Clinical Programs - International Human Rights


Below are some examples of the projects recently undertaken by the International Human Rights Clinic. Descriptions of Clinic projects undertaken in partnership with the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice are available on the Avon Global Center website. Please contact us if you would like further information on these projects.

Petition against US Military at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

In January, the Clinic filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of twenty service men and women who were sexually assaulted while serving in the U.S. military. The petitioners faced retaliation from their Chain of Command for reporting the incidents, and none received sufficient access to judicial remedies. Click here to learn more.

Amicus Brief on Women's Reproductive Rights

Clinic members are working with the Center for Reproductive Rights to research and draft a background memorandum on legal standards and policies relating to access to emergency contraception for survivors of violence in South Asia (with a focus on Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India) for an upcoming litigation workshop in Nepal. The Clinic will also use this research for an amicus brief to be submitted with CRR’s Asia Program on a public interest case initiated in India. This case, filed by the Human Rights Law Network in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, calls on the government to protect women’s reproductive health by providing access to a full range of contraceptive methods, information and services, and consequently end violations of women’s fundamental rights arising from this lack of access. The petition alleges that women face serious barriers due to flawed state policies and the failure of the state government to implement national-level policy guarantees.

Report on Refugees in Turkey

The clinic is undertaking a study for the Refugee Solidarity Network on the rights of refugees in Turkey. Turkey hosts 70,000 asylum-seekers from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia, as well as nearly a million displaced Syrians, making it the 6th most significant host country in the world. In April 2013, Turkey passed its first-ever comprehensive legislation on asylum and refugee issues including the establishment of a new civilian agency, the Directorate General for Migration Management, tasked with administering a new Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedure (a legal process to identify whether someone is a refugee). The new legislation will bring many changes to the current parallel UNHCR-government procedure. The goal of the project is to conduct research and fact-finding to help prepare local NGOs for this transition. The Clinic has been asked to prepare a report that examines similar transitions that have occurred in other countries. The report will conclude by offering recommendations for the government of Turkey, NGOs working there on refugee protection, and UNHCR.

Report on Clinical Legal Education in India

The report, "Promoting Clinical Legal Education in India: A Case Study of the Citizen Participation Clinic" is the product of a unique collaboration between the Good Rural Governance and Citizen Participation Clinic at Jindal Global Law School and the Cornell International Human Rights Clinic at Cornell Law School.  Students at Jindal and Cornell participated in a joint clinic by videoconference from January to May, 2012 and prepared this report.  The Report points out that most law schools in India lack robust clinical legal education programs.  Clinical legal education is essential to preparing law students to practice law effectively and promoting access to justice for marginalized groups.  The report recommends that law schools mandate that trained faculty directly supervise students undertaking legal work, provide credit to students who engage in legal aid services, and ensure low student-teacher ratios.  Additionally, the report recommends that the Bar Council repeal its prohibition against professors and students practicing law before courts in India.  The report describes the key features of the Citizen Participation Clinic, which aims to address the disconnect between the Indian Constitution's promise for a dignified life for every citizen and the reality of undignified human existence for the majority of the population, particularly in rural India.  That Clinic is one important example of a successful clinical model that can be adopted by other law schools in India to engage with their neighboring communities and to train law students in important lawyering skills. 

Panel Discussion: "International Human Rights in the Colombian Constitutional Framework"

Panelists from the United States and Colombia discussed how the Colombian Constitutional Court has utilized international law to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, the ways in which the Colombian constitution deviates from international human rights obligations relating to the right to education, and the litigation and other advocacy work in which panelists are engaged, including cases before the Colombian Constitutional Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Public Interest Litigation Brief on Witch Hunting in India

The Cornell Law School International Human Rights Clinic wrote a brief that was filed by the Human Rights Law Network, a prominent public interest law firm in India, in the State of Jharkhand seeking to end witch hunting practices.  This public interest litigation asks the government to enforce current laws prohibiting witch hunting, enact stronger legislation, and provide support services to victims of witch hunts.  Witch hunting, a practice in which an individual is accused of being a witch and is then beaten, tortured, or killed, has resulted in the death of at least 2,500 Indian women in the last fifteen years.  The victims are primarily women who are widows or other marginalized members of society, who are used as scapegoats for some harm that has befallen the community.  While the Indian Penal Code and the Jharkhand Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practices Act prohibit naming a woman a witch and using violence against her, these laws are poorly enforced and contain very weak punishments. The Clinic's brief addressed the international law implications of India's failure to protect the victims of witch hunting.

Amicus Brief in Support of Petition on the Right to Free Education in Colombia

Clinic students submitted an amicus brief (also available in English) in support of a petition to the Colombian Constitutional Court challenging the constitutionality of the General Education Law's provisions permitting educational institutions to charge enrollment and other school fees, including at the primary level.

Conference in Cali and Bogota on the Right to Education of Minorities in the Americas

In collaboration with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), Association NOMADESC, the University of Valle in Cali, Colombia, the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and the University of Virginia School of Law International Human Rights Clinic (UVA Clinic) planned, prepared and implemented a two-day, multi-city conference to continue an important dialogue among local, national and international leaders, remain accountable to local communities and promote grassroots advocacy to improve the right to education of minorities in the Americas.  The conference included a keynote address by United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues Gay McDougall and launched the in-depth report on the state of the right to education in the Americas authored by the Clinic and its partners (see below). Read the Conference Outcome Document (English & Spanish) brochure (Spanish), program (English & Spanish) and press release.

Presentation to Colombian National Congress and Public Interest Law Group at University of Los Andes Law School

Clinic students prepared a presentation for the launch of the Campaign for the Right to Free Education in Colombia and led a roundtable discussion to think strategically about how to ensure free education for all in Colombia.

Amicus Brief supporting Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on Safe Pregnancy in Bihar, India

Clinic students prepared an amicus brief outlining the international legal framework and government obligations supporting a petition that urged the Indian government to ensure safe institutional deliveries and to fulfill the service guarantees provided for in the National Rural Health Mission’s Framework for Implementation.

Right to Information Act Request to Indian Government for data and methods used to calculate the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR)

In collaboration with the Human Rights Law Network and the faculty and students at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the Clinic submitted a Right to Information Act request to access the raw data and methods that the Indian government uses to calculate its maternal mortality statistics.  These data and methods will be evaluated to ensure accurate reporting of MMR in the country.

Judicial Training Manual on Fair Trial Standards for Trial Judges in India

Students researched and drafted a manual used for in the official Indian training program for trial judges in India.  The manual covers rules relating to arrest, detention, trial procedures, and sentencing.  For each phase in the criminal process, the manual describes the applicable international and Indian statutory law, how current legal practice deviates from the law, and suggests ways in which the judiciary can help bridge the gap between law and practice.

Hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the Right to Education for Minorities in the Americas

Students wrote a report (also available in Spanish) for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights dealing with access to education for minorities in Colombia. The Clinic presented the report in a hearing before the body in Washington, D.C. on March 12, 2008. Witnesses from Latin America, our client organization, and Professor Kalantry testified at the hearing. In researching the report, students conducted field-work in Colombia during December 2007, where they interviewed Afro-Colombian leaders, indigenous community members, a constitutional court justice, a senator, the vice-minister of education, and local school teachers. The purpose of the hearing and our project was to draw attention to limits on access to education for Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples in the Americas.

Intervention in the European Court of Human Rights on Reproductive Rights on Behalf of the Special Rapporteur for Health

Students drafted an amicus brief on behalf of Paul Hunt, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Health, for a case in which the petitioner was denied the right to receive prenatal testing.  In a landmark decision in May 2011, the ECHR found in favor of the party supported by the Special Rapporteur and the special Rapporteur's amicus was described in the decision: 

Brief in the Federal Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Interpreting the U.N. Convention Against Torture

Students drafted and filed briefs to the Federal Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for case in which we are arguing that deporting our client to Haiti where he is likely to die in a Haitian prison for lack of medication, food and water violates U.S. obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture.