International Human Rights Law Clinic
In an era of rapid change caused by rising global interdependence, the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) at the UC Berkeley School of Law pursues a dual mission: promoting justice at home and abroad and training attorneys for a changing profession. IHRLC marshals the resources of the faculty and students of UC Berkeley to advance the struggle for human rights on behalf of individuals and marginalized communities. It clarifies complex issues, develops innovative policy solutions, and engages in vigorous advocacy. At the same time, IHRLC prepares graduates for an increasingly diverse, competitive, and international legal profession. One of the leading human rights clinics in the country, IHRLC takes advantage of its home in California, the largest and most diverse state in the nation, and builds on Berkeley Law’s commitment to international engagement. Since 1998, IHRLC has completed dozens of projects and trained over 200 students. Learn about the latest clinic news below or read our publications.
New Report Offers Road Map to Implement Human Right to Water in California
BERKELEY, CA. – May 14, 2013 – Twenty-one million Californians lack access to safe and affordable drinking water. Many live in low-income and marginalized communities with aging and dilapidated water pipes that pump groundwater contaminated with nitrates and other toxins into homes and schools.
On September 12, 2012, Governor Brown signed AB 685, the human right to water bill, making California the first state in the nation to explicitly recognize the human right to water. AB 685 aims to ensure universal access to safe water by recognizing that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water.”
In a new report, “The Human Right to Water Bill in California: An Implementation Framework for State Agencies,” the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) provides a road map for implementation by state agencies. The report draws on domestic and international law to map when state agencies should consider the human right to water, what factors they should consider, and how they should advance the human right to water. Berkeley Law students Angélica Salceda ’13, Christine Zülow LLM ’13, and Kimya Saied ’14 authored the report under the supervision of IHRLC Associate Director Roxanna Altholz and Clinical Instructor Allison Davenport.
“The lack of access to clean water in California has serious health and financial consequences that disproportionately impact low-income communities of color,” said Altholz, “AB 685 requires state agencies to address the human costs of unsafe water.” AB 685 places the human right to water at the center of state policy and underscores the crucial role of state agencies in improving access by underserved communities.
The report outlines a framework for state agencies to address water challenges affecting diverse populations living in urban, tribal, rural and unincorporated communities. “Residents living in disadvantaged communities navigate endless water politics and barriers in an effort to access clean drinking water,” said Salceda. “Our report provides a roadmap for breaking down those barriers and advancing the human right to water for all Californians.”
The report also calls on the Governor’s Office to adopt the framework and issue agency-specific guidance that ensures “an effective and coordinated approach” to implementation. “AB 685 provides the opportunity to move beyond the convoluted and opaque system that currently exists,” commented Davenport, “and to put in place a comprehensive and common-sense approach to water quality and affordability issues in the state.”
The report recommends that state agencies look to the international definition of the human right to water to establish clear policy objectives with the aim of ensuring that all Californians have sufficient, safe, acceptable, accessible, and affordable water. “Under international standards, the cost of clean water should not exceed 3 to 5 percent of household income,” remarked Zülow, “but in some California communities with contaminated water, residents spend 20 percent of a median annual income of $14,000 to pay their water bill and purchase bottled water.”
The report also identifies human rights principles—such as non-discrimination, public participation, and accountability—that should guide efforts by state agencies to implement AB 685 and foster good governance. A central theme of the report is the importance of meaningful participation by affected community members in the decision-making by state agencies. “All too often,” stated Saied, “the communities facing the most serious water problems are not at the table when decisions affecting them are made and, as a result, real solutions are never reached and the problems persist or even worsen.” The report recommends that agencies produce mutli-lingual materials, make water quality data readily accessible to the public, and facilitate public input in water governance decisions.
“The recommendations in the report are the starting point and not the end itself,” commented Salceda. “The state should continue to push for policies that prioritize communities that lack safe water and ensure their vigorous implementation.”
Read the report:
The Human Right to Water Bill in California
For more information, please contact:
Roxanna Altholz, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law, International Human Rights Law Clinic, 510-643-8781, firstname.lastname@example.org
Allison Davenport, Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Law Clinic, 510-642-4139, email@example.com
Clinic Hails Victory for Guatemalan Civil War Victims
By Nancy Bronstein
IHRLC clients with photos of disappeared loved ones
BERKELEY, CA. - January 16, 2013 - In a ruling hailed as a victory for Guatemalan civil war victims, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a judicial body of the Organization of American States, has condemned Guatemala for its actions related to 28 forced disappearances.
The ruling “dignifies the victims’ struggle for justice” says Roxanna Altholz '99 of Berkeley Law’s International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC), which litigated the case along with the Myrna Mack Foundation, a human rights organization based in Guatemala City. The ruling, announced on December 21, 2012, held that upper echelons of the Guatemalan military conspired with politicians and police to target and eliminate the “disappeared” victims due to their perceived political and social views. According to the Court, the disappearances were carried out during the early 1980s in accordance with a state policy designed to protect national security. This brutal policy led to the disappearance of more than 40,000 Guatemalan men, women, and children during that country’s 36-year civil war (1960-1996).
The Court found that Guatemala had not only abducted, tortured, and secretly executed the victims, but violated the rights of their family members by subjecting the victims’ relatives to ongoing threats and intimidation, failing to investigate, and withholding information about the disappearances.
To provide redress for these violations of its treaty obligations, the Court ordered Guatemala to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for the crimes, recover the victims’ remains, construct a national park dedicated to the memory of the victims, and pay more than $8 million in damages to the victims’ families. In accordance with Guatemala’s legal obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights, the Court’s orders are binding.
“This ruling doesn’t just monetize our clients’ suffering, it orders Guatemala to dignify their struggle and the memory of their loved ones,” said Altholz, associate director of IHRLC and lead counsel for the case. “Our clients have been fighting a tidal wave of injustice for more than 30 years. This ruling is their first legal taste of victory.”
With co-counsel and crucial assists from clinic students, Altholz represented a group of 127 family members of the disappeared, including parents, siblings, spouses, children, and grandchildren. The disappearances had profound and disastrous effects on the victims’ relatives; some were forced into exile, many suffered from depression, and others were attacked and injured or lost their lives as a result of their search for their missing loved ones.
“Without the dedication of clinic students, it would have been impossible for us to litigate 28 cases at once and provide our clients with the quality legal representation they deserved,” said Altholz. Since 2006, when IHRLC joined the case, more than two dozen Berkeley Law students have prepared for legal practice by working on the litigation under Altholz’s supervision. They conducted legal and factual research, reviewed thousands of pages of documentary evidence, interviewed family members and witnesses, and drafted legal submissions. Last May, four students traveled to Ecuador to participate in a daylong hearing before the Inter-American Court.
“This case is extremely important, particularly in Latin America, where many countries have experienced the same kinds of atrocities and victims and their families are still denied the right to truth and justice,” said Krystel AbiHabib (LL.M. ’11), who worked on the case during the spring of 2011. “I felt humbled by the trust the families put in us and in our work.” AbiHabib now lives in Chile, where she teaches and researches issues related to indigenous and human rights.
“This is the first time the Court issued a decision in a case with such strong forensic and documentary evidence about state participation in forced disappearances,” said Carmen Atkins ’08, who began working with the litigation team as a Berkeley Law student and, after graduation, continued on as an independent consultant. Now a human rights attorney, she works for an NGO in Ecuador representing victims before international human rights bodies.
Despite the wealth of evidence and a three-decade investigation, Guatemalan prosecutors and judges have failed to identify, prosecute, or punish a single suspect. The Inter-American Court criticized state prosecutors’ lack of diligence and rebuked Guatemala’s Ministry of Defense for obstructing the criminal investigation by concealing state documents related to the security forces' criminal actions.
Despite Guatemalan officials’ efforts to withhold evidence, a military logbook was leaked in 1999; the 54-page document contains photos of 183 victims disappeared by security forces during the mid-1980s with coded references to their executions. In 2006, more than 80 million pages of police records were accidentally discovered in the basement of small police station. The trove of information includes thousands of pages of documents describing the police’s participation in the forced disappearances. In 2011, the remains of two of the 28 victims were recovered from a former military base located about 60 miles outside Guatemala City.
In February, Altholz will return to Guatemala to meet with clients and state officials and to participate in public events about the ruling. “We are now in a new phase of the proceeding during which the goal is to ensure Guatemala’s prompt compliance with the Court’s orders,” she said. “I feel energized by the ruling and the feeling of making a difference, which in my mind, is the best part of being a lawyer.”
New Report on Urgent Measures Issued by Human Rights Bodies
OAS Official Photo
BERKELEY, CA. – December 7, 2012 – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is the primary human rights organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), the oldest regional body in the world. It serves as the last recourse to justice for people of the Americas. As part of its mission to promote human rights, the IACHR has issued emergency orders, called precautionary measures, to protect thousands from grave harm. However, this response to urgent human rights situations has recently come under intense scrutiny by OAS Member States and is the focus of recent proposals to curtail the powers of the IACHR.
The International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) in collaboration with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) conducted a comparative study on the use of precautionary measures by international human rights bodies. The report analyzes the international legal framework regarding precautionary measures and compares the standards and practices of the IACHR to those of other human rights bodies. The report covers legal trends with respect to sources of authority, procedural mechanisms, and the scope of rights protected.
The IACHR has used precautionary measures for decades in a variety of contexts in which individuals were at grave risk of immediate and irreparable harm. For example, the IACHR has ordered States to halt executions, safeguard the property rights of indigenous peoples, and to protect judges, witnesses and human rights defenders.
The study concludes that the approach of the IACHR is consistent with international practice. The reforms proposed by the Permanent Council are not required for the IACHR to harmonize its standards and practices with those developed by all other human right bodies.
This report was presented at a meeting of civil society before the OAS Permanent Council on December 7, 2012, at the headquarters of the regional body in Washington, D.C.
READ THE REPORT HERE - (pdf)
New Report Details Abuse and Discrimination Against LGBT Community in El Salvador
BERKELEY, CA. – July 5, 2012 – A police officer in El Salvador raped a young woman. When the victim, a transgender woman named Karla, went to report the crime, the police told her that such an incident was “impossible,” and no investigation was conducted.
Karla’s story of abuse and marginalization is not unique among El Salvador’s LGBT community, and it provides a window into the social and legal standing of LGBT individuals in the Central American nation.
Karla’s voice is one among many LGBT individuals interviewed for a new report, “Sexual Diversity in El Salvador: A Report on the Human Rights Situation of the LGBT Community.” The report, by the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, provides an in-depth look at the abuse and discrimination perpetrated against LGBT individuals and the precarious legal protections they are currently afforded. IHRLC Clinical Instructor Allison Davenport directed the research project, which was conducted over the course of a year, including an IHRLC fact-finding mission to El Salvador in February 2011.
Salvadoran society is still emerging from the effects of a bloody civil war that ended in 1992 and left more than 75,000 dead. It’s also struggling with epidemic levels of crime and rampant impunity. The LGBT community faces not only these challenges, but also a strong social stigma and increased vulnerability to violence and discrimination. “While El Salvador is still a country in transition,” noted Davenport, “the recognition and protection of LGBT rights is critical to strengthening the overall social and democratic fabric of the country.” The report identifies attacks by law enforcement as well as private individuals, lack of equal access to health care, and barriers to education and employment as areas of urgent concern.
As Karla’s story highlights, a lack of investigation and accountability for abuses reinforces the LGBT community’s vulnerability. During 2009 alone, the report recounts, 23 LGBT individuals were murdered, their bodies often bearing signs of torture. To date, no one has been prosecuted for any of these crimes. Among the report’s recommendations is a call for the police and the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office to open an investigation of these and other acts of violence against LGBT individuals.
The government has made some advances to recognize and respect LGBT rights. Presidential Decree 56, issued in 2010, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by government employees. “While Decree 56 is a major step forward, unfortunately its impact has been limited because it hasn’t been widely disseminated among public employees and they haven’t been trained to ensure its implementation. Significant gaps in the law and in enforcement remain,” said Davenport. The report recommends measures to stem widespread discrimination, violence, and harassment; strengthen and aggressively implement legal protections; and increase accountability for abuses.
The report describes unequal treatment by public health care providers and law enforcement, but also reveals widespread and unchecked discrimination against LGBT individuals in the private sector. LGBT individuals reported to IHRLC researchers that they were harassed at work, where they were called names, given undesirable tasks, and in some cases fired. “Without clear legal protections, most abuses in the private sector go unaccounted for and therefore continue unabated,” said Davenport. The report recommends passage of anti-discrimination legislation and a Constitutional amendment to ensure that LGBT Salvadorans enjoy the same legal protections as other groups in the country.
The report emphasizes the particularly acute forms of discrimination that transgender individuals face. Educational institutions were found to either reject outright transgender applicants due to their gender identity, or require them to alter their appearance and conform to the information contained in their national identity document (“DUI”). “This type of discrimination against the transgender community is rampant and results in their systemic marginalization,” commented Davenport. “The solution,” she added, “lies in legislation recognizing the right to identity that provides a mechanism by which Salvadorans can legally change their name and gender, allowing them to freely pursue education and employment opportunities.”
In keeping with IHRLC’s mandate, “Sexual Diversity in El Salvador: A Report on the Human Rights Situation of the LGBT Community” provides advocates, government officials, and affected communities with a comprehensive analysis of the current situation and the applicability of relevant domestic, regional and international laws.
For more information, please contact: Allison Davenport, Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Law Clinic, 510-642-4139, firstname.lastname@example.org