Reading Group: The Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen

We are excited to announce that we will be holding a reading group Thursday, November 9, from 5-6PM in Furman Hall 604 (6th floor).

Our reading group topic concerns the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We are honored to announce that this discussion will be led by Joanna Naples-Mitchell, a 3L at NYU with experience advocating for human rights in Yemen. The discussion will begin with the showing of the 10-minute FRONTLINE documentary on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Joanna will provide an overview and development of the situation, and will talk about avenues for advocacy.

Joanna recommends the following reading in preparation for the discussion:

From the War on al Qaeda to a Humanitarian Catastrophe: How the U.S. Got Dragged Into Yemen, Foreign Policy, September 11, 2017

Please RSVP to this form for the reading group discussion. If you have any questions, please e-mail either Selene ( or Melina ( Thank you, and we look forward to discussing with you!


NYU Students Work On Behalf of Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders

With the rise of the Arab Spring in 2011, authoritarian governments around the world responded by rolling-back civic space; in Azerbaijan, a country situated at the crossroads of Eurasia, the government has continued to silence independent voices instead of addressing the legitimate concerns of peaceful protesters and dissidents. Now, the government in Baku has ensnared the very human rights defenders and lawyers who seek to protect the rights of others.


In July and August 2014, the Azerbaijani government arrested some of the country’s most prominent human rights defenders, including the renowned human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev and activists Rasul Jafarov and Leyla Yunus. They are now being held in pretrial detention on a barrage of criminal charges from tax evasion to treason. As the head of the Legal Education Society, a human rights organization that provides legal support to NGOs and low-income individuals, Intigam Aliyev has submitted more than 200 applications to the European Court of Human Rights in cases of election rigging, abuses of free speech, and fair trial violations.

The Court has begun addressing some of the complaints submitted by him, and he recently made a speech at the at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe openly criticizing the Azerbaijani authorities for human rights abuses and cracking down on independent NGOs. It was following these activities that Intigam was arrested on August 8th on charges of tax evasion, illegal business activities, and abuse of official power—crimes he denies ever committing. Aliyev was then sent to pre-trial detention. If the court finds Aliyev guilty of the charges, he faces up to seven years in prison.

This treatment of the human rights defenders violates a number of international treaties to which Azerbaijan is a party, as well as UN General Assembly resolutions which affirm the right of human rights defenders to undertake their important work unhindered. Azerbaijan is party to three of the major international human rights treaties: the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Convention Against Torture (CAT). All three treaties ban the use of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and the ECHR and ICCPR stipulate the right to a fair and public trial by an impartial tribunal.

The ECHR also prohibits the use of arbitrary detention, stating that a person may not be deprived of his liberty except through the reasons and procedures provided by established law. The ECHR authorizes pretrial detention of a suspect only on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offense, to prevent an offense, or to prevent escape after having committed an offense. Domestic Azerbaijani law complements this prohibition, providing strict guidelines for when a pretrial detention may be imposed, and requiring the consideration of less restrictive measures such as house arrest or bail.

Complementing theses international treaties, the UN General Assembly passed a Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. The General Assembly reiterated its concerns and stances as stated in the Declaration in at least five subsequent resolutions, the most recent of which was in 2013. The Declaration was adopted by consensus in the General Assembly and therefore represents a strong commitment by States to its implementation. States are increasingly considering adopting the Declaration as a binding national legislation. The Declaration addresses the protections accorded to human rights defenders (including to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance and to form associations and NGOs), and the duties of states. Such duties include ensuring the protection of everyone against violence, threats, retaliation, adverse criminality, pressure, or other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration; promoting and facilitating the teaching of human rights; and providing an effective remedy for persons who claim to have been victims of a human rights violations.

It is not fully known the scope of political imprisonment in Azerbaijan. The most recent list compiled by local activists contains 98 individual cases. The number of recent detainees, the categorical variety of individuals, and the severity of the charges and length of prison terms are alarming. The trend began around the time of the Arab Spring movements in 2011 and continued through Baku’s hosting of the 2012 Eurovision contest, the presidential elections of 2013, and Azerbaijan’s leadership of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers this year. At each step, the Azerbaijani government has had the opportunity to embrace openness and its obligations under international law – concepts to which it claims to aspire and adhere. Instead, the government of President Ilham Aliyev has ushered in legislation aimed at closing down civil society in the country; harassed journalists, activists, and opposition leaders; and imprisoned those that call attention to this betrayal of its obligations and responsibilities.

We urge lawyers in all nations who enjoy freedom of expression to speak out against such violations. We cannot allow these prisoners of conscience to struggle alone. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders addresses the responsibilities of not just governments, but also of us, of everyone: our duty to promote human rights and to safeguard democracy and its institutions. We must let the Azerbaijani government know that the illegal detention of prisoners of conscience is unacceptable.


Asma Peracha, Kexin Zheng, and Janelle Pelli are law students at New York University and members of Law Students for Human Rights. They have partnered with the legal advocacy organization Freedom Now to raise awareness about the imprisonment of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. Cross-posted from

Immunity vs. Impunity? International Organizations and Human Rights

“Absolute immunity” is a phrase typically favored by ex-dictators and other human rights abusers. Yet later this week, the United Nations’ agents in the State Dept. will argue before a Manhattan federal judge that the UN has absolute immunity from legal process[1].

The case concerns the fact that the UN introduced cholera to Haiti in 2010. The dispute isn’t over causation – the scientific community concurs that the UN is to blame. The issue is whether the UN is immune from service and lawsuit for any harms caused in any country, no matter how grotesque.

Most people don’t realize yet, but this case will matter to everyone interested in international humanitarian or inter-governmental work. While the UN Charter provides the basis for immunity in this case, the question lurking in the background is this: will the world opt for an international equivalent of a “Good Samaritan” law that protects those doing “good work” from liability for any harms committed abroad while working for an international organization? Legal scholars are already framing the case in those terms.

Yet there are signs of an emerging trend toward accountability for international organizations. Most notably, the UN Mission in Congo was pushed to adopt heightened standards for civilian protection in peacekeeping. Eventually, the UN adopted due diligence standards to ensure the UN’s Congo forces weren’t underwriting human rights abuses. But as of now, these accountability mechanisms are exclusively internal – which, as Haiti painfully illustrates, can be woefully inadequate.

The Haiti cholera case stands to be a milestone in the development of this area of international law.

That’s why we hope you’ll join us for an event with the legal team bringing the lawsuit on behalf of Haitian families, and the Al Jazeera filmmakers who documented the case. See the flyer below for more details, and contact Nathan Yaffe (ndy207 [at] nyu [dot] edu) with any questions.

Haiti in the Time of Cholera Poster


[1] The exception to this is if they “expressly waive” their right to immunity, which has never happened in the UN’s 69-year history.

LSHR Study Break 4/22 6-8pm in Golding!

Tired of studying? Come join the Law Students for Human Rights for cookies, brownies, chips, and other junk food! What better way to take a break from the library and forget about finals than to indulge in delicious treats?? And for those of you who ACTUALLY want to forget, adult beverages will be on hand as well!

Come eat, drink, and talk about…. whatever you want! There is no agenda, just food and good company!

Welcome to our new Exec Board members!

Thank you to everyone who applied for LSHR Exec Board positions! We were thrilled by the amount of interest and dedication, and can’t wait for another great year.

Congratulations to the new officers for 2014-2015:

Chair: Rita Astoor
Vice Chair/Treasurer: Patti Shnell
Advocacy Co-Chairs: Lizzie Davis and Shane Meckler
Education/CHRGJ Chair: Nina Sheth
Outreach Chair: Allie Wilson
Career Development Chair: Amy Zajac
Social Chair: Ariela Pier


If any of you have been interested in becoming more involved in LSHR, take this opportunity to apply for one of the exec board positions! There are several to choose from, depending on your interests, and you’ll be working with some great people who share your passion and dedication.

Applications can be found under the 2013-2014 Applications tab (not sure how to change the title yet). Due by Wednesday, March 26th at midnight. There are position descriptions on the application form. If you have any questions, feel free to email Amanda ( If you have any questions specific to positions, our website has a list of all the current officers (

International Women’s Day Film Screening

Location: VH 204
Date: March 5, 2014
Time: 4:30 pm – 6 pm
Join Law Women and Law Students for Human Rights for a film screening in honor of International Women’s Day. We will be showing two short films: Pray the Devil Back to Hell (winner of the 2008 Best Documentary Award at the Tribeca Film Festival) and Through Her Eyes (a powerful documentary co-produced by Rebecca Gerome, a current NYU Law student). Dinner and drinks will be served.
Our first short film, “Through Her Eyes,” is a documentary about a woman’s inspiring story of strength and survival. Through scenes of her daily life in Amman, Jordan, Mervat shares how she rebuilt her life and regained her sense of dignity after surviving domestic violence and a crime “in the name of honor” which left her disabled. (17 mins) 
“Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” the second film, is the astonishing story of the Liberian women who took on the warlords and regime of dictator Charles Taylor in the midst of a brutal civil war, and won a once unimaginable peace for their shattered country in 2003. Featuring Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee. (54 mins)  
International Women’s Day is held on March 8 every year and is a day to honor women’s achievements across political, economic, social, and cultural spectrums. 

The Vagina Monologues

February 12th, 13th, and 14th at 8pm in Tishman Auditorium.
Come out to see NYU Graduate Women perform Eve Ensler’s play to join the global effort to stop violence against women and girls! It is a great show: it’s about vaginas, people with vaginas, people who love vaginas, and people who love people with vaginas. It is also honest, uncomfortable and hilarious. Tickets will be available for $10 in advance in Golding starting tomorrow. Tickets will also be available for $15 at the door. Join us for some snacks and drinks before the show in Kushner at 7pm and after the show on Wednesday at Malt House and Thursday’s SBA/VM Bar Review at Village Pourhouse.

The Human Rights Defenders Series Presents: Understanding Haiti Today: Human Rights, the Resource Curse, and the Plunder of Poverty: A Talk with Nixon Boumba of the Haiti Mining Justice Initiative.

Friday, February 7, 12:30-2:00pm, WILF Hall, 5th Floor Conference Room

CHRGJ and LSHR’s Human Rights Defenders Series is proud to present a close colleague and partner of the Global Justice Clinic, Nixon Boumba, a Haitian human rights activist and member of the Kolektif Jistis Min nan Ayiti (Haiti Mining Justice Collective). Boumba has been working in mining-affected areas of Haiti to ensure that local people understand their rights in regard to the extractives industry. Besides his work on mining, Boumba is also a supporter of economic and cultural rights in Haiti, a staunch advocate on behalf of all marginalized and oppressed populations in Haiti, and a leading figure calling for vigilance and justice in Haiti’s current development climate, which is marked by notoriously low wages and controversial efforts to create industrial and tourist zones.

In his talk, Boumba will discuss the challenges inherent to being a human rights defender in a country where human rights advocates are increasingly being persecuted for their work. He will also discuss the specific tools and tactics available to advocates hoping to minimize the potential harms of mining on local communities.