March 2, 2020

Maria Ressa, "Journalism and Human Rights: Fighting Back Against Disinformation"

Internationally-recognized journalist Maria Ressa discussed her work fighting disinformation and attempts to silence the free press in the Philippines. Ressa, who is CNN’s former bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta and the 2018 Time Magazine Person of the Year, described the ways in which disinformation can be profoundly detrimental to journalism, democracy, and human rights. Ressa has been a journalist in Southeast Asia for more than three decades and in 2012 cofounded Rappler Media, which is now one of the leading online news organizations in the Philippines. She characterized disinformation as poisonous in the information ecosystem, “pumping lies like viruses,” and damaging people’s view of the world and their “belief in institutions.”

February 27, 2020

Peter Jan Honigsberg, "Bearing Witness to Guántanamo"Peter Jan Honigsberg

Peter Jan Honigsberg led a Human Rights Workshop on his efforts to gather historical accounts of Guantánamo Bay from the detention camp’s detainees and their family members, guards and interrogators, and other personnel. Honigsberg, a Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco and the founder and director of Witness to Guantánamo, has spent the past decade crafting a historical documentary based on the testimony of actors at Guantánamo in addition to his numerous publications on the subject of the detention camp, the “War on Terror,” national security, and human rights. “Humanity is everywhere, but some people do not want to see it in others,” he said. “This historical documentation provided me with a deeper understanding on how we are all bound together in our humanity.”

February 6, 2020

Marbre Stahly-Butts, "Radical Lawyering for Liberation"Marbre Stahly-Butts

Marbre Stahly-Butts ’13 discussed her work with Law For Black Lives, an organization focused on building a “responsive legal infrastructure” for movements including Black Lives Matter to “advance and actualize radical policy.” As the Executive Director of Law for Black Lives, Stahly-Butts also spoke about movement lawyering and its politics, theories of social change, and radical reform and reparations. According to Stahly-Butts, a movement lawyer is one who “supports and advances social movements,” helps legitimize “collective power,” and aids in the “transformation of the systems that created these [oppressive] conditions.” Movement lawyers, Stahly-Butts said, recognize that the “law is one of many tools [to drive change], but not always the best one” and they “relinquish their privilege in order to stand up for justice.”

January 17, 2020

David Marshall, "Accountability and Injustice: The ISIL Trials in Iraq"David Marshall

At the Human Rights Workshop, David Marshall, a Visiting Fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights, discussed the limitations of efforts by the United Nations and domestic Iraqi courts to investigate and prosecute ISIL members and supporters. Marshall, who is also the Justice Advisor in the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program at Global Affairs Canada, described the barriers faced by the international community to effectively prosecute those who had committed atrocities, and the disconnect between the international effort and the Iraqi legal framework. Marshall expressed hope the lessons from the creation of the U.N. investigative team for Iraq will be taken on board in any future establishment of quasi-prosecutorial international entities.

November 14, 2019

Ginger Thompson, "Revealing the True Costs of 'Zero Tolerance' at the U.S. Border"

Human Rights Workshop

ProPublica Senior Reporter Ginger Thompson spoke about her investigative journalism at the U.S.-Mexico border, where she uncovered evidence of the Trump administration's family separation policy that sparked a massive public outcry and forced the administration to retreat from the practice. Thompson’s coverage of the border focused on the human cost of the Trump administration’s 2018 “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which sought to discourage undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from entering the country. She focused on the “trauma these kids suffer in their journeys to the States, in their separations from parents, and in their return to their homelands.” She wanted to help “the country really see beyond what we were doing in the border and how it was affecting children.”

November 15, 2019

Nathan Law

Activist Nathan Law GRD ’20 spoke at the Schell Center in November about his involvement in the escalating protests in Hong Kong and the future of the region’s pro-democracy movement. Law, then a Yale graduate student in East Asian Studies, was a leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which advocated for democracy and self-determination in Hong Kong. Law emphasized that “Hong Kong is in a difficult battle” where “there are huge power imbalances” between the Hong Kong government, the Beijing government, and the people of Hong Kong. However, Law observed that the people of Hong Kong are “not alone in such a global fight” against the “revival of tyranny and the recession of democracy.”


February 7, 2019

Masih Alinejad, “Women as Agents of Change in Iran”

Masih Alinejad visited the Schell Center in February to talk about her activism for women’s rights in Iran. Alinejad’s fight against compulsory hijab laws, which she began in 2014, is now the largest civil disobedience campaign in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Alinejad dismissed the assumption that opposing compulsory hijab laws legitimizes Islamophobic sentiment in the West. She called in particular on feminists in the West to support their Iranian counterparts' efforts to dismantle the discriminatory regime.


February 21, 2019

Julieta Lemaitre, “Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace: An Embattled Transition”

Former Robina Human Rights Visiting Scholar Julieta Lemaitre returned to the Schell Center to speak about the challenges and breakthroughs of Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a tribunal created in 2016 to try the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and former members of the Colombian military for war crimes. Lemaitre, a professor of law at Los Andes University in Bogotá, presides as a judge on one of the tribunals. In her talk, Lemaitre emphasized the pioneering, restorative approach the Special Jurisdiction has taken to achieve justice. This approach prioritizes addressing the harms victims have suffered over conventional punishment for perpetrators.


February 28, 2019

Human Rights Workshop: Azmat Khan, “How to Investigate Civilian Deaths in War”

Award-winning investigative journalist Azmat Khan told the story of her investigation into civilian deaths from U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq. She found that the rate of civilian deaths exceeded the U.S. military’s official figures by 31 times. Using sophisticated data analysis and on-the-ground interviews, Khan discovered that rather than the 1 in 157 death rate that the military reported, roughly 1 in 5 airstrikes killed civilians. In addition, in contrast to the military’s claims, half of the lethal airstrikes were the result of acting on poor or outdated intelligence.


March 21, 2019

Panel, “Engaging the Oppressor: How Activists Approach the Dominant Group”

Schell Center Visiting Human Rights Fellow and former Bernstein Fellow Sari Bashi ’03 convened this panel of activists from Israel-Palestine, South Africa, and the United States to compare their experiences working with and responding to oppressive groups and institutions. Activists debated the merits of appealing to or negotiating with oppressors rather than taking a more consistently adversarial or combative approach.


April 16, 2019

Laurel E. Fletcher, “Let’s Talk About the Boteros: Law, Memory, and the Torture Memos at Berkeley Law”

U.C. Berkeley Professor of Law Laurel E. Fletcher argued that a series of Fernando Botero paintings graphically depicting U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib should remain hanging prominently in Berkeley Law School, despite requests to take them down. The paintings have particular resonance at Berkeley Law because John Yoo, a tenured professor there, co-authored the “torture memos” used to justify the abuses when he was Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counse in the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice. Fletcher based her support for the continued presence of the paintings on her understanding of art as a unique tool for accountability, capable of generating multiple meanings.


April 19, 2018

Regan Ralph, “Civil Society is Not the Enemy: Responding to Escalating Attacks  on Human Rights Norms and Defenders” 

Regan Ralph '91, president and CEO of the Fund for Global Human Rights, spoke about a recurring theme in Schell Center events this year: the global crackdown on civil society. The Fund for Global Rights supports many human rights defenders and organizations suffering from this crackdown and the global rise of authoritarianism. To Ralph, the challenges human rights defenders face today are subtler than in other periods of history, and include bans on foreign funding and state registration requirements. Ralph closed by sharing creative strategies that local activists are using to resist authoritarianism and develop new forms of advocacy.

April 5, 2018

Human Rights Workshop: Michael W. Doyle, “Beyond Migrants and Refugees: A Model International Mobility Convention”

At the Workshop, Columbia Professor Michael W. Doyle pitched the Model International Mobility Convention, a new international migration convention that was drafted by the Columbia Global Policy Initiative, which Doyle directs. This proposed, new international agreement would seek to fill the gaps in the preexisting international migration regime and give more protections to all classes of migrants. Doyle described the convention’s features, such as setting out minimum protections for all migrants and the rights and duties that correspond to each migration status. He explained the convention’s enforcement mechanism – a bottom-up approach that models the Paris climate accord, but involves the UN Refugee Agency as an independent enforcer. He acknowledged that the convention needs revisions and the world needs more leaders who would support more progressive migration policies, before the convention can be passed. Finally, Doyle asked the audience to show their support for the convention.

April 4, 2018

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, “Human Rights Today” Commissioner for Human Rights

With the Fox International Fellowship and the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, the Schell Center hosted U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. Al-Hussein spoke about rising hostility to human rights causes and advocates around the world and declining trust in international human rights institutions such as the International Criminal Court. Al-Hussein urged his audience to fight for human rights with not just law, but also with political advocacy. “You can do anything else,” he told the audience, “but be a human rights defender. It won’t be easy, but I guarantee it will be the most meaningful part of your life.”

April 3, 2018

Sirine Shebaya, “Fighting the Many Faces of the Muslim Ban”

Sirine Shebaya ‘12, a senior staff attorney at Muslim Advocates, discussed her work defending the civil rights of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities in the United States. She focused her talk on the practices and policies that have threatened Muslims since President Trump took office, beginning with but extending far beyond the travel ban barring migration from certain Muslim-majority countries. Shebaya emphasized how the travel ban, other Trump-administration policies, and increased scrutiny by immigration and law enforcement have chilled Muslim civil society and slowed down Muslim immigration to the United States. She concluded by stressing the need to fight against the normalization of these discriminatory policies.

April 2, 2018

Seth Freed Wessler, “Prisoners at Sea: Uncovering the Coast Guard's Hidden Drug-War Detention System”

Seth Wessler is an investigative reporter who has been published in many media outlets, including The Nation, ProPublica, and This American Life. Wessler spoke to the Schell Center about the investigation behind his New York Times Magazine story, “The Coast Guard’s ‘Floating Guantanamos,’” which exposes the U.S. Coast Guard’s imprisonment of low-level drug smugglers on international waters. Many of the smugglers Wessler spoke to had come from poor fishing villages in South America. After the Coast Guard apprehended their ships, they would take the men onboard their own ships and keep them there – in limbo – for weeks, or even months on end. The men were not told where they were being taken next. Many men described the same, horrible conditions of detention: they were shackled to the side of the boat for long periods of time, forced to use the bathroom outside and sleep on thin mats. At least one man died from these conditions. Some were deported back to their home countries, and others were sentenced to up to twenty years in U.S. federal prison for their role in drug trafficking. Wessler said that the investigation taught him about the multiple actors accountable for the human rights violations the men suffered.

March 28, 2018

Scott Long, “Gender and Sex in the Arab Winter: Body Politics and the Limits of Human Rights”

Scott Long, the founder and former director of Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, spoke at the Schell Center about LGBT rights movements in the Middle East. Like many speakers this semester, Long argued that theories traditionally held by many human rights activists – namely, that violators of human rights can be swayed by moral arguments – are no longer reliable, because criticism by other countries or human rights advocates is not causing autocratic leaders to budge. To Long, one potential alternative strategy to naming and shaming is to deploy the “body as a resource in material struggles.” As Long explained, many gender and LGBT activists have been doing this for a long time, because LGBT rights implicate the relationship between the public and private, between the state and the human body, etc. Long described Egyptian activists who are using tactics such as physically shielding women from sexual harassment during protests. He said that such activists inspire him because they remind us that victories can still happen, even in situations where there are serious human rights violations.

March 8, 2018

Human Rights Workshop: Richard Ashby Wilson, “'Get 'Em Out of Here!’: The Law of Incitement in an Era of Racist Populism”

In his Workshop, Richard Ashby Wilson, Professor of Anthropology and Law, University of Connecticut, argued that U.S. incitement law is underdeveloped and rarely used to prosecute those who seemingly provoke or encourage others to commit violence. Wilson had just finished writing a book on international incitement law when the 2016 election began to heat up: suddenly, there were videos of Donald Trump campaign rallies showing Trump supporters forcibly ejecting protestors while Trump shouted, “Get ’em outta here!”; the FBI was reporting an increase in the number of hate crimes committed. Wilson wanted to investigate the strong correlation between Trump’s presidency and campaign and hate crimes. Wilson finished by describing the new framework for incitement law that he created to address deficiencies in domestic incitement law and do more to protect minorities from violence.

March 1, 2018

Human Rights Workshop: Louisa Lombard, “Ethics in Wars of Protection: Peacekeepers Caught Between Bureaucracy, Sympathy, and Violence”

Louisa Lombard, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Yale, shared her research on the ways that peacekeepers construct their codes of ethics and deal with their everyday moral dilemmas in peacekeeping missions all over the world. Lombard has interviewed peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, India, Sudan, and even attended a peacekeeper training in Rwanda. From these contexts, she has seen that peacekeepers are placed in contradictory situations: they are put in the middle of fighting and forbidden from taking sides; they have to make locals trust them, while making it clear that they don’t support any one side. As Lombard has observed, many peacekeepers respond to their everyday moral conflicts by bending rules they find anti-humanitarian, such as regulations that forbid peacekeepers from sharing their leftover food with locals or rehabilitating schools.

February 1, 2018

Human Rights Workshop: Maria J. Stephan, “Why Civil Resistance Works and its Relevance to Resurgent Authoritarianism"

Maria J. Stephan is the Director of the Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute for Peace. Over the past few years, Stephan has been researching the efficacy of nonviolent campaigns from the early 1900s to the 2000s. She found that history tells us that nonviolent campaigns that challenged an incumbent regime or sought self-determination have been successful in their long-term political impact twice as often as violent ones. The research findings suggest that nonviolent campaigns succeeded in part because of their diversity. Stephan acknowledged that the rise in authoritarian and reactionary populist movements is currently making it very difficult for nonviolent movements to succeed. She encouraged lawyers to help activists and dissidents develop more tactical approaches to resisting authoritarians, and to learn from grassroots movements, which Stephan argued should be considered an enforcement mechanism for human rights.

October 19, 2017

Human Rights Workshop: David D. Cole, “Fighting the Muslim Ban and Defending Liberty in the Trump Era”

David Cole is National Legal Director at the American Civil Liberties Union.  He has litigated many constitutional cases in the Supreme Court, including Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, which extended First Amendment protection to flag burning; National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley, which challenged political content restriction on NEA funding; and Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, which challenged a federal statute that, under the guise of prohibiting “material support” to terrorist groups, makes it a crime to advocate for peace and human rights. Cole is the Hon. George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University. Cole writes regularly for The Nation, New York Review of Books, Washington Post, and many other periodicals. He is the author or editor of ten books. At the Human Rights Workshop, he discussed the legal and other difficulties of fighting for human rights in the U.S. today.

October 16, 2017

Binger Inaugural Lecture with Professor Jim Silk '89, “From Nuremberg to the Netherlands to Nineveh? The Book of Jonah, International Criminal Justice and the Promise of Human Rights”

In October, Schell Center Co-Director Jim Silk delivered the Inaugural Lecture for the Binger Clinical Chair in Human Rights. The Robina Foundation endowed this professorship as part of its January 2017 $13-million gift to the Law School. In his talk, Silk described his youthful veneration of the Nuremberg Trials, which began to waver as he studied the trial of Ivan Demjanjuk in Israel and worked for Justice Aharon Barak during Demjanjuk’s appeal. His misgivings about international criminal justice grew as tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court were established and the discourse of human rights increasingly invested its support and hopes in international criminal justice rather than on addressing systemic human rights violations — in other words, holding individuals retrospectively accountable rather than holding states contemporaneously accountable. Silk concluded his lecture by interpreting the biblical Book of Jonah, a morality tale that has long fascinated him, to address his concern that the enthusiasm for retributive justice endangers the most fundamental principles of human rights.