International Human Rights Clinic—Significant Achievements for 2017-18

This year the International Human Rights Clinic worked to promote social and economic justice through enforcement of international human rights law in the areas of policing and public protests, liberty and security of immigrant children, gender-based violence, solitary confinement, child labor, and police accountability. The clinic’s work involved international and comparative law and policy in various countries, including fieldwork in Northern Ireland, England, Mexico, and the United States.  Below are some highlights of the clinic’s work this past year.

The Clinic completed a collaboration with the ACLU Border Litigation Project on treatment of child migrants in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody launching a report in March of 2018. The ACLU BLP, following years of FOIA litigation, obtained some 30,000 documents relating to complaints of child abuse in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody. Immigrant children crossing the border alone are typically apprehended by CBP and Border Patrol officials at the southern border of the United States. Numerous domestic and international laws protect these unaccompanied minors, aware of the especially vulnerable position they are in given their age and immigrant status. The Report, titled Neglect and Abuse of Unaccompanied Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, highlights the experiences of migrant children (often asylum-seekers) who suffered verbal, physical and sexual abuse from CBP officials. Following the launch of the Report, Clinic students took part in public advocacy, giving interviews to US and international press, including radio and TV interviews discussing the report and the need to institute effective accountability mechanisms to prevent child abuse. The IHRC report was covered by Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, Al Jeezera, NPR Weekend Edition, and numerous other outlets. The report was a key tool for advocates seeking reform within our border patrol system and was cited by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security in a letter to the Acting Inspector General of DHS, requesting an investigation into the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection. IHRC’s collaborator and client, the ACLU, will continue to use the report in litigation and non litigation advocacy for the rights of immigrant children apprehended at the U.S. border.

The Clinic also drafted and launched a report titled Defending Dissent: Towards State Practices that Protect and Promote the Rights to Protest in collaboration with the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO). INCLO is a coalition of 13 national civil liberties and human rights organizations from the global North and South, including Argentina, Kenya, India, Ireland, Ethiopia, and others, that act jointly to influence policy- making and standard-setting on various civil liberties issues. The ACLU in the U.S., Liberty in the UK and the Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation are among its members. INCLO has set one of its priorities as advancement of a human rights approach to police engagement with protests. The Report drafted by IHRC provides practical guidance on how law enforcement can protect human rights when policing protests. It offers concrete examples and analysis of existing laws, institutional mechanisms and processes, and deployment tactics that work to promote or, in some cases, undermine, protests and public assemblies. Three Clinic students and two faculty members conducted extensive interviews with policing experts, police chiefs, academics, and activists in England and Northern Ireland to determine successful rights-respecting approaches to policing protests. Clinic students conducted the literature review, carried out interviews, and drafted the Report. Defending Dissent was launched this June during the Human Rights Committee session in Geneva. Aaron Tucek (‘19), a clinic student, presented as a member of a panel during the launch event, speaking to UN officials, civil society from across the globe and the U.N. Special Rapporteur’s and their staff working on this issue.  In addition to serving as a public education tool, the report will now be used by INCLO organization members to advocate within their countries on improvement of police policies and practices on protest management. It is also being used to support the adoption of a resolution on police management of protests introduced in the U.N. Human Rights Council by Costa Rica and Switzerland.

The Clinic conducted a fact-finding mission to Mexico aimed at gathering information on violence against women in the agriculture industry and the legal and institutional framework in place to combat it. The Clinic interviewed stakeholders in governmental agencies, international and domestic NGOs and academia, on violence against women and the state of workers’ rights in the industry. The research was conducted in consultation with the Coalition of Imokalee Workers (CIW), as well as a number of Mexican NGOs, including ProDESC and Solidarity Center, all working toward strengthening farmworkers’ rights and combating exploitative industry conditions that contribute to forced labor, abuse and gender-based violence. Following the mission to Mexico City and Morelia, Michoacán, Clinic students drafted a report analyzing the legal landscape and its failure to protect women. The initial findings were used by CIW in advocacy efforts to engage Wendy’s in the Fair Food Program as well as in reporting for Businessweek and the NYTimes Magazine on the conditions of farmworkers in Mexico.  The findings of the Report will be presented during a symposium planned in October of 2018. CIW’s Greg Asbed, winner of the MacArthur Fellowship Award, a representative from a Mexican NGO, as well as a representative from the International Labor Organization (ILO) will all be part of the conference exploring issues surrounding agriculture in North America and role of corporate and governmental bodies in finding a solution to current abuses. The symposium will be organized with the support from the University of Chicago Pozen Center for Human Rights.

International human rights