The International Human Rights Clinic has long engaged students in sophisticated and multi-disciplinary advocacy to advance the basic human rights and dignity of individuals and communities globally. While this clinic is currently inactive as we seek to appoint its next Director, the Law School remains committed to supporting this clinic’s important work and mission in the future. When in operation, this clinic’s students divide their time between weekly seminars—covering lawyering skills and principles of international law—and ongoing clinical advocacy projects. Students are thus exposed to a range of tools and strategies to promote respect for rights, including factual documentation and reports describing rights abuses; litigation before national, regional, and international institutions; community empowerment strategies; survivor interviews; regional outreach campaigns; and other forms of non-traditional human rights-centered advocacy.
Current Human Rights Opportunities
While the International Human Rights Clinic is not currently operational, Stanford Law School still offers Policy Labs rooted in International Human Rights work. The New International Justice Mechanisms Lab is led by Professor Beth Van Schaack, Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law School and a faculty affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Human Rights & International Justice.
International Human Rights Clinic Model
Students in the clinic have typically divided their time between weekly seminar sessions and clinical projects. During an active quarter, students and faculty have explored topics of human rights, international law, and alternative advocacy campaigns during their seminar. Several experts in the field—from on campus and beyond—have also offered workshops on cutting edge developments in human rights. Through this engagement, student have developed a broad range of lawyering and advocacy skills, including open source research, interviewing, litigation support, institution and capacity building, transitional justice and conflict resolution, utilizing narrative story telling for social change, monitoring and reporting, community empowerment strategies, film-making, and advocacy strategy.
“I am excited to be working on actual cases that will have a tangible, positive impact on the lives of people who might experience difficulty advocating for themselves. Already, IHR&CRC is strengthening my research and writing skills, increasing my familiarity with international and regional dispute mechanisms, introducing me to new and creative ways to advocate for clients outside of the court system, and providing fascinating new insights into problems occurring around the world and how they might be resolved.”
Tara Ohrtman, 2021
The Mills Legal Clinic’s unique full-time model allows students to commit to a long-term project and gain substantive field experience around the world. Because students attend no other classes while they are enrolled in the clinic, they have previously travelled to sites where human rights are in jeopardy and to post-conflict contexts. In the Spring 2019 Clinic, faculty and students are researching and working on human rights issues in the United States, El Salvador, the Middle East, Mexico, China, Haiti, Myanmar, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Thailand, among others.
In addition to working on fact gathering and litigation, students typically plan and carry out advocacy projects of national and international scope. In the past, clinical students have crafted a range of advocacy material, including blog posts, op-eds and short documentaries. They will also monitor trials in which the courts are being used as tools of oppression or where human rights are at issue.
“As aspiring international human rights lawyers, we are quickly learning the importance of creativity in this line of work. In the IHR&CRC, we get exposure to things law school doesn’t teach us about, like how to prevent re-traumatization of clients we interview, conduct open source research and effectively develop a communications strategy that might push our litigation and advocacy forward and create systemic change.”
Inesha Premaratne, 2021
“I came to SLS in large part because of the full-time clinic model. The value of getting to throw yourself into your projects full-time without any competing class commitments cannot be overstated. This is especially true in the international human rights context, as we are able to travel as needed for fact-finding, client meetings, and advocacy. I view this clinical experience as getting to try out my dream job before even graduating from law school, while also building strong relationships with incredible people and organizations in the human rights field.”
– Katelyn Masket, 2021
Updates from Prior Students
Open Letter to the President on Behalf of the Victims of Amnesty
IHR&CRC students helped pen a letter to the President of El Salvador Calling on him to stop a new amnesty bill that would ensure impunity for perpetrators of torture.
Dear President Bukele,
My name is Neris Amanda Gonzalez. I was eight months pregnant in December of 1979 when I was abducted, detained, tortured, and raped by members of the Salvadoran National Guard. I lost my baby boy soon thereafter. This December will mark the 40th year since that fateful day when I was abducted. And still, the perpetrators responsible for my torture have not been brought to justice in El Salvador. For many years, they were protected by a blanket amnesty that was determined to be in violation of El Salvador’s human rights obligations by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and only recently declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Chamber of our Supreme Court. And yet, just as justice appears possible, our legislature is threatening to reinstate the amnesty again. I write to beg you to do what you can to stop this new amnesty bill from being enacted.
For years after my abduction, I suffered tremendously and continued to fight for justice. My efforts were thwarted again and again. The greatest impediment was the amnesty law, enacted in March of 1993 by former President Alfredo Cristiani and the Salvadoran legislature, which prevented any civil or criminal redress in El Salvador against individuals like those who had tortured me. In 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found this amnesty law to be incompatible with El Salvador’s international obligations, but to no avail. The law stayed on the books and the men who oversaw my torture and rape continued to enjoy impunity.
With my efforts to seek healing, reconciliation, and justice in my home country’s court’s system continuously thwarted, I filed suit along with two other victims, Juan Romagoza Arce and Carlos Mauricio, in May of 1999 in a United States court against former Defense Minister General José Guillermo García and the former Director General of the Salvadoran National Guard, General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova. Both men held leadership positions when I was abducted that December.
A federal jury, made up of ordinary United States citizens, decided the case in our favor and awarded us reparations. Unfortunately, because the defendants had few assets within reach, we have not received the compensation we were awarded. However, on the strength of this verdict, the U.S. government subsequently deported the two former generals to El Salvador, where they now walk freely among us.
In 2016, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador ruled that the amnesty provisions that had protected the former generals for all these years are unconstitutional. For survivors like me, that ruling – and your public support, President Bukele, of that ruling – gave great hope. I commissioned my lawyers to provide to the prosecutor’s office copies of the judgement that had been rendered by the U.S. court and all of the evidence and testimony that had been collected on my behalf.
However, the new amnesty law working its way through the legislature is threatening justice once again. Instead of resourcing our country’s prosecutors to seek justice on behalf of survivors, this law threatens to impede our access to justice altogether – once again.
I write with one voice on behalf of many: please stop this law from being enacted. Justice for victims like me is integral to helping our country move forward from the most painful, humiliating, and oppressive periods of our past.
Neris Amanda Gonzalez
(featured Imagine: IHR&CRC Student Chris Bello & Benjamín Cuéllar in front of “La Fiscalia”)
Investigating Fair Trial Violations
Edward Crouse (’21) in consultation with the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights reviewed indictments, arrests, and criminal trials in Saudi Arabia involving moderate clerics to determine whether the proceedings have been brought to suppress conduct protected by international human rights law, such as the right to free expression and assembly. He produced an advocacy piece identifying acute defects in the indictment and trial processes from a fair trial perspective and called for the release of some prisoners, particularly given the risk that the individuals would be subject to the death penalty.
Israeli Supreme Court denies Omar Shakir’s appeal, paving the way for Stanford alum’s deportation
On November 5, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled its government could expel the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Israel and Palestine Director, Omar Shakir, under the nation’s anti-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) legislation. The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel upholds the District Court of Jerusalem’s April opinion and is likely to end legal proceedings that have drawn out for more than a year. Should Israel’s caretaker government decide to enforce the deportation order, Shakir would have until November 25 to leave the country.
Goods produced in Israeli settlements are not “Made in Israel,” says European Court of Justice
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled today France properly applied European Union (EU) law by requiring exporters of goods made in Israeli settlements to label their products accordingly. Israel is present in the territories it has held since 1967 as an occupying power under international humanitarian law. Therefore, the court reasoned, labeling products from those areas as “Made in Israel” would mislead consumers as to (a) the goods’ place of origin, and/or (b) Israel’s status as an occupying power, and not a sovereign entity, in those territories.
Professor Van Schaack Testifies Before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Pursuing Accountability for Atrocities
Professor Van Schaack Testifies Before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Pursuing Accountability for Atrocities
“I would like to thank you and the Members of this Commission for including me in this critically important hearing and for giving me the opportunity to suggest several concrete and discrete proposals that would strengthen the United States’ ability to prosecute perpetrators of atrocities found on U.S. territory and permit the more effective use of our immigration laws and criminal fraud penalties to hold accountable perpetrators of mass atrocities. Together, these proposals would also prevent the United States from serving as a safe haven for human rights abusers.”
The Not So Far Off Establishment of A Regional Human Rights Mechanism in Asia?
Hosted by the Chang Fo-Chuan Center for the Study of Human Rights at Soochow University, this workshop consisted of approximately 40 academics, journalists, civil society organizers, and practitioners working the field of human rights throughout Asia. Each panel began with introductions on the work surrounding specific human rights issues in specific countries and expanded into engaging conversations on similar issues and response efforts in other parts of Asia.
Alumni Spotlight: Human Rights Advocates
The International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic (IHR&CRC) is just one of the many SLS programs that offer students insights into the global practice of law. IHR&CR clinical students are immersed in public international law, international human rights, and transitional justice. They have the opportunity to work in various regions, with diverse partners, and across jurisdictions. They also develop a range of human rights skills, including litigation, advocacy, story-telling, and media work. Many MLC and SLS alumni now work within fields of international law and human rights. Although they have SLS in common, their experiences and their career trajectories are unique. This “Alumni Spotlight: Human Rights Advocates” is an opportunity to hear about their dynamic experiences from the alumni themselves.
IHRC Features and Mentions
These projects were pursued under the leadership of James (Jim) Cavallaro, Ruhan Nagra, and others. The legacy of these projects is the cornerstone on which this clinic is based.