International Human Rights Clinic—Significant Achievements for 2018-19

This year the International Human Rights Clinic continued its work to promote social and economic justice through advocacy, analysis and enforcement of international human rights law. Clinic project work focused on prisoners’ rights in the U.S., global surrogacy practices, internet access in South African schools, military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, the employment of domestic workers by diplomats, and use of force by the police in Nigeria. Students conducted fact-finding missions in Cambodia, South Africa and the United States. The clinic’s primary clients were the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), legal counsel for a detainee at Guantanamo, the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of non-profit organizations in South Africa. The clinic also provided advice and support to journalists in Honduras seeking to expose government corruption as well as the Cook County Public Defender’s office in exploring the possibility of representing undocumented immigrants in immigration proceedings. Below are some highlights of the clinic’s work this past year.

First, the clinic continued its ongoing work on advocating for reform in the apprehension and detention of immigrant children at the U.S. border with Mexico.  The clinic’s 2018 report, Neglect and Abuse of Unaccompanied Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, co-authored with the ACLU, documents the experiences of migrant children (often asylum-seekers) who suffered verbal, physical and sexual abuse from CBP officials. In the past year, the report, as well as IHRC’s faculty director, Claudia Flores, have been featured in the ACLU’s litigation on this issue as well as profiled in media outlets including ABC, NPR, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and Al Jeezera, among others. Also in the past year, the government appealed a portion of the ACLU’s district court win on the FOIA litigation that yielded the documents on which the IHRC/ACLU of San Diego report relied. The IHRC report was cited in the ACLU’s Answering Brief (filed with the Ninth Circuit in December 2018). Oral argument was held in San Francisco in May 2019.

The Clinic conducted a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in support of research undertaken on behalf of the OHCHR to assist the OHCHR in developing its position on gestational surrogacy. The Clinic drafted and published a report titled Human Rights Implications of Global Surrogacy, which was presented to the OHCHR, representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as members of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee in Geneva. The growth of the gestational surrogacy industry in the last few decades has raised concerns about the human rights of the parties involved. Partly due to those concerns, several of the countries where surrogacy was once widespread have recently prohibited the practice. Yet the human rights implications of surrogacy are highly complex, and it is far from clear that a global surrogacy prohibition is the best or even most feasible way to address rights concerns. The report considers the practice of surrogacy at a global level, as well as in the domestic country context, using Cambodia as a case study. It aims to advance an understanding of the human rights impact of laws, policies and practices around surrogacy.

In collaboration with three civil society organizations in South Africa—AltAdvisory, Acacia Economics, and the Right2Know Campaign—the Clinic conducted in country-fact finding and drafted a public report on access to the internet in South African schools. The divide in education quality created by apartheid persists and corresponds to a ‘digital divide’—a divide between those who have access to electronic information and communications technology (ICT) and those who do not. To bridge this divide, the South African Government has attempted to implement connectivity plans with a special focus on schools. The Clinic conducted research to identify the scope of the problem, the impact of the digital divide on students, as well as research to evaluate implementation of existing government policies on connectivity. Clinic faculty and students traveled to South Africa and visited schools in the rural regions of Limpopo, conducting interviews with principals, teachers and students on internet access and its role in promoting the students’ right to education. Clinic team members also met with relevant government stakeholders in Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as representatives of regulatory agencies, service operators, and civil society engaged on these issues.

The Clinic also worked with the ACLU Human Rights Program and Women’s Rights Project on a submission to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the rights of domestic workers of diplomats in the United States. Nearly ten years ago, the ACLU submitted the initial petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) identifying the human rights violations of domestic workers that have resulted from the immunity granted to diplomats when it comes to treatment of their workers and the lack of administrative measures adopted to remedy the existing imbalance of power. The US Government finally responded to the petition last year. The Clinic worked with the ACLU to draft a response to the State Departments submission, analyzing developments in law and policy over the last ten years. The response was submitted in May 2019. We made a request for oral hearings on the case.

The Clinic drafted a memo for the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender to inform their internal deliberations on whether the PDs office could provide representation at immigration detention hearings. The Clinic reviewed empowering legislation, as well as existing programs offered by the Bronx Defender and the San Francisco Public Defender to analyze the feasibility of and policy considerations for establishing such a unit within the Cook County PDs office. The memo drafted by the Clinic was shared at a meeting between the Public Defender and members of the Resurrection Project, the Westside Justice Center and Illinois Business Immigration Coalition. Members of President Preckwinkle’s staff were informed of the Public Defenders visions and the legal and policy analysis, and appropriations to staff an immigration detention hearing representation unit will be requested in the FY 2020 budget.

International human rights