• Human Rights Law

    The Human Rights and Atrocity Prevention Clinic trains the next generation of advocates while offering students the opportunity to make a difference.

Director: Professor Sheri P. Rosenberg

Refugee Representation Project Director: Teresa M. Woods

Telford Taylor Fellow: Jocelyn Getgen Kestenbaum

Associate Faculty: Professor Carolyn Patty Blum

Associate Faculty: Dr. Barbara K. Eisold

Projects Coordinator: Angglelia Sutjipto

The Human Rights and Atrocity Prevention Clinic's overall objective is to provide students with firsthand experience in the range of activities in which lawyers engage to promote respect for human rights and the diverse ways the law is utilized to promote social change. In particular, the clinic focuses on the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities, protection of populations during mass atrocity, and rebuilding societies in the aftermath. The clinic partners with nongovernmental organizations who are actively engaged in human rights work. Case projects are designed to allow students to experience human rights advocacy in its many forms. The clinic litigates before international and regional tribunals, investigates human rights violations, writes policy papers, engages in strategic advocacy before the UN and other relevant bodies, and conducts empirical studies on the impact of human rights abuses and human rights mechanisms.

The Refugee Representation Project of the clinic gives students the opportunity to work directly with clients who are seeking asylum in the United States. Employing the human rights framework and drawing upon the development of the clinic's body of work around genocide and mass atrocity prevention, students have a unique lens through which to view issues of forced migration and asylum law. The clinic is able to bring a level of expertise to client representation that is unique while students sharpen their skills in the areas of client interviewing, client counseling, legal brief writing, and legal research. Students also learn to work with interpreters as it is often necessary to communicate with their clients. In addition, students interview witnesses, prepare experts, and collect evidence in support of clients' cases. The Refugee Representation Project of the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic is generously supported by the JPB Foundation.

How to Apply

To apply for the HRGC, students should have completed a law school or graduate level course in International Law and/or Human Rights. Significant undergraduate course work in a related field may be accepted instead. A demonstrated interest in human rights and genocide prevention as well as the law of asylum is a plus. Transcripts, writing samples, and letters of interest are submitted in the spring through the clinic application process. Please note that students must list clinic choices in the order of preference. An advanced clinic is offered during the spring semester for students who have completed the fall clinic and want to stay on to complete their cases or who want to continue to explore the world of human rights.


The Clinic Structure


The Bootcamp
In an effort to ensure that all students have had a primer in International Law, Human Rights Law, and Asylum Law, the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic organizes an intensive bootcamp in late August, before the semester begins. This two-day training covers the core concepts that will be explored over the course of the fall semester during the weekly seminar.

The Reading List
Students will be given a reading list upon request over the summer so that they can familiarize themselves with the materials that will be covered during the weekly seminar.

Case Assignments
Students, working in two-person teams, are assigned a human rights case project and an individual asylum client’s case. Students will be given summaries of the human rights case projects before the semester begins and asked to rank them in the order of their preference. However, projects will be assigned based on the right match between clinic needs and skills. Asylum cases are assigned in the same way.

Learn About Our Human Rights Casework Toward Atrocity Prevention

Minority Rights/Anti-Discrimination

Regional Human Rights Bodies

In partnership with London-based NGO, Minority Rights Group International, clinic students conducted legal research on a case before the African Commission: Communication 331/2006 - Kamanakao Association, Reteng & Minority Rights. Group v. Botswana[1].

The case involved the rights of non-Setswana (Tswana) speaking tribes – particularly the Wayeyi community - within the multi-ethnic government of Botswana.

The Wayeyi are a non-Setswana community of approximately 60,000 people living in the north of Botswana. They have a distinct culture and language (Shiyeyi, as opposed to the official language, Tswana). Under Botswana law, they are not classified as a tribe and not eligible for membership in the House of Chiefs. Despite having their own chiefs and selection process, Wayeyi chiefs are not legally recognized by the Botswana authorities.

Despite criticism by the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CERD) and a judgment by the High Court of Botswana in 2001 ordering the amendment of discriminatory laws, the Constitution, laws, and practices of Botswana continue to discriminate against the Wayeyi, in violation of numerous provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The student team conducted legal research and writing (memoranda and parts of brief) relating to the submission on the merits to the African Commission. They developed legal arguments, researched and assessed secondary sources from Botswana and the United Nations. They also conducted comparative legal research on direct and indirect discrimination across the African, European and Inter-American systems of human rights enforcement.

Students: Elyssa Emsellem and Brett Kaminsky, Class of 2013

[1] In November 2006, MRG submitted a communication to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of the Wayeyi people of Botswana.  After repeated postponements and much deliberation with the government of Botswana, the African Commission is expected to grant admissibility at its extraordinary session. Through this project, the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic assisted MRG in preparing for a submission on the merits of the case.

Names Cases
The right to determine one’s identity is a cornerstone principle of minority rights. International human and minority rights standards provide that individuals have unique ways of identifying with ethnic or racial minorities and that the means of that self-identification may not be determined by the State. An integral part of the right to self-identification is the right to choose ones name. Both international human and minority rights law recognized that a name is an integral part of an individual’s personal identity, family linkages and self-identification. The HRGC, in collaboration with Minority Groups International (“MRG”), assists clients with cases alleging racial/ethnic discrimination in the right to choose one’s name. One such case involves the Turkish government’s denial of the right of a Turkish citizen to register his Kurdish name. The second case involves a Greek citizen who has been denied the right to register his Macedonian surname. The Turkish case is pending before the European Court of Human Rights. The Greek case is currently pending before the appeal court in Greece.
Right to Education
Yean y Bosico v. Dominican Republic
The HRGC assisted MRG with an amicus brief before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The Center for Justice and International Law and the Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas, filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights on behalf of two young girls who were denied birth certificates. Without official recognition of their birth in the country, our clients and hundreds of thousands of other Dominican-born children of Haitian ancestry are denied the right to attend public school and are vulnerable to arbitrary expulsion. In 2003, the case was referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Our amicus focused specifically on the effects of the denial of the right to education. On October 7, 2005 the Inter-American Court issued a historic ruling recognizing the right of Dominican-born children of Haitian ancestry to nationality and education. The Inter-American Court found the Dominican Republic had discriminatorily denied our clients their birth certificates and violated their right to nationality, equal treatment, a name, among other rights. The binding ruling ordered the Dominican Republic to reform its birth registration system, open primary schools to all children regardless of their race, ethnicity or legal status, hold a public ceremony to recognize responsibility for the violations and ask forgiveness from the victims in addition to other measures.

Genocide Prevention

Corporate Social Responsibility

In partnership with the Auschwitz Institute For Peace and Reconciliation/Raphael Lemkin Center (AIPR), clinic students engaged in the development of two new curricula on the prevention of Genocide.  First, the team was invited back to the AIPR training for mid-level government officials to add a new component on corporate social responsibility and the prevention of genocide. Their work and the training the team developed will form the basis of the first forum on Corporate Social Responsibility and Genocide Prevention to be organized by AIPR and OASPG. The team also delivered the curriculum Foreseeing, Preventing and Responding to Genocide: the Legal Framework on the legal aspects of preventing genocide at a training which took place in the Polish town of Oświęcim. The curriculum previously developed by the Clinic.

Students: Sarah Efronson, Class of 2013 and Tiferet Unterman, Class of 2014

Normative Development of International Law : The Responsibility to Protect  (R2P)

The Human Rights Program at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law received a two year research grant from the Australian government, concerning the evolving Responsibility to Protect Doctrine.  Partnering with the Global Centre on R2P, as well as regional partners, the project was designed in three phases. After an expert meeting in New York that resulted in a concept paper, regional roundtables were set up in Accra, Ghana and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Thereafter, a paper setting forth the results of that fact-finding was developed.

Through extensive research and participation in the Cambodia regional roundtable, the student team set out to conceptualize and operationalize a critical subset of R2P doctrine, namely when the international community must act pursuant to its R2P obligations. They worked to develop an evidentiary standard specifically for R2P by looking to other areas of the law including, e.g., international criminal law, international human rights law, tort law (duty of care), national criminal law, and corporate law. They engaged in critical conversations with the international community and played an important role in the larger process of the way in which international norms develop.

Students: Sam Permutt and Laura Schaefer, Class of 2012

The Legal Underpinnings of Genocide Prevention

Clinic students engaged in two international programs on the prevention of Genocide through the Auschwitz Institute For Peace and Reconciliation/Raphael Lemkin Center (AIPR). First, the team was invited to develop and deliver the curriculum on the legal aspects of preventing genocide at a training which took place in the Polish town of Oświęcim. The curriculum entitled: Foreseeing, Preventing and Responding to Genocide: the Legal Framework had been developed previously by the Clinic. The student team updated it, adding a section on deterrence through state exclusion of genocide perpetrators.

Second, at the request of the government of Paraguay, students examined whether atrocities committed against the Ache people in the 1970s under the Stroessner regime amounted to genocide. The student team worked in collaboration with AIPR and the United Nations Special Advisors Office on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.

Students: Carse Ramos and Chauniqua Young, Class of 2012

Genocide by Attrition

“He did not need bullets. He used other weapons: rapes, hunger and fear.”

Louis Moreno-Ocampo
Chief Prosecutor, International Criminal Court
Speaking about the genocide being committed by the Sudanese President in Darfur [1]

Many unfolding genocides have gone unrecognized and have not been prevented because each death, each massacre, was treated as if it were a photograph, a snapshot to be compared in that instance against the definition of genocide. Genocide, however, is not an event.  Genocide can be waged by a wide array of methods beyond direct and violent murder. In fact, there are more protracted, more ambiguously lethal means of extermination than machetes, guns or gas chambers. Many victims of historical genocides die from slower, indirect and less immediately deadly methods of annihilation than outright murder. This study argues that genocide is a process that can unfold over several years, even decades. It proposes a notion of “genocide by attrition” that takes the usual linear (causal) accounts of mass death as its starting point and expands on them to suggest a more complex picture of genocidal processes. More specifically, this study aims to illuminate the concept of “genocide by attrition” in its proper legal and historical contexts, and identify indicators thereof through the lens of existing international human rights laws and obligations so as to assist legal, humanitarian and political actors in the difficult task of genocide identification and prevention. The paper will draw on empirical evidence from various cases of genocide by attrition to identify a set of attributes that allow a fresh rethinking of the process of genocide and prevention tools.

This paper was distributed to relevant policy actors and presented at multi-disciplinary conferences. In 2009 it will be published as an Occasional Paper by the Program in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies at Cardozo Law School.

[1] New York Times, A10, July 15, 2008

Early Warning in Ethiopia: Analysis

The HRGC prepared a genocide early warning analysis on Ethiopia. Among others, the paper was shared with the UN Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide and the Berne Advisory Task Force.

An excerpt of the paper was published by the Institute for the Study of Genocide (ISG).  The excerpt is located on page 7.

Transitional Justice/Reconciliation


Implementation of Regional Human Rights Court Decision

In partnership with Minority Rights Group International, the Clinic students worked on the implementation of a decision of the European Court of Human Rights Sejdic and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina. The case was brought in 2006 by the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic as co-counsel with Clive Baldwin and Minority Rights Group International on behalf of an individual (Mr. Finci) who was prevented from running for political office in BiH because provisions in the Constitution proscribed the bounds of participation in government on the basis of ethnicity.[1] This is one of the first cases to challenge at the European level the discriminatory laws found in Bosnia's Constitution that prohibit individuals from minority groups from running for the highest offices.[2] This case is considered to have significant precedential value. The judgment requires that that the Bosnian state constitution be amended to jettison the direct discrimination against minorities in their right to public participation in the office of the presidency and upper house of parliament.[3]

The students and the litigation team were faced with the task of strategizing around the best road forward for implementation of the decision. In particular, they engaged in a comparative assessment of minority rights protection in ethnically based federal systems. The team conducted a fact-finding trip to assess the situation on the ground among the minority rights groups in Sarajevo, BiH to determine its role and concluded that discussions were already underway so a roundtable hosted by the Clinic did not add value to the process. Clinic students travelled to Strasbourg to lobby the relevant country delegations instead. [Podcast]  Students gained skills in comparative legal research, legal writing, and creating innovative strategies around the enforcement of human rights law.

Students: Marie Winfield and Joby Emmons, Class of 2013

[1] The case was first brought before the Strasbourg Court in 2006. In 2008 the ordinary Chamber joined Mr. Finci's case with the case of Dervo Sejdic. The Court's ordinary chamber relinquished jurisdiction on 10 February 2009. The European Court of Human Rights ruled on December 22, 2009 in a landmark decision that the exclusion of Jews and Roma from Bosnia's highest state offices is unlawful discrimination.

[2] The Court’s ruling has exposed long-buried contradictions in the very fabric of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia but did not create the peace.  The Dayton agreement created a weak central government and two federal entities: Republic Srpska and the Federation. Citizenship rights in these entities are essentially granted based upon ethnic identity.  Territory and ethnicity are directly linked, thereby solidifying the gains made through ethnic cleansing and genocide.  At the same time, the DPA attempted to engrain the liberal democratic value of individual rights and civic nationalism. 

[3] To date, in spite of several attempts and significant pressure by the European Union, the political parties in BiH have not been able to agree to the amendments. In July of 2012, the International Crisis Group published the first in a two-part series exploring the challenges raised by the Sejdic-Finci decision.  Since then, there has been a significant amount of debate over this decision. 

Right to Civic Participation in a Post Conflict Country

Finci v. BiH
The HRGC represents a member of the Jewish community in BiH who is denied the right to stand for election to the office of the presidency or the upper house of parliament in Bosnia & Herzegovina. The HRGC along with its partner MRG brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. The HRGC is currently awaiting reply papers from the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This outcome of this case has far reaching implications for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The International Crisis Group said this about the case, “If the court rules in favour of Finci, it would throw Bosnia into a constitutional crisis that would affect everything from voting systems to personnel appointments, to the entity system of government and how the country’s highest governing institutions operate.”

This case is part of the HRGC’s sustained engagement on the issue of discrimination in participatory rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This work has included organizing meetings/workshops with partners in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, filing shadow reports before the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and drafting recommendations for the ongoing constitutional reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Third Party Interventions

Decision of December 22, 2009

Truth Commissions: Salient Factors

Rather than criticized as imperfect substitutes for accountability, truth commission are increasingly seen as important elements of a comprehensive transitional justice process.  Truth commissions are a relatively new invention, which vary widely from country to country and meet with varying degrees of success. Human Rights Watch asked the HRGC to prepare a comprehensive overview of truth commissions. To assist relevant actors engaged with the truth commission process, the paper sets out the results of research into the salient factors that contribute to an effective truth commission.  The paper draws conclusions from the respective choices made at each stage of the formation and operation of ten truth commissions. It then compares the strengths and weaknesses of these ten commissions in order to arrive at a set of recommendations concerning the establishment and functioning of an effective truth commission.

Iraqi Commission Project

Since the 2003 overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, Iraq has made great strides in rebuilding its legal framework. It has drafted a Constitution, and a process for review is underway. There is, however, an overwhelming need for implementing legislation that can add coherence and functionality to the new Iraqi state, and codify respect for human rights, minority rights and the rule of law. Building and reinforcing this legal framework represents one of the most crucial governance challenges confronting the Government of Iraq.

In cooperation with the Institute for International Law and Human Rights (IILHR) the HRGC will work with legislative drafters, government officials, activists, and Iraq’s legislative branch to ensure that key legislation is drafted and enacted in a way that reinforces respect for human rights and the rule of law. The IILHR is one of the few foreign NGO’s that has an office in Baghdad.

To learn more about the situation of Iraq's minorities, access the full text of MRGI's report below:

Minority Rights Group International, Still Targeted: Persecution of Iraq's Minorities

Post- Conflict Human Rights Commissions

The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law partnered with The Institute for International Law and Human Rights (IILHR)[1] to assist the Iraqi government with the challenge of building and reinforcing a legal framework that codifies respect for human rights and the rule of law in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The specific challenge that Clinic students addressed, in partnership with IILHR, was the creation of a Human Rights Commission, which was called for in Iraq’s 2005 Constitution.

Clinic students began by engaging in a detailed comparative examination of human rights commissions across the globe, particularly those in countries transitioning out of conflict, to better understand the best practices that would help inform the early decisions of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission.

Some of the issues addressed in their final report include relationships with other agencies of the Iraqi government, and how other Human Rights Commissions have proceeded from initial creation to regularized functioning. Other points of analysis included discussing how the Human Rights Commission should strategically deal with class action complaints and other types of complaints.

This project involved researching and analyzing law from a variety of foreign jurisdictions, as well as examining each within the framework of international guidelines on human rights commissions (The Paris Principles). The Clinic students had to become fully versed in the situation in Iraq, as well as the norms and laws surrounding human rights commissions.    

Students: Adam Goebel and Jessica Borlack, Class of 2012

[1] The Cardozo Human Rights and Genocide Clinic has partnered with IILHR since 2007.

Creating A Manual for Victims – The ICC

In partnership with the Trust Fund for Victims of the ICC, the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic designed a manual for NGOs in the field to use in the identification of victims of crimes before the International Criminal Court. The tool will be used by the Fund’s implementing partners to identify victims of the crimes under the ICC’s jurisdiction: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The challenge for the student team working on this project was to define legal concepts for a non-legal audience using simple language and eliminating any jargon. This required the students to truly understand international criminal law specifically, the definitions of the crimes before the court. The students also needed to gain an understanding of the international legal framework that created the court and its General Assistance Mandate. The team then needed to conceptualize the fieldwork carried out by the Fund’s implementing partners in the field (the non-legal audience) to determine the best structure for the manual as a training vehicle and pedagogical tool.

Students: Michelle Gonzalez and Sarah Amin, Class of 2013


Individual Accountability

International Criminal Law: The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

A tribunal was established to try the offenses committed by the Khmer Rouge[1] called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea (Extraordinary Chambers or ECCC) - a Cambodian court with international participation that applies international standards.

The Human Rights and Genocide Clinic partnered with the defense team for Nuon Chea (“Brother No. 2”) with an eye toward strengthening the legitimacy of the court. Clinic students drafted a Memorandum setting out the current state of international criminal law on the defense of necessity as a justification for each of the crimes in the indictment against the Defendant. The Memorandum then set out some of the potential factual grounds for the general application of this defense. The student team got up to speed very quickly on certain areas of international criminal law, as well as the historical and political background of Cambodia during the 1970s. They travelled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to visit the court and meet with the other members of the defense team.

Students: Amy Kowalski and Stephanie Pell, Class of 2012

[1] The Khmer Rouge regime took power on 17 April 1975 and was overthrown on 7 January 1979. Perhaps up to three million people perished during this period of 3 years, 8 months and 20 days. The end of Khmer Rouge period was followed by a civil war. That war finally ended in 1998, when the Khmer Rouge political and military structures were dismantled

Canadian Supreme Court Case

By helping to bring the definition of genocide to the attention of the Canadian Supreme Court, the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic has helped to ensure that those individuals responsible for grave human rights violations will not find safe haven in Canada.

On June 28 2005, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Mugesera v. Citizenship and Immigration Canada, that a Rwandan politician who gave a passionate speech inciting genocide can be deported to his home country for committing crimes against humanity.  The Human Rights and Genocide Clinic joined forces with the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of Toronto to write an intervener brief. Specifically, the Clinic was asked to write on the meaning of incitement to genocide in international law.  It is notable that international law played an important role in the Supreme Court’s decision.

Darfur Victims Cases

The HRGC will be providing research and litigation assistance to counsel for victims of the Dafur conflict before the International Criminal Court.

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

The HRGC provides ongoing research support to the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Rwanda.

Freedom of Expression

Griswold v. Driscoll

The HRGC filed an amicus brief on behalf of the International Association of Genocide Scholars before United States District Court of Massachusetts. The brief was filed in support of the defendants, the Massachusetts Department of Education, et. al. motion to dismiss a first amendment claim brought by a students, a teacher and the Turkish American Association. Plaintiffs allege that their First Amendment rights were abridged by the school boards refusal to include ‘contra-genocide’ material in its guide to teaching on the Armenian genocide.

The brief concerns fundamental issues of freedom of expression, the importance of historical memory, and the damaging effects of genocide denial in the U.S. and abroad.  The motion is currently pending.

TCA v. University of Minnesota

The HRGC filed an amicus brief on behalf of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) before the United States District Court of Minnesota. The brief was filed in support of defendants, the University of Minnesota, the President of the University of Minnesota and the Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), motion to dismiss a First Amendment claim brought by a student and the Turkish Coalition of America.

Plaintiffs allege that their constitutional rights to free speech, equal protection and due process were abridged by the inclusion of the TCA website, which espouses a "contra-genocide" viewpoint, on a list of "unreliable websites" maintained by CHGS. Plaintiffs also asserted state law claims for defamation.

The brief concerns fundamental issues of academic freedom and the damaging effects of genocide denial in the U.S. and abroad.

On March 30, 2010, the United States District Court of Minnesota granted Defendants' motion to dismiss.


Discriminatory Deprivation of Citizenship
Discriminatory deprivation of citizenship specifically targeting disfavored minority groups is a global problem, which often results in statelessness. Approximately 11-15 million people around the world are not considered to be a national of any state. Individuals who are ‘stateless’ generally are denied the most basic human rights protections, including the right to education, the right to own property, and the right to freedom of movement. Furthermore, individuals may incur substantial harm as a result of the inability to attach either psychologically or legally to the place where she has a genuine and effective link. HRGC has been engaged in research and advocacy around the issue of discriminatory deprivation of citizenship since 2006. Our goal is to assist in the development of international norms that would reduce discriminatory policies and citizenship restrictions leading to statelessness.

Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has made great strides to rebuild its legal framework. As part of its Minority Rights Project, the Institute for International Law and Human Rights (“Law and Rights”) works with government and NGO partners in Iraq and beyond to ensure that key legislation is drafted and enacted in a way that reinforces respect for minority rights and the rule of law. This fall, The Institute for International Law and Human Rights commissioned the HRGC to examine Iraqi citizenship laws and the extent to which, if at all, they discriminate against Iraqi minority groups. Utilizing a public international law lens, including minority rights, and case studies, the report analyzed the normative international and regional law framework relevant to the right to citizenship and provided a set of recommendations for Iraqi parliamentarians and civil society leaders, including amendments to the Iraqi legal framework and changes to the implementation strategies to create a robust and effective citizenship regime. In response to this report, HRGC was invited to present its findings and participate at a conference hosted by Minority Rights Group International (MRGI), the leading international human rights organization working to secure rights for ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities and indigenous people around the world. The conference coincided with the press release of MRGI’s 2010 report, “Still Targeted: Continued Persecution of Iraq’s Minorities,” examining the situation of Iraqi minorities, in territory controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and in disputed areas bordering KRG.

The Justice Initiative v. Côte d’Ivoire
In 2006, the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) submitted a communication to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Ivoirians who have suffered unlawful discrimination by agents of the state of Côte d’Ivoire. With the assistance of HRGC, a revised submission on admissibility was submitted in May, 2009. In fall, 2010, HRGC assisted in the preparations for an admission on the merits of the case. Between 1960 and 1990, the thriving economy and generous immigration policies of Cote d’Ivoire attracted thousands of immigrants from neighboring states. Yet following the collapse of the Ivoirian economy, leading politicians manipulated anti-foreigner sentiment for their own political gain. This sentiment, dubbed “Ivoirité”, was ultimately codified in the Ivoirian nationality law, and through its enforcement, denationalized those suspected to be “non-Ivoirian.” Once stripped of their citizenship, individuals were unable to obtain identity papers or own land, and subject to violent discrimination. In 2002, Côte d’Ivoire became entangled in a civil war, resulting in heightened levels of violence toward suspected immigrants and their supporters. The civil war in Côte d’Ivoire and the atrocities committed against the suspected “foreign” minority community in the North is an example of how discriminatory deprivation of citizenship, rooted in ethnic intolerance and political machination, can evolve into full fledged conflict and near-genocide. HRGC developed legal arguments with our colleagues at OSJI, prepared memoranda of law and assessed procedures implemented under the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement in 2007 for issuing new national identity cards in connection with the October 2010 presidential election. Although these procedures were considered by Cote d’Ivoire’s major political parties to be a solution to the persistent nationality issue, the byzantine voter registration process failed to provide documentation to all those who lacked papers, and most importantly, failed to clarify an overwhelming vagueness at the heart of the Ivorian nationality code – specifically, who is or is not Ivorian, and by what criteria is that so.

Statelessness and Discriminatory Deprivation of Citizenship [1]

In partnership with the Open Society Justice Initiative Citizenship and Equality Program, clinic students engaged in the legal research and fact-finding phases of litigations before the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. The project focused on three different country contexts: Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi, Central African Republic.

The student team researched and drafted possible new citizenship legislation[2] for Côte d’Ivoire in connection with the pending case before the African Commission that the clinic had previously worked on. The case was brought on behalf of Ivorians who have suffered unlawful discrimination in respect of citizenship by agents of the state. Students also conducted a fact-finding mission to Burundi where they interviewed members of the Swahili speaking community about the discrimination they are subject to under Burundi’s strictly jus sanguinis citizenship law. They met with local counsel to assess the exhaustion of local remedies and proceedings before international tribunal(s). Upon return, the clinic drafted an initial strategy memo for the development of a new citizenship case again the Central African Republic before the African Commission. Finally, clinic students began preliminary research into a new case concerning discriminatory deprivation of citizenship in the Central African Republic. In the process, students learned about the substantive issues of direct and indirect racial discrimination, and minority rights, as well as litigation practice before regional human rights bodies. They learned that Stateless persons - those who are not considered a national of any state - are estimated to range from about 11 to 15 million[3] in number and are among the most vulnerable populations, deprived of the protection of a state abroad and denied basic human rights such as the right to own land or receive social benefits.

Students: Melissa Lefas, Class of 2012; Stephanie Jean-Philippe, Class of 2013; Anastasia Holoboff and Joseph Franco Class of 2014

[1] The Cardozo Human Rights Clinic has been engaged in research and advocacy around this issue of discriminatory deprivation of citizenship since 2006. Our partners include the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues and the OSJI. Our goal is to assist in the development of international norms that would reduce discriminatory policies and citizenship laws that lead to statelessness. This is the context in which we work on the cases described.

[2] As famously described by Hannah Arendt, citizenship is ‘the right to have rights.’ While the International Human Rights framework provides that no distinction exists between human rights obligations owed to citizens or non-citizens living within a state’s jurisdiction (except in respect of participatory rights and the right of movement), the reality is that non-citizens often suffer the most basic human rights deprivations, ranging from the inability to own property to mass expulsions. While statelessness results from various circumstances, such as state succession and political considerations, ethnic minorities are often specific targets of regimes that seek to persecute minorities through deprivation of citizenship. The reason for the exclusion of minorities from citizenship rights varies from country to country.

[3] Indira Goris, Julia Harrington, Sebastian Kohn, Statelessness: what it is and why it matters, 33 Forced Migration Review, April 2009, 4-7, at 4.

Asylum Cases/ Refugee Protection

Asylum cases have focused on post-conflict countries of origin where applicants have suffered discriminatory deprivation of citizenship (Ethiopia/Eritrea), persecution on account of political opinion (Rwanda), social group (Rwanda), imputed political opinion (Congo-Brazzaville), sexual orientation/social group (Grenada), and imputed political opinion/social group (Guinea). Cases have been brought before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service Office (USCIS) and in Immigration Court (EOIR).    

Preserving International Refugee Protection

In partnership with Asylum Access Ecuador in Quito, clinic students conducted legal research and drafted part of a legal brief submitted to the Constitutional Court of Ecuador arguing against the implementation of a law that harmed asylum seekers - Decree 1182. The Government of Ecuador passed Decree 1182 which allows those seeking international protection a mere 15 business days from arrival in the country to apply for asylum. This timeframe often prohibits applicants from even asking for the assistance they need in part due to the logistics involved in getting to an asylum office. Others may be afraid or lack information about refugee law and the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process. Still others have urgent health issues or face other life-threatening circumstances related to flight. Under this new national law, the time in which asylum seekers may appeal RSD rejections was reduced from 30 days to 5 days. 

Decree 1182 overrides the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees which provided a more expansive refugee definition than the 1951 Convention because it covered situations of mass violence – the provision that most Colombian asylum seekers qualified for protection under. Finally, Decree 1182 includes a mechanism for the expedited rejection of manifestly unfounded claims. Refugee claims are to be considered unfounded or illegitimate if the applicant has committed a minor criminal offense on Ecuadorian territory. This is contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention which explicitly states that only very serious crimes justify exclusion and an exclusion analysis is required in order to do so. Students quickly got up to speed on the international instruments that govern international refugee protection. They examined additional UNHCR Guidelines on the protection of refugees and learned the core concepts related to refugee rights and the preservation of asylum space worldwide.

Students: Julie Geifman and Sara Levine, Class of 2013

Asylum Cases 2012

Mr. S (Guinea)

Our client Mr. S, was from Guinea where he was a prolific print and television journalist. His work was highly critical of the government. After having his work silenced because of its political content, he was interviewed on a radio program to tell the people of Guinea what had happened. An idealist and a truth seeker, he could not resist the invitation. Right outside the radio station, after the interview, Mr. S was arrested, interrogated, and tortured. He was forced to sign a confession. He was then offered another radio interview that because of his commitment to the truth, he was compelled to accept. After this second interview aired, Mr. S was arrested from his home. He was detained for a prolonged period of time. Once released, he knew he had to flee.

He found his way to the United States and was referred to the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic’s Refugee Representation Program by the NYU/Bellevue Hospital Program for Survivors of Torture.

Students: Stephanie Jean-Philippe, Class of 2013; Joseph Franco and Anastasia Holoboff, Class of 2014

Mr. S (Syria)

Our client, Mr. S was an expert in peace and conflict transformation and came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship to pursue his studies in this area. While he developing his work with the Tannenbaum Center on Interreligious Understanding and Nonviolent Peaceforce, civil war erupted in Mr. S’s home country, Syria. He knew that he would be seen as an opponent of the Assad regime and his life would be in extreme danger if he returned. For this reason, Mr. S sought asylum in the United States.

He was referred to the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic’s Refugee Representation Program by Catholic Charities New York.

Students: Sara Levine and Julie Geifman, Class of 2013

Ms. C (Syria)

Our client, Ms. C lived in Syria as a single woman after her family emigrated to the United States on a family petition by the matriarch of the family. Our client had aged out of the petition and was unable to join them. Because it is not typical for single women to live alone in Syria (without the protection of a male family member), it was a major family decision to allow our client to stay in Damascus. However, she had begun a career with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and was pursuing work that she and her family believed was meaningful.

She stayed in the family home in the town of Jaramana until the violence broke out in Syria. Suddenly, Ms. C who was accustomed to providing protection to refugees whose lives were in danger, was in need of protection herself. Humanitarian workers were regularly targeted and killed. Checkpoints were everywhere and as a member of a minority religion, Ms. C was presumed to support the Assad regime – a dangerous proposition in the now rebel controlled streets of Damascus.  It was not long before Ms. C was targeted as a single, Christian woman living alone. She received threatening phone calls, Her movements were monitored, her home was broken into and her religious icons were thrown on the floor. Finally, she was forced to give up her dream of living in her home country and pursuing her career.

She fled to the United States in search of protection. She was referred to the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic’s Refugee Representation Program by Catholic Charities New York.

Students: Joy Emmons and Marie Winfield, Class of 2013

Asylum Cases 2011

Mr. TG (Ethiopia/Eritrea)

Our client was born in the east African nation of Ethiopia in Adua. At the age of four he moved to Asmara, the capital of the neighboring country, Eritrea. His father was a high-ranking official in the Ethiopian military that was occupying Eritrea at that time. For that reason, he was arrested by members of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and imprisoned for several months and finally “disappeared.” Our client and his family continued to be persecuted by members of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front after his father’s disappearance. Armed soldiers would enter the family home, ask them to stand against the wall, and accuse them of being traitors to Eritrea. The family’s movements were monitored.

Our client was later arrested in the classroom where he taught for having refused to join the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front in its struggle against Ethiopian domination. He was arrested, severely tortured, and accused of treason. He was released and sought protection in Ethiopia and was arrested at the border and accused of being a spy for Eritrea. He was held at a military camp for two weeks before he was transferred to Ziway Prison where he was shocked by an electric current through cables attached to his nipples while he was interrogated.

Mr.TG continued to have problems with the authorities after his release but managed to pursue a degree in psychiatric nursing. He took a position with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). After his first trip as an escort for resettled refugees, he was arrested again and accused of spying for Eritreans abroad. A new wave of surveillance began and our client knew he had to flee the country.

He came to the United States and was referred to the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic’s Refugee Representation Program by Human Rights First.

Students: Adam Goebel and Jessica Borlack, Class of 2012

Mr. G (Grenada)

Our client was a Baptist pastor and a gay man from the Caribbean island of Grenada. He was persecuted because of his sexual orientation and denied police protection when he sought redress.

For many years he lived in fear of being harmed, opting instead to hide his identity. When he finally came out of the closet, he was publically humiliated and fired from his job as a school teacher. He was subsequently expelled from the Church – a church that benefitted from his many years of service. He was outcast from all denominations of Christian faith on the island when he tried to attend religious services. Members of the community threatened him. Members of his church were no exception, many of them calling his home and coming by to express their disdain and disappointment. After having bottles thrown at him as bus passengers shouted his name and made gay slurs, our client realized that his life in Grenada would never be the same. He was no longer safe now that his gay identity had been revealed.  His career as a teacher and his religious calling had been derailed.

Mr. G had to leave his homeland leaving behind, his family, and the place he loved. He was referred to the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic’s Refugee Representation Program by the law firm of White and Case, LLP.

Students: Sam Permutt, Class of 2012 and Laura Schaefer, Class of 2013

Ms. D (Congo-Brazzaville)

Our client Ms. D was born in the town of Brazzaville in the former French colony of Congo-Brazzaville in Africa. Her parents ran a café where the customers came to discuss politics. Although the family did not have any particular political affiliation, the conversations were monitored by the government authorities and they were targeted.

Soldiers came to their home presumably to interrogate the family and make arrests. However, our client’s family was massacred in front of her. She was sexually assaulted but she managed to escape in the midst of the chaos around her. She ran until she could no longer hear the shooting of the clashes that had overtaken the region. She spent the night in an outhouse before walking to the home of her uncle.

Once there she told him what had happened and he made arrangements for the burial of her family members and offered her refuge in his home while he considered the options. He sent her to university in Senegal. She studied for several years and returned to Congo-Brazzaville. When she returned, she lived with her Uncle Luc. One afternoon, a friend of his who worked for a human rights organization came to visit. They began to talk about politics and Ms. D told him what had happened. The friend asked Ms. D if she would be willing to share her story at a meeting of his organization. She agreed to do it. 

After sharing her story, she was arrested and jailed for several days. She was interrogated, beaten, and sexually assaulted again.  Early one morning, a man entered the room and told Ms. D to follow him. He led her out of the prison through a back door and into a car. He dropped her off near her uncle’s home. Within a month, Ms. D’s uncle had applied for a visa for her to come to the US and she fled. When we met her she was living in New Jersey.

She was referred to the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic’s Refugee Representation Program by Legal Services of New Jersey.

Students: Carse Ramos and Chauniqua Young, Class of 2012

Ms. U (Rwanda)

Ms. U’s parents were killed during the genocide. She and her siblings grew up as orphans under the care of a neighbor. After the formation of the Gacaca courts, Ms. U’s sister, the eldest, was called to testify against the perpetrators of their parents’ murder. The Gacaca model provided little protection to victims who had to stand up and testify against perpetrators publically. Our client’s case is an illustration of the failures of this model of justice. She was threatened by the family members of the perpetrators and then by the perpetrators themselves. When her sister fled Rwanda because of the harm that she experienced, our client became the main witness in the family’s case and the subject of the threats. She was forced to flee to safety in the United States.

She was referred to the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic’s Refugee Representation Program by the Genocide Survivors Network.

Students: Brett Kaminsky and Elyssa Emsellem, Class of 2013