Sunday, August 23, 2015

ABA International Human Rights Committee Wins Three Awards, R&R Adopted at 2015 Annual Conference

Congratulations to the entire International Human Rights Committee, which won the ABA Outstanding Committee Award. This award is given to one committee for demonstrating excellence in its commitment to its mandate and showing productivity and advancing knowledge and expertise of bar members. Great job everyone!

Congratulations to Stephanie Williams and Joseph Jacob, 2014-2015 IHRC Vice Chairs of Communication and Social Media, for winning the 2015 Best Social Media and Website Award! It is worth noting that Stephanie and Jacob received the same award last year. It is well-deserved and we appreciate all of the hard work.

Congratulations to Greg McKenzie, who was recently appointed Co-Chair of the IHRC, for winning the 2015 Best Committee Program Award. Mr. McKenzie's program at the Fall 2014 Buenos Aires Conference not only received high praise but also made the Buenos Aires Herald newspaper. Kudos Greg, you did a stellar job!

But wait, there's more good news! The ABA House of Delegates voted to adopt the International Human Rights Committee's Election Monitoring R&R. The committee's R&R is now the official position of the entire American Bar Association. The Election Monitoring R&R recommends the monitoring the of U.S. election per our OSCE participation. IHRC Vice Chair Catherine ("Cathy") Vernon lead the drafting team, but credit is due to all the IHRC members who dedicated their precious time, energy and skills to make this happen!

These awards above were present on behalf of the committees at the 2015 ABA Annual Meeting, held July 30- August 4, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

We'd like to thank the ABA Section of International Law for recognizing our committee and its dedicated members.

Additionally, we'd like to extend a special thanks to you - our fans and supporters, for promoting our committee and participating in programs, teleconference, special projects and events. We couldn't do anything without you!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nepal Earthquake 2015: How You Can Help

Nepal on Sunday was left reeling in shock a day after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake caused widespread destruction across the Himalayan nation and claimed over 3,617 thus far. More than 6,500 people have been injured, according to the National Emergency Operation Centre. Several climbers were killed when the earthquake caused a massive avalanche around Mount Everest. More than 200 climbers have been rescued. 

The earthquake reduced whole neighborhoods to rubble and sent deadly tremors throughout the region, including in Pakistan, India, Tibet and Bangladesh. Rescuers were unable to reach remote Nepali villages near the quake's epicenter, and aid agencies warned the full extent of death and destruction was just beginning to emerge. As strong aftershocks shook Nepal for a second day, the country's hospitals were overflowing with the dead and wounded. Search teams continued to scour the wreckage for survivors, and hundreds of victims were laid to rest in traditional cremation ceremonies. Grieving relatives flooded the famed Hindu Pashupatinath Temple on the outskirts of the capital Kathmandu to take part in mass funerals.

Such a powerful quake would result in destruction anywhere, but in a nation as poverty-stricken as Nepal, its citizens are particularly vulnerable. Aid groups worldwide have mobilized to help. Click here to look at humanitarian efforts underway and links that allow you to donate online.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

ISLP Teams with Avaaz and Namati to Support Communities Confronting Large-Scale Natural Resource Development

November 4, 2013 – Areng Valley (Koh Kong). A monk during a tree-blessing ceremony in a forest nearby Pra Lay Village. Monks tie orange sashes around trees to raise awareness of the environmental destruction the construction will cause to the Areng Valley. © Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom.

By Heather Eisenlord, ISLP 

Rising global demand for natural resources has made the protection of community lands an urgent priority. As we celebrate our shared planet this Earth Day, we think of the millions who live in countries with limited or no legal defenses to stop their lands and environment from being threatened or damaged by resource exploitation—and consider how lawyers are uniquely positioned to help. 

Around the world, communities are being displaced and denied access to their lands and natural resources on an industrial scale. Consider the villagers of Koh Kong province, Cambodia, where thousands of people have been—and continue to be—forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands to make way for large-scale industrial sugar plantations. Villagers protested, sent formal complaints, and attempted to negotiate with company and government officials, all without success. Two local NGOs contacted the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP), whose volunteer lawyers helped them formulate a transnational legal strategy to move their case beyond the jurisdiction of Cambodia’s corrupt and ineffective judicial system. 

But these types of injustices are not inevitable. In Kenya’s Kerio Valley, ISLP has assembled a team of legal experts to help residents achieve positive impacts and benefits from anticipated oil exploration and development on their lands. The team is working closely with local advocates and community representatives to inform them of their rights, gauge expectations, impart valuable negotiation skills, and formulate strategies for continuing engagement with the oil company. These and similar efforts demonstrate that communities, with the right legal support, can make their voices heard. 

There are thousands of communities around the world who could benefit from expert legal support to alleviate the very significant disparities of power that often accompany resource exploitation. With this support, they can also gain timely access to information about development projects that have real and sometimes devastating impacts on their lands and livelihoods. A new initiative, launching today, can help. 

Lawyers for Resource Justice (LRJ), a new collaboration between Namati, Avaaz, and ISLP, connects grassroots organizations with volunteer international lawyers to deliver high-level legal support directly to affected communities. LRJ will help communities prevent or remedy damage from large-scale resource development projects by empowering vulnerable communities to use the law to protect their interests and to amplify their voices internationally. 

Every LRJ project comes from and fully involves local partners, including local lawyers, who provide critical guidance on domestic legal issues. We bolster this expertise with foreign and international lawyers from a range of legal fields who can bring creative solutions and lend cross-jurisdictional legal firepower to efforts to protect community rights, lands, and the environment. Through this approach, we intend to highlight the economic and social value generated when communities gain a seat at the table with governments and corporate interests. Cases like the ones described on our website demonstrate how LRJ can provide communities and local advocates with the legal tools they need to effectively participate in decisions that impact local development and to hold governments and investors accountable if they fail to protect and respect human rights. 

LRJ is now accepting requests for legal assistance at There is no application deadline, but we cannot guarantee support to all applicants. We encourage applications from groups working preventatively on proposed or anticipated resource developments because this allows for a wider range of possible strategies. Lawyers for Resource Justice believes that collaboration between transnational and local experts can yield vital supports for communities to prevent or remedy damages from natural resource projects and foster a true rights-based approach to development. Please support us by sharing this initiative widely. 

Heather Eisenlord is Director of ISLP’s Human Rights Program.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Washington Post: Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted

On a rainy night five years ago, Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney set off in pursuit of a suspected drunk driver, chasing his black Mazda Miata down rural Arkansas roads at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. When the sports car finally came to rest in a ditch, Brackney opened fire at the rear window and repeatedly struck the driver, 41-year-old James Ahern, in the back. The gunshots killed Ahern.

Prosecutors charged Brackney with felony manslaughter. But he eventually entered a plea to a lesser charge and could ultimately be left with no criminal record.

Now, he serves as the police chief in a small community 20 miles from the scene of the shooting.

Brackney is among 54 officers charged over the past decade for fatally shooting someone while on duty, according to an analysis by The Washington Post and researchers at Bowling Green State University. 

This analysis, based on a wide range of public records and interviews with law enforcement, judicial and other legal experts, sought to identify for the first time every officer who faced charges­ for such shootings since 2005. These represent a small fraction of the thousands of fatal police shootings that have occurred across the country in that time.

In an overwhelming majority of the cases where an officer was charged, the person killed was unarmed. But it usually took more than that.

When prosecutors pressed charges, The Post analysis found, there were typically other factors that made the case exceptional, including: a victim shot in the back, a video recording of the incident, incriminating testimony from other officers or allegations of a coverup.

Forty-three cases involved at least one of these four factors. Nineteen cases involved at least two.

In the most recent incident, officials in North Charleston, S.C., filed a murder charge Tuesday against a white police officer, Michael T. Slager, for gunning down an apparently unarmed black man. A video recording showed Slager repeatedly shooting the man in the back as he was running away.

Excerpt, read Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted 

Ex-Blackwater Security Contractors Sentenced to Long Prison Terms

One by one, four former Blackwater security contractors wearing blue jumpsuits and leg irons stood before a federal judge on Monday and spoke publicly for the first time since a deadly 2007 shooting in Iraq.

The men had been among several private American security guards who fired into Baghdad’s crowded Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007, and last October they were convicted of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in what prosecutors called a wartime atrocity. Yet on Monday, as they awaited sentences that they knew would send them to prison for most if not all of their lives, they defiantly asserted their innocence.

The judge, Royce C. Lamberth, strongly disagreed, sentencing Mr. Slatten to life in prison and handing 30-year sentences to the three others. A fifth former guard, Jeremy P. Ridgeway of California, had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and testified against his former colleagues. He has not been sentenced but testified that he hoped to avoid any prison time.

The ruling ended a long investigation into the Nisour Square shooting, a signature, gruesome moment in the Iraq war that highlighted America’s reliance on private contractors to maintain security in combat zones.

No such company was more powerful than Blackwater, which won more than $1 billion in government contracts. Its employees, most of them military veterans, protected American diplomats overseas and became enmeshed in the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine counterterrorism operations. Its founder, Erik Prince, was a major donor to the Republican Party.

In Iraq, Blackwater was perceived as so powerful that its employees could kill anyone and get away with it, said Mohammed Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was killed in Nisour Square.

“Blackwater had power like Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Kinani said in a long, emotional appeal to the judge on Monday. “The power comes from the United States.” He added later: “Today we see who will win. The law? Or Blackwater?”

Excerpt, read more here Ex-Blackwater Guards Given Long Terms for Killing Iraqis