The International Human Rights Clinic is off to a great Spring Semester. Twelve students are working on several cases and projects that involve environmental justice, children with disabilities, violence against women, human trafficking, local implementation of U.S. human rights treaty obligations, and corporate accountability for human rights violations.
Our work on human trafficking has been recognized nationally and internationally. In February, the Clinic was prominently cited in the recently released Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States. The Federal Action Plan, which lays out the process by which federal agencies will ensure that human trafficking victims receive adequate services, incorporates comments submitted by multiple civil society groups, though the IHRC is the only law school clinic quoted in the report. Internationally, the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee adopted in March the concerns and recommendations the Clinic submitted last semester regarding U.S. anti-human trafficking obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UN Human Rights Committee incorporated all of the points we raised during our visit to Geneva, including the failure of the U.S. to identify and investigate labor trafficking, the exclusion of certain categories of workers from labor laws – thus rendering them more vulnerable to human trafficking, and the need to reinforce training of law enforcement, border and immigration officials, labor law enforcement officials, and child welfare agencies to help protect human trafficking victims.
In February, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Commission) granted international protective measures requested by the Clinic on behalf of Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic who received death threats because of their work as human rights defenders. This is a great victory in a much larger fight. If the government of the Dominican Republic gets its way, thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent will soon become stateless, as a recent judgment from its Constitutional Court arbitrarily and retroactively denied them their Dominican nationality. In late March, the Clinic went to Washington, D.C. to advocate with and on behalf of this vulnerable population and participated in hearings before the Commission, met with staffers of the Congressional Black Caucus in the House of Representatives, and with federal officers from the U.S. Department of Labor.
During spring break, the Clinic travelled to Puerto Rico with 10 students to work on two cases along with our local partners on the ground. One case involves a class action lawsuit against the Puerto Rican Department of Education for its failure to provide adequate services and education to children with special needs. The second case addresses the effects of the U.S. Navy’s use of the small island of Vieques, Puerto Rico as a bombing and training facility for more than 60 years. These military exercises caused grave environmental harm to the island’s ecosystem and possibly contributed to higher cancer rates and other major health concerns among its population of 10,000 people. While in Puerto Rico, students held meetings and interviews with more than 20 individuals, including the President of the Puerto Rico Bar Association, a staffer for the President of the Puerto Rico Senate, several academics, scientists, community leaders, attorneys, public officials, and human rights victims. In both cases, students are working on seeking remedies for these victims using international human rights law.
Students are also working with a national coalition of human rights organizations to develop California draft legislation to expand or eliminate statutes of limitations for torts associated with grave human rights violations, and to modify veil-piercing statutes to hold corporations accountable for human rights violations. Finally, the Clinic is partnering with Harvard University to study how the Inter-American Human Rights System addresses the issue of violence against women in the Americas, and to what extent the U.S. and other countries in our region are implementing international law norms and jurisprudence in addressing this important issue.