Real Cases. Real Experience.
The Human Rights Clinic has advocated for causes in countries above which are marked in orange.
Metal Huasi, a Foundry/Smelter company, operated in the town of Abra Pampa, Jujuy, in Northern Argentina, from the 1950s until 1986. There were three areas within the town where the smelting plant’s waste was deposited. Because of that, there are high levels of contamination and lead in the blood of Abra Pampa’s residents, particularly the children. There have been a series of government efforts to clean up the disposal sites but government action has yet to include plans for addressing the health needs of the community.
As the result of a semester-long research project (including a fact-finding mission in Argentina), in August 2009 the Clinic produced the report “Abra Pampa: a Community Polluted, a Community Ignored” (below). Based on the findings of the Clinic, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and several UN Special Rapporteurs requested information from the Argentine government on the plan to remedy the situation and provide health care to the inhabitants of Abra Pampa. A UN Special Rapporteur referred to the work of the Human Rights Clinic in his report. In November 2011, the Clinic produced the follow-up report “A Generation Poisoned by Lead” (above).
Human Rights Clinic students (left) visit Abra Pampa.
In October 2012, the Human Rights Clinic sent three students to Buenos Aires, San Salvador de Jujuy, and Abra Pampa, Argentina on a fact-finding mission. Current students continue the advocacy work around this project in collaboration with local residents, organizations, and attorneys.
In addition to producing the reports, the Human Rights Clinic collected many documents on this issue and made them available to the public. These documents can be found here:
Students supported NGOs working on a petition filed with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The Clinic concentrated on land rights and racial discrimination issues for the Quilombo community of Marambaia. The community, which was formed between 1532 and 1888 by runaway slaves, has been subject to a number of increasingly strict restrictions imposed by the Navy (which was awarded jurisdiction in 1971) under the widely abused pretext of military interest. The petition was filed in 2009.
The Clinic worked with the International Center of Transitional Justice (ICTJ) to compose a series of memoranda to address the experiences of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to secure collective reparations for human rights abuses. The ICTJ used the memoranda in its work with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) to ensure collective reparations for victims of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Students from the Human Rights Clinic traveled to Costa Rica in the spring of 2010 to investigate the proposed creation of the largest hydroelectric project of its kind in Central America and its impact on the indigenous Teribe people. In violation of international human rights law, the Costa Rican government is proceeding without the consultation with and the free, prior and informed consent of the Teribe people who live on the proposed site.
Human Rights Clinic students at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad in Costa Rica in 2010.
The Human Rights Clinic published the following report in English and in Spanish:
The UN Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples visited Costa Rica in April 2011. His report, "La situación de los pueblos indígenas afectados por el proyecto hidroeléctrico El Diquís en Costa Rica," reflected some of the issues raised by the Clinic.
Students worked with the Ecuadorian Truth Commission and with the National Security Archives to obtain the release of classified U.S. documents on Ecuador. These documents informed the Ecuadorian Truth Commission while they investigated alleged human rights abuses over three decades, particularly during the administration of Ecuadorian President Leon Febres Cordero. Students also researched the pursuit and use of U.S. declassified materials by different truth commissions in Latin America.
The Human Rights Clinic documented the effects of gold mining on Ghanaians living in the Tarkwa area in the Western Region of Ghana. The Clinic went to Ghana in October of 2009, partnering with Center for Public Interest Law at UT and the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) in Ghana to survey the area and conduct interviews.
Melvin Huang (left), a Clinic student, visits one of the open-pit mines in Ghana in 2009.
The Clinic published the resulting report, The Cost of Gold: Communities Affected by Mining in the Tarkwa Region of Ghana, in the fall of 2010. The UN Rapporteur on the Right to Health visited Ghana. In his mission report, the Rapporteur echoed the concerns of the Clinic.
The HRC worked with the Open Society Justice Initiative conducting legal research on the balance between the right to access to information on human rights abuses, the right to privacy, and the presumption of innocence.
Students prepared a report to address the fact that rural employers are often not disciplined for not complying with legally-binding court orders in Guatemala. While the labor courts have vindicated the majority of rural workers’ claims against employers, their decisions are not enforced and frivolous appeals are not dismissed. The findings of the report were presented in a public hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Lysias Fleury, a former Haitian human rights defender, was illegally and arbitrarily arrested and detained, tortured, and forced into hiding for almost five years, and he is now an asylee in the United States. His case has been sent to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and will be only the second case where Haiti has been brought before this court. The International Human Rights Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law is representing Mr. Fleury and requested the submission of an amicus brief. The brief, which was written in English and translated into French, concerns the collective duty of States members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to support Haiti in fulfilling its international human rights obligations. The brief was submitted at the conclusion of the Spring 2011 term.
The Clinic has worked with the attorney representing the Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (the Fraternal Black Honduran Organization, or OFRANEH) in support of their case against Honduras pending in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Garífunas Communities have suffered through the State’s failure to protect their traditional lands, and now the very existence of these Communities is endangered.
Clinic students prepared a legal memo analyzing the different legal arguments to reopen the criminal investigation of a disappearance. This memo was used by the prosecutor in one of the first and leading cases decided by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In Indonesia, oil palm tree plantations normally replace tropical forest lands and even whole forest ecosystems which are often traditionally owned by indigenous peoples pursuant to their own customary laws. Human Rights Clinic students conducted, at the request of the Forest People's Program, research on international legal rules and procedures regarding labor practices and the use of land in order to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.
The Clinic developed a litigation strategy to address the health situation of people in pre-trial detention in Kenya. Working with the Justice Initiative of Open Society, Clinic students researched factual and legal issues and possible venues to challenge the human rights abuses in detention facilities.
The Human Rights Clinic submitted an amicus brief in the case of Teodoro Cabrera García and Rodolfo Montiel Flores vs. the United Mexican States. Cabrera García and Montiel Flores were environmental defenders who were detained by the Mexican military. The brief argued that their rights under the American Convention on Human Rights had been violated because the appropriate authorities did not take custody of them within a reasonable period of time. This made them vulnerable to other human rights violations such as incommunicado detention and torture.
The Clinic, in partnership with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Panama and the Defensoria del Pueblo (Ombudsperson) conducted research and document the situation of racial profiling in Panama. The Clinic wrote a memo to our partners in Panama outlining the factual situation in the country and also providing with international legal standards dealing with racial profiling.
Clinic students wrote an amicus brief for the trial against Peru’s former president, Alberto Fujimori, whose charges included human rights violations for three separate cases of massacres and kidnappings. The students argued that two of the cases, the Barrios Altos massacre and the disappearance and later killings of the Universidad de La Cantuta students and professor, constituted crimes against humanity. The brief was quoted by the Peruvian court that convicted Fujimori.
As part of the working group on Human Rights and the Border Wall, students wrote a memo exploring possible areas for human rights advocacy in front of the Inter-American Commission on behalf of a coalition of border residents opposed to the construction of the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. In June 2008, the UT Working Group published a series of papers documenting and analyzing the human rights impact of the construction by the United States of a wall on the Texas/Mexico border. The Working Group submitted these papers during a public hearing convened by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Clinic students wrote a paper which explored the violations on the part of the United States Government of the right to property and non-discrimination held by residents of the Texas Rio Grande Valley. As part of its continuous work on this issue, the Clinic filed a complaint with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) alleging the discriminatory impact that the construction of the border wall has on indigenous peoples and poor Latino residents. In March 2013 CERD accepted the complaint and “requested that the U.S. provide updated and detailed information with regard to the impact of the Texas-Mexico border wall on the rights of indigenous communities, and any measures envisaged to reverse the negative impact of the construction of the border wall.”
Clinic students, from left to right, Laura Schurr, Julia Furlong, and Ana Pecoraro walk with Dr. Margo Tamez (right) along the border wall.
The Clinic, in collaboration with the National Security Clinic, challenged the detention of Mr. Obaidullah, who is detained in Guantanamo. The Clinic researched and prepared a brief which was submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Two students who worked on the petition travelled to Geneva to file the brief. On June 12, 2013 the Working Group issued a decision ruling in favor of Mr. Obaidullah.
In April 2015, the Clinic published the report “Reckless Indifference: Extreme Heat in Texas Prisons” and revealed the ongoing, dire conditions that inmates and guards alike are exposed to in Texas prisons, which have claimed the lives of at least 14 inmates since 2007. This report expanded on the Clinic’s previous work by adding inmate testimony as well as inmate grievances, and it established that pleas to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) have been largely ignored. The Clinic urges the TDCJ and the Texas Legislature to implement the recommendations enumerated in the report before the federal government inevitably intervenes. In doing so, the Clinic joins the calls of other national and international organizations that consider these dangerous conditions to be a violation of the inmates’ constitutional and human rights.
In 2014, the HRC published a report, entitled “Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons” (below), challenging the current situation in Texas prisons and on domestic and international standards addressing extreme heat. The HRC concluded that extreme heat in prisons endangers the health of inmates and employees, that such conditions are a violation of inmates’ constitutional and human rights, and makes short- and long-term recommendations on how to solve this unacceptable, ongoing problem.
Clinic students Alex Goeman (center) and Samantha Chen (right) present the Human Rights Clinic report “Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons” at a press conference on April 22, 2014.
Clinic students present the Human Rights Clinic report “Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons” before the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights on October 27, 2014.
The Clinic, in partnership with the Domestic Violence Clinic, the Legislative Lawyering Clinic and the Austin/Travis County Family Violence Task Force, is promoting the adoption of City of Austin Council and Travis County Resolutions on Freedom from Domestic Violence as a Human Right. On April 8, 2014 the Travis County Commission and on April 17, 2014, the City of Austin Council approved those resolutions. The City Council Resolution was introduced by Council member Laura Morrison. The resolutions seek to declare that the local governments have an obligation to "respect and ensure" the right to be free from domestic violence on behalf of their residents. This project is part of a national movement to encourage local authorities at state, county, and city levels to adopt similar resolutions. Among others, Baltimore, Seattle, Albany, and Miami have adopted such resolutions. Clinics nationwide have been engaged in these initiatives. This movement, in part, builds on the report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the case of Jessica Lenahan v. U.S.
The Clinic is participating with a network of universities throughout the Americas studying the implementation of the Inter-American Commission's decisions. The Clinic students conducted an analysis to determine how decisions of the Inter-American Commission are implemented in the United States. A preliminary report was presented at a conference in Bogota, Colombia.
Clinic students prepared a report on legal, institutional, and factual issues related to the right to food, in particular how policies and programs provided by the State secure or hamper this right. The report will be presented to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, the Yemen Government, NGOs, and other inter-governmental organizations.
The Human Rights Clinic conducted extensive research through interviews with human rights workers and produced a report aimed at strengthening the Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child (RRC), part of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, by capitalizing on its existing core competencies to augment its position as an advocate for children’s rights in the Americas. The report was presented to the plenary of the Commission in the fall of 2011.
The report “Maximizing Justice, Minimizing Delay: Streamlining Procedures of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights” is the result of two years of the Clinic’s work based on statistical analysis and interviews on the duration of the procedure of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. It contains a serious and profound diagnosis of the current backlog and delay in the processing of cases and petitions pending and/or resolved by the IACHR over the last fifteen years. The Clinic presented the results of its study in a meeting with the Inter-American Commission in Washington, DC, in March 2012.
Professor Dulitzky and Human Rights Clinic students Mariel Pérez Santiago, Hannah Zimmermann, and Andrew Nicholson (left to right) present a report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC in March 2012.
Clinic students worked with the Observatorio de Discriminación Racial (Racial Discrimination Observatory) from the University of Los Andes (Colombia) in order to prepare briefing and advocacy papers supporting the adoption and improvement of the current draft the “Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance.” The product analyzed problematic aspects of the draft Convention and designed strategies to facilitate the participation of civil society organizations.
The Convention was adopted by the OAS in June 2013.
At the request of the United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, the Clinic prepared a paper to facilitate one of her country’s missions. This issue was complicated by several issues, including the fact that it dealt with the rights of people from one minority group living within lands granted by treaty to another minority group. The Clinic researched the legal, social, economic, and political status of these groups.
The United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues asked the Clinic to prepare a brief on the dispute between two minority groups. The Clinic researched the historical background of the dispute, the legal arguments and current situation. The document contains an analysis of the dispute based on the human rights framework and proposes different courses of action to the UN Independent Expert.
Students conducted research on the ways poverty leads to exclusion from society, institutional practices and obstacles that limit those in poverty’s participation in society, and how to improve those institutions’ practices in order to allow and encourage this participation. The study was prepared for the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.
Students worked on the issue of enforced disappearances. During different semesters Clinic students approached the problem from different perspectives, at times focusing on children, women, the situations in particular countries, or the operations of the Working Group. In November 2012, four Clinic students travelled with Professor Dulitzky to Geneva, Switzerland to attend meetings of the WGEID, and they were the first students ever admitted to witness such meetings. During the meeting, Professor Dulitzky presented a proposal developed by the Clinic to improve the work of the Working Group.
Four students from the Human Rights Clinic, Will Chambers, Kelley McIlhattan, Cat McCulloch, and Mark Dawson (left to right), visit the United Nations in Geneva in November 2012.
During May 2014, two more students traveled to Geneva to attend meetings at the United Nations and present their findings.
Mojdeh Pourmahram (left) and Jun-Ki Lee (right), two students from the Human Rights Clinic, at the United Nations in May 2014.
Clinic students collaborated with the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP) in the production of a manual intended to help women’s rights advocacy groups choose the most effective international forum to bring their claims. The student researched the case law of various UN bodies as well as the Inter-American, European, and African systems.
In cooperation with the Due Process of Law Foundation, the Clinic produced several policy papers and legal reviews on how to establish state responsibility for the actions of transnational corporations operating abroad.
After several stages of consultations, a group of human rights and equality experts agreed upon The Declaration of Principles on Equality http://www.equalrightstrust.org/endorse/index.htm. The Declaration reflects a moral and professional consensus among these experts. The principles are based on concepts and jurisprudence developed in international, regional and national legal contexts. They are intended to assist the efforts of legislators, the judiciary, civil society organizations and anyone else involved in combating discrimination and promoting equality. They could serve as a compass to orient legislative, judicial and policy efforts towards more progressive equality norms and policies in the 21st century. The Equal Rights Trust (ERT) is seeking the widest possible dissemination of the Declaration and is calling for endorsements from individuals and organizations who want to publicly state their recognition of the Principles set out in the Declaration (http://www.equalrightstrust.org/campaign/index.htm). The Clinic worked with the ERT to develop a strategic plan to promote the Declaration and seek the endorsement of it in the Americas, particularly targeting the OAS, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, other regional settings such as MERCOSUR, the Latin American Parliament, and the Iberoamerican Federation of Ombudspersons.
The Clinic produced an amicus brief for this case in May 2013.
Projects marked with * represent projects completed by students enrolled in the Fall 2008 Human Rights Advocacy class, the predecessor to the Human Rights Clinic