Using firsthand accounts from victims of human rights abuses, the brief argues that the ATCA is a critical tool for victims in their pursuit of justice. Written by students Adam Day '05, Catherine Meza '05 and Volinka Reina '04 under the supervision of Clinic Director Laurel Fletcher, the brief was submitted on behalf of individual survivors who have filed ATCA cases, the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs, and the Center for Justice and Accountability. Oral arguments for the case were heard on March 30, 2004.

The cases before the Court stem from the 1990 kidnapping of Dr. Alvarez-Machain. Under the direction of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Alvarez-Machain was taken from Mexico to the United States by Mexican nationals in order to stand trial for his alleged role in the death of a DEA agent in Mexico. After being acquitted of the charges, Alvarez-Machain used the ATCA and Federal Tort Claims Act to bring civil claims against the United States and a Mexican national who participated in his delivery to the United States. In hearing the case, the Court will consider whether the ATCA creates a private right of action--determining whether the act can be used to pursue civil claims against human rights abusers living in the United States.

In addition to the amicus brief, Clinic students Day, Mezza, and Reina compiled every published court opinion interpreting the ATCA (as of March 2004). The Clinic's ATCA Case Compendium is the first such compilation of ATCA jurisprudence of which we are aware. The summaries synthesize the pertinent factual background as well as the legal arguments and defenses raised in each opinion. It provides practitioners, activists, journalists, and scholars a succinct reference tool regarding this important area of law.

Laurel Fletcher Gives Fulbright Lectures in Sri Lanka
Laurel Fletcher traveled to Sri Lanka in May 2003 to give a series of public lectures to medical, legal and social service professionals about the availability of HIV treatment there. The talks addressed the importance of treatment options in fulfilling human rights obligations and averting a full-blown epidemic.

Sponsored by the Fulbright Commission, the lectures helped catalyze action by the Sri Lankan government to convene a high level meeting to discuss the country's HIV/AIDS policy. East Bay Community Law Center staff attorney Manel Kappagoda also participated in the trip and gained support for a proposed HIV treatment pilot project.

The lectures are a follow up to the AIDS Lanka Project, a collaborative effort by the East Bay Community Law Center, International Human Rights Law Clinic, Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, and the AIDS Coalition to advocate for increased treatment access for HIV-positive Sri Lankans.

You can download a copy of Laurel Fletcher's lecture below.