Below are descriptions of our current projects. For information on past projects, please explore the navigation to the left.
Militants Sweep Towards Baghdad: Women's Rights Groups Mobilize
June 16, 2014
In the past 72 hours, militants have seized control of cities across northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country's second largest city. Led by the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the insurgents' rapid advance is raising fears of an all-out civil war as they move south towards Baghdad. The approach of this armed offensive is escalating sectarian tensions and the threat of violence even in areas beyond insurgents' control.
The International Women's Human Rights (IWHR) Clinic at CUNY Law School and MADRE, an International women's human rights organization are mobilizing an emergency response with the Iraqi women's rights organization located in Baghdad, the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) to protect people at severe risk as the threat of sectarian violence grows.
Students in the IWHR Clinic at CUNY Law School have been working with OWFI and MADRE to promote the rights, protection and physical security of marginalized and at-risk Iraqis and to prevent these groups from experiencing violence and protect those who are threatened. Clinical Law Professor Lisa Davis said, "Thousands of Iraqis are at risk of violence, especially women and those perceived to be contrary to traditional mores." Yanar Mohammed, President of OWFI said, "Armed militias are everywhere in the streets of Baghdad." She reported that, in some neighborhoods, sectarian tensions are already so high that people are afraid to leave their homes even to buy food. Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director added, "In a climate of rising sectarian violence, those championing secularism and human rights are particular targets."
OWFI has identified an urgent need to relocate their members, located in neighborhoods with deep sectarian divisions. OWFI staff and supporters are also at risk because of their vocal support for secularism and women's rights. IWHR Clinic, MADRE and OWFI are partnering to provide emergency relocation, food and shelter to marginalized Iraqis. In particular, the organizations are working to relocate those at risk into a neighboring city less marked by sectarian division.
Seeking Accountability for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Against Syrian Women
As violence in Syria has escalated, accounts of sexual and gender-based violence continue to grow, yet these crimes go largely undocumented as survivors are deterred from seeking medical attention or psychosocial support by cultural shame and lack of access. Our project integrates advocacy and capacity building, with documentation and reporting of women’s human rights violations in order to bring accountability and redress for these crimes in transitional justice processes as well as increase participation of Syrian women leaders with the international venues charged with upholding human rights and building peace.
Redress for Colombian Child Soldiers
The IWHR Clinic works to address human rights violations committed against demobilized child soldiers in Colombia, specifically looking at the intersection of gender and disabilities. Thousands of children have been recruited as soldiers in Colombia's armed conflict. In a war that pits the government and right-wing paramilitary groups against anti-government guerillas, all sides exploit children to advance their combat goals. Many are subjected to sexual violence and many suffer from either cognitive/social or physical disabilities. Girl members of illegal armed groups are particularly vulnerable to grave sexual violence. Clinic students engage in litigation through both UN and regional human rights mechanisms. Students work directly with clients to develop testimony; conduct in-country fact-finding investigations on human rights abuses; provide know-your-rights trainings, and; engage with UN Human Rights Experts.
Sexual Violence and LGBT Discrimination in Haiti
Post-earthquake violence against women in Haiti is widespread, especially for those living in displacement camps or poor neighborhoods. Entrenched social norms both perpetuate and justify discrimination and violence against women and deprive women of a multitude of legal rights including access to justice in the courts. Violence against LGBT community members has also been a pervasive problem in Haiti. Homosexuality remains a taboo, and as a result, the lives of many LGBTI individuals in Haiti are characterized by secrecy, isolation, discrimination, and violence. Clinic students work on addressing human rights violations committed against Haitian women and girls who are victims of sexual violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Students work directly with clients; conduct a "know your rights" training for Haitian grassroots women's groups; conduct in-country fact-finding investigations on human rights abuses; develop testimony, and; engage with those bodies and other UN Human Rights Experts, as well as relevant international and local NGOs working on this issue.
Promoting the Rights, Protection, and Physical Security of Marginalized and At-Risk Iraqis
The IWHR Clinic works to promote the rights, protection and physical security of marginalized and at-risk Iraqis and to prevent these groups from experiencing violence and protect those who are threatened. Thousands of Iraqis today are at risk of violence as a result of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or nonconformist social behavior. They are deprived of their human rights, ostracized, and marginalized, and hundreds have even been brutally murdered in the past three years. With regard to honor crimes, women, men, and members of the LGBT community alike remain at serious risk of violence do to conduct perceived to be contrary to traditional mores. Clinic students engage in litigation through both UN human rights mechanisms; collaborate with UN Human Rights Experts; develop and submit expert testimony; train partner groups on how to best identify and document cases of marginalized and at-risk Iraqis, and; conduct investigations on Iraqi gender human rights abuses.
Reproductive Rights in Texas, Asia and Latin America
This project focuses on reproductive rights issues in the United States, South Asia and Latin America. Students work with the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), an international human rights organization that works to protect reproductive rights and promote access to reproductive health services. In 2012-14, students are working to address the “perfect storm” of restrictive state and federal laws that have led to profound barriers for women seeking reproductive health care in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The Valley is one of the poorest regions in the U.S. and home to a large population of immigrants and Latinos. For more information about the women of the Rio Grande Valley see http://www.nuestrotexas.org/
Internationally, we are involved in research and advocacy to stop forced marriage in South Asia and litigation pending before the Inter-American Commission brought on behalf of a woman in Chile who was forcibly sterilized because she is HIV positive. In 2013, students drafted a brief for the Commission on international standards prohibiting forced sterilization. In past years, we have worked to reform laws criminalizing abortion and access to contraceptives in the Philippines.
Challenging the Incarceration of Youth in Adult Prisons in the United States
This project works to end the incarceration of children in adult prisons in the United States. Students are working with prisoners' rights attorney Deb LaBelle, the Campaign for Youth Justice and state activists in advocacy before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee to challenge state laws that allow children as young as 14 to be incarcerated in adult prisons. In 2013-14, students drafted submissions to international bodies, organized a visit to the US by an IACHR human rights expert and will be lobbying the UN in Geneva in March 2014 as part of the review of US compliance with its human rights obligations. In 2012-13, students worked to develop the facts around the incarceration of youth in Michigan through surveys, correspondence and interviews with incarcerated youth and organized a hearing before the Inter-American Commission in March 2013. http://www1.cuny.edu/mu/law/2013/03/14/iwhr-presents-at-hearing-on-incarceration-of-youth-in-adult-prisons/
Ending Collateral Consequences of Sex Trafficking
This project addresses the collateral consequences of the criminal prosecution of survivors of sex trafficking in the United States. Students work with the Legal Aid Society's Trafficking Victims Legal Defense and Advocacy Project (TVLDAP) to represent individuals seeking post-conviction relief for prostitution-related convictions. Students are also involved in international advocacy before the U.N. and law reform efforts in the U.S. to challenge the criminalization of trafficked persons in the first place, and to ensure that when they have been treated as criminals, trafficking survivors have access to effective remedies to redress the harms of criminalization.
Individual client representation involves interviewing clients, legal research, drafting legal briefs and affidavits. The advocacy work involves researching both international and U.S. laws, interviewing, report drafting, and engaging with U.N. human rights experts.