Founded in 1992 by Professors Rhonda Copelon and Celina Romany, the IWHR was one of the first law school human rights clinics in the United States. The Clinic was founded to work on women's human rights in the Inter-American hemisphere. However, it quickly became clear that international and regional work were inextricably intertwined. Over the next 20 years, the Clinic, under Professor Copelon's leadership would play a major role in the transformation of the international movement for gender justice. Today, the Clinic continues to be involved in groundbreaking work on gender-based violence, reproductive rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, economic and social rights and anti-trafficking work.
Recognition of Women's Rights as Human Rights
IWHR played a significant role in the Women's Caucuses that pushed for recognition of women's human rights at foundational international conferences in Vienna, Cairo and Beijing in the l990s. Over the last twenty years, IWHR has worked to integrate a gender perspective into international human rights law and mechanisms, including groundbreaking work in the international criminal tribunals (ICTY, ICTR and ICC), the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the Inter-American human rights system.
From its inception, IWHR has played a major role in the recognition of both official and intimate gender violence as a human rights violation. Professors Copelon and Romany authored groundbreaking articles recognizing domestic violence as a form of torture and critiquing the public/private distinction and played a key role in the drafting of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women. Over the years, IWHR has been instrumental in advocating for legal and structural reforms to recognize and prosecute gender-based violence and has combated gender-based violence in countries around the world.
Since 2010, IWHR has been working with KOFAVIV to challenge the rapes of women in displacement camps. Following a groundbreaking case granting precautionary measures against the Government of Haiti, we have worked on follow up advocacy to ensure full implementation of the decision and reform of Haiti's laws on gender-based violence. More information about IWHR's past work to combat gender-based violence work is available here.
Human Rights in the United States
Since 2001, IWHR has been on the forefront of promoting U.S. compliance with its human rights obligations. The Clinic has filed important human rights briefs in major women's rights cases and actively participated in U.N. reviews of U.S. compliance with its treaty obligations. Since 2102, IWHR has been working to challenge the incarceration of children in adult prisons through advocacy before the U.N. and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Clinic is also representing sex trafficking survivors in post-conviction proceedings to clear their criminal record and advocacy efforts address the criminalization of trafficking victims and to ensure access to an effective remedy for survivors who have been treated as criminals. More information about the IWHR's past work on U.S. human rights issues is available here.
IWHR has long worked in the field of women's health with a focus on a holistic approach to sexual and reproductive rights as human rights. In this regard, IWHR developed theory and proposed language around reproductive rights adopted in the ICPD and Beijing Conference documents. IWHR has challenged national laws that criminal abortion in UN forms and filed amicus briefs opposing forced sterilization and the prosecution of pregnant women. Since 2011, IWHR has worked with the Center for Reproductive rights to challenge criminal abortion restrictions and contraceptive bans in the Philippines. The Clinic is also assisting in a case involving a woman living with HIV who was sterilized without her consent in Chile. More information about IWHR's past work on reproductive rights is available here.
For over a decade, the IWHR has been committed to representing women who have been trafficked into - or within - the United States and coerced to perform work under duress or slave-like conditions in violation of both international human rights law and domestic legal protections. Since 2011, IWHR has worked in partnership with the Legal Aid Society to represent women who have been trafficked into prostitution in state proceedings to vacate criminal convictions for prostitution and related offenses. We are also working to ensure that survivors of sex trafficking have access to effective remedies and are not re-traumatized by criminal prosecution and convictions resulting from coerced sex work. More information about IWHR's past work on trafficking is available here.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Just as women's rights activists worked to integrate a gender perspective into international human rights law and mechanisms, activists today are working to develop and integrate norms recognizing, and protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. IWHR has been on the forefront of these efforts, including a 2011 amicus brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in the case of Karen Atala v. Chile, which successfully argued that sexual orientation and gender identity should be found to be a protected class under the American Convention on Human Rights and international law.
Since 2012, IWHR has been working to develop litigation and in-country documentation on human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity and policy solutions in Haiti, Colombia, and Iraq. More information about IWHR's past work on LGBT issues, including the Atala case is available here.