Solitary Confinement in Connecticut (2010; 2017)
Beginning in 2010, the Clinic worked on a multi-year project, in collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, to investigate Connecticut’s super-max prison.
The Clinic team submitted FOIA requests, reviewed client case files, and engaged in extensive interviews with dozens of clients, some of whom had been in solitary confinement for more than a decade. The Clinic also prepared an amicus brief for the Connecticut Supreme Court in a case that questioned whether transferring prisoners to the prison invokes a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause. Watch The Worst of the Worst (2012), a documentary film about the findings.
The Clinic brought its findings to the Department of Corrections, which, over the next few years, carried out a series of reforms, including limiting the imposition of solitary in the absence of serious violations, creating opportunities for social and other programs for isolated prisoners, and decreasing the total time individuals spend in isolation. Read news coverage of the reforms in the Hartford Courant.
In January 2017, the Clinic worked with a coalition of local community, religious and university organizations to organize a three-week-long series of events on solitary confinement and bring a replica cell to three locations in New Haven. The coalition’s project, Inside the Box, received widespread media coverage.
On March 27, 2017, students from the Lowenstein Clinic traveled to the State Capitol in Hartford and testified in favor of HB 7302, An Act Concerning Isolated Confinement and Correctional Staff Training and Wellness. On June 7, the Connecticut General Assembly passed an amended version of the bill that mandates reporting on all forms of isolation and requires annual reporting. The bill also bans the placement of children under 18 years of age into “administrative segregation,” the harshest form of long-term solitary confinement currently in use in Connecticut. The Lowenstein Clinic described the legislation as an important step in the long-term fight against solitary confinement and the community coalition issued a statement.
The Clinic also produced a chapter of Six by Ten, a book on solitary confinement that was published as part of a human rights book series by Voices of Witness, an organization co-founded by Dave Eggers, the award-winning author. The chapter tells the story of Aaron Strong, a long-time Clinic client who entered solitary confinement at Northern Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s ‘supermax’ prison, in 2000, when he was just seventeen. The Clinic conducted many interviews with Mr. Strong over the course of several months and adapted Mr. Strong’s interviews for the book chapter. The book, published in 2018, will also be the basis for public education materials, including for high school curricula.
In May 2019, students from the Lowenstein Clinic submitted an allegation letter to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, documenting the use of solitary confinement and other abusive practices by the Connecticut Department of Correction, and arguing that such practices constitute torture under international law.
Criminalization of Homelessness in Connecticut (2016)
In November 2016, the Clinic published the report Forced Into Breaking the Law: The Criminalization of Homelessness in Connecticut. The Clinic worked closely with the Warburton Resource, Outreach and Collaboration Center at Center Church in Hartford, Connecticut in preparing the report, which examines the threat of criminal sanctions that people living in homelessness face for fulfilling their basic needs. It documents how laws in cities throughout Connecticut prohibit a person without a bed from sleeping on a park bench, ban someone without a place to be during the day from standing in a public plaza, and restrict the ability of a person without access to food to ask for money to buy something to eat.
The Clinic interviewed 59 people who were living in homelessness or had recently experienced a period of homelessness in six cities across Connecticut: Bridgeport, Hartford, Manchester, Middletown, New Britain, and New Haven. Clinic students also conducted interviews with individuals in shelters, soup kitchens, public libraries, parks, and on the street.
Connecticut Juvenile Justice and Sentencing Reform (2013)
The Clinic, working with Quinnipiac Law School’s Criminal Justice Clinic, investigated the imposition of long prison sentences on individuals who were convicted of crimes committed when they were children. Prior to 2015, minors charged with certain crimes in Connecticut faced trial in adult courts and, upon conviction, mandatory minimum sentences.
In 2013, the two clinics published a report, Youth Matters: A Second Look for Connecticut’s Children Serving Long Prison Sentences. It drew on interviews that clinic students conducted with people serving lengthy sentences for crimes that occurred when they were children and studied Connecticut’s harsh sentencing laws for children and the special challenges that juveniles faced navigating adult criminal proceedings and growing up in adult prisons. A second report, I’m Going to Move Forward: Stories of Change from Men Imprisoned as Children in Connecticut, was authored by Lowenstein Clinic students and provides longer narratives of several of the individuals interviewed.
The two clinics built a strong coalition of advocates supporting reforms that would eliminate juvenile life-without-parole sentences and provide special parole hearings for approximately 200 people serving long sentences for crimes committed when they were juveniles. Clinic students testified before the Connecticut legislature’s Judiciary Committee, and the legislature passed the reforms in 2015.
Read more about Youth Matters and I’m Going to Move Forward on the Yale Law School news page and in opinion pieces from the CT Mirror and Yale Daily News.
Yale Sudan Divestment Campaign and Update (2005; 2012)
In 2005, a Clinic team engaged in an advocacy campaign encouraging Yale University and the Connecticut state government to divest from companies involved in certain activities in Sudan in response to Sudanese government atrocities in Darfur.
They authored a report, An Analysis of Select Companies’ Operations in Sudan: A Resource for Divestment, which was instrumental in the Yale Corporation’s decision to divest from companies conducting certain types of business in Sudan. The team also worked with the Connecticut State Treasurer’s Office and members of the Connecticut legislature to develop legislation authorizing the Treasurer to divest. The bill was passed.
In 2012, at the request of Yale University’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, the Clinic prepared an update on the situation in Sudan, including analysis of the ongoing conflict between Sudan and South Sudan.
COVID-19 Prison Response Population Data (2020)
The Lowenstein Clinic is currently working jointly with the Challenging Mass Incarceration Clinic to document populations in Connecticut prisons who could be targeted for release during the COVID-19 pandemic to enhance their safety and public health.
Justice Project Pakistan: Systematic Brutality and Torture by the Police in Pakistan (2015)
Working closely with Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), the Clinic authored three reports on police torture in Faisalabad, Pakistan, incorporating evidence from victim interviews as well as medico-legal certificates prepared by state officials detailing injuries sustained by detainees while in police custody.
The Clinic analyzed available data, reviewed interview summaries, and worked with JPP to develop additional interview questionnaires. In May 2014, the Clinic released a report, Policing as Torture, which JPP used to launch an awareness campaign about police torture. The Clinic also wrote two follow-up reports, one on the abuse of juveniles and another on the abuse of women by the Faisalabad Police. (Read more about the Clinic’s report on juveniles.) The team published an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun on the prevalence of police torture in Pakistan.
Project X: Abuses Against Transgender Sex Workers in Singapore (2014)
In spring 2014, a Clinic team collaborated with Project X, a Singaporean organization that advocates for the rights of sex workers, to author a report on the abuses transgender sex workers face in Singapore.
The students travelled to Singapore and met with transgender sex workers, activists, service providers, and public health experts. Their report, They Only Do This to Transgender Girls: Abuses of Transgender Sex Workers in Singapore, was published in May 2015. It documents abuses inflicted on transgender sex workers by police, clients, brothel owners, and others and situates these abuses against the backdrop of societal discrimination in schooling, housing, and social benefits.
Plan International: Sierra Leone’s Failure to Implement Laws Prohibiting Child Marriage (2013)
The Clinic collaborated with Plan International, a child-focused international development organization, to produce a report, published in 2013, on the implementation of the recently enacted prohibition against child marriage in Sierra Leone.
The Clinic’s research included a March 2012 trip to Sierra Leone to investigate government and civil society efforts to implement the ban on underage marriage. The resulting report, Before Their Time: Challenges to Implementing the Prohibition Against Child Marriage in Sierra Leone, provides recommendations on strengthening implementation in order to eradicate child marriage, in accordance with international human rights law. A Clinic team presented the findings to government officials and civil society members at a pre-publication roundtable event in Sierra Leone in October 2012.
American Civil Liberties Union: Trafficking of Third-Country Nationals by U.S. Military Contractors (2012)
In spring 2012, the Clinic, in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), investigated and documented the trafficking and abuse of foreign workers hired through U.S. government contracts to work in support of U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Clinic’s research, which included interviews in southern India with affected workers, culminated in the report Victims of Complacency: The Ongoing Trafficking and Abuse of Third-Country Nationals by U.S. Government Contractors. The findings were reported in The Huffington Post and The New York Times.
The team went on to meet with leaders at the U.S. Department of State and Department of Labor, as well as with Congressional staff members, to discuss recommendations for ending the abuses. In December 2012, the United States Congress passed a bill to prevent human trafficking in government contracting.
Governance of Agricultural Concessions in Liberia (2017)
On March 14th, 2017, the Clinic published a paper, Governance of Agricultural Concessions in Liberia: Analysis and Discussion of Possible Reforms. The Clinic team documented a lack of consultation and compensation under Liberia’s complex agricultural concessions regime and concluded that these deficiencies in the process violated international human rights law. The paper identifies a range of regulatory reforms to implement at each stage of the concession process, from the negotiation of concession contracts and community agreements to their enforcement and renegotiation.
The Clinic team prepared the paper to submit to Liberia’s Governance Commission, which, in discussions, encouraged the Clinic to provide independent recommendations on how Liberia could strengthen its regulatory framework. The Commission, founded in 2003 as part of the Accra Peace Accords, is an independent government entity that tackles structural reforms to sustain Liberia’s young democracy.
The Clinic team traveled to Liberia to conduct research through interviews with twelve government agencies, as well as legislators, concessionaires, non-governmental organizations, and affected communities. The team returned to Liberia to present the paper to officials and members of civil society. Read a news article about the Clinic’s involvement.
Human Rights Analysis of U.S. Detention and Removal of Asylum Seekers (2016)
Human Rights First (HRF) asked the Clinic to produce a research paper for U.S. policymakers on how U.S. immigration detention policy and specific immigration practices, including the use of family detention centers, violate international human rights law.
The paper, released in 2016, consists of in-depth legal analysis that shows how U.S. detention practices violate international law. The Clinic team worked closely with HRF staff, including immigration-detention experts, to draft the final paper.
The team traveled to Washington, D.C., to present a draft of the paper to lawmakers, administration officials, and representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Fortify Rights: The Question of Genocide Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (2015)
The Clinic, at the request of the human rights organization Fortify Rights, analyzed whether Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims satisfies the criteria for finding genocide.
The Clinic team traveled in the fall of 2015 to Myanmar and Thailand to present its study, Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State?, to local and international media and officials. The team found strong evidence of each of the elements of genocide and recommended, in the report, that the United Nations Human Rights Council establish a Commission of Inquiry to conduct an urgent, comprehensive, and independent investigation of the human rights situation in Rakhine State.
The findings drew a great deal of media coverage, including in a documentary by Al Jazeera and news articles in Time, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, and The New York Times. In early 2017, a number of governments and global leaders took up the call to establish a Commission of Inquiry, and the Human Rights Council later adopted a resolution authorizing an urgent, independent fact-finding mission to Myanmar, focusing on the human rights situation of the Rohingya.
Read more coverage of the project.
The Case for a United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Iran (2013)
Beginning in spring 2013, a team of Clinic students, working in support of several Iranian human rights organizations, analyzed the standards that have been used in establishing previous UN Commissions of Inquiry and evaluated the possibility of establishing such a commission for past human rights abuses in Iran.
The team published a white paper in January 2015 that contains a brief history of mass killings, torture, and clampdowns on freedom of speech in Iran, from 1979 through 2009, and calls for the establishment of a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry to investigate the Iranian government’s persistent violations of the human rights of its civilian population. The team submitted the white paper to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. As the political situation in Iran evolved, the Special Rapporteur did not pursue a Commission before his mandate expired.
The Enough Project: Barriers faced by Sudanese women when seeking redress for gender-based and sexual violence during and following the North-South civil war (2010)
In 2010, the Clinic, in collaboration with Enough Project, investigated barriers that Sudanese women face when seeking redress for gender-based and sexual violence during and following Sudan’s North-South civil war.
The team wrote a study, Gender-Based Violence in Southern Sudan: Justice for Women Long Overdue, which was published by the Enough Project and used to advocate for action by international bodies. It detailed the obstacles to women’s access to justice, including restrictive legal definitions of rape and sexual violence, laws granting immunity to military personnel, the application of discriminatory customary law to cases categorized as family matters, and inadequate government infrastructure.
Mental Disability Advocacy Center: Collective complaint against Ireland on inclusive education of children with autism (2014)
In 2014, the Clinic worked with Mental Disabilities Advocacy Center (MDAC) to draft a collective complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights on the obstacles parents of children with autism in Ireland faced in enrolling their children in mainstream schools.
The complaint detailed evolving legal norms on social and economic rights in Europe as well as on discrimination against children with disabilities. It included data on lack of access to mainstream education in Ireland and the difficulty of securing access to legal proceedings.
The students attended a conference in Galway, Ireland, to meet parents, activists, and academics about issues in the education of children with autism.
American Civil Liberties Union: Padilla v. United States, Petition to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2012)
In 2012, the Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Jose Padilla and his mother, Estela Lebron. Padilla was the only known U.S. citizen to have been seized and detained in the United States without charge or warrant in connection with the U.S. “war on terror.” The petition focuses on Padilla’s illegal detention and torture while held incommunicado for 38 months in U.S. military custody. Padilla and his mother filed suit in 2006 to hold U.S. officials accountable for designing and implementing the unlawful torture program, but the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and Ninth Circuits dismissed the claims on the grounds that they raised national security concerns. To date, no court has ever reached the merits of Lebron’s claims that U.S. officials tortured her son.
In 2016, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights deemed a petition by another detainee, Khaled El-Masri, to be admissible. El-Masri’s mistreatment gained notoriety in 2004, when the United States essentially admitted that it had seized El-Masri from Macedonia in a case of mistaken identity; even so, the United States has refused to take responsibility for what followed: eight months of incommunicado detention and torture in a secret CIA-run prison in Iraq. As in Padilla’s case, U.S. courts rejected El-Masri’s claims without reaching the merits. The European Court of Human Rights, however, found that Macedonia had violated Article 3 by seizing him and handing him over to the U.S. agents for extrajudicial detention and torture. The Clinic again partnered with the ACLU to submit final observations on the merits of El-Masri’s case to the Inter-American Commission in October 2018. The Commission has yet to hold a hearing or to issue a decision on the merits. Should the matter proceed, El-Masri will be the first victim of the U.S. torture program to receive a hearing before the Commission.
Open Society Justice Initiative: Application to the European Court of Human Rights for case against Poland for its role in the torture, secret detention, and extraordinary rendition of a Guantanamo detainee (2010)
The Clinic worked with the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) on a European Court of Human Rights case focusing on the Polish government’s involvement, through cooperation with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, in the torture, secret detention, and extraordinary rendition of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen.
U.S. interrogators, operating in a Polish detention center, allegedly subjected al-Nashiri to mock executions, standing stress positions, and threats to rape his mother. The team members researched existing documentation of the CIA’s rendition activities in Europe and drafted a statement of facts and allegations of the Polish government’s violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. OSJI submitted the application to the European Court in May 2011.
In July 2014 the Court ruled that Poland had failed to prevent the torture and degrading treatment of Al-Nashiri and another detainee and ordered that Poland pay reparations. Al-Nashiri remains in the U.S. government’s custody in Guantanamo Bay. Charged with war crimes, he faces the death penalty before a military commission.
Center for Reproductive Rights: Brisa de Angulo Losada vs. Bolivia (2022)
The Clinic worked with the Center for Reproductive Rights to prepare an amicus brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the case of Angulo Losada vs. Bolivia. The petitioner, in her application to the Court, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in its Merit Report, articulated key standards concerning Bolivia’s obligations to prevent, investigate, and punish sexual violence against children, including the need to incorporate a gender perspective and a children’s rights perspective. The amicus brief asked the Court to consider States’ obligations to combat sexual violence against children. In particular, it called for measures beyond States’ criminal law obligations to prevent, investigate, and punish such violence. The brief focused specifically on States’ obligations to build children’s capacities to exercise sexual autonomy by providing educational and health services that address gendered power dynamics, enabling children to recognize sexual violence, to minimize risks, and to seek help.
European Human Rights Advocacy Centre: Third-Party Intervention for Submission to the European Court of Human Rights (2019)
The Clinic collaborated with the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) to prepare a joint third-party intervention for submission in two cases at the European Court of Human Rights, Allahverdiyev v. Armenia and Hakobyan v. Azerbaijan. In each case, individuals in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh claimed that the respondent states violated their human rights by launching shells and rockets into villages outside the state's territory. The submission argues that the Court should find that it has jurisdiction in the cases because the states were exercising extraterritorial jurisdiction in inflicting lethal force outside their territory. The intervention urges the Court to fulfil its obligation to ensure accountability for European states' violations of civilians' right to life in this conflict over disputed territory on European soil.
Women’s Link Worldwide: Amicus Brief on Informed Consent Submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (2016)
At the request of Women’s Link Worldwide, a Clinic team prepared an amicus brief for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the right to informed consent under international human rights law.
I.V. v. Bolivia concerns a woman who was sterilized without her consent in a public hospital in La Paz, Bolivia, in 2001. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights submitted the case to the Inter-American Court when the Bolivian government failed to implement the remedies it suggested for what it found was the violation of I.V.’s rights to physical and psychological integrity, freedom from violence and discrimination, access to information, and a private and family life.
The amicus brief, submitted in 2016, outlined the right to informed consent within the context of the rights to health and personal integrity. It also detailed how, under international human rights law, a reproductive rights violation can amount to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
In November 2016, the Inter-American Court issued its decision, finding that Bolivia had violated I.V.'s rights to personal integrity, personal freedom, dignity, non-discrimination, and a private and family life, as well as the rights to access information, raise a family, and be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court awarded I.V. individual reparations and ordered the government of Bolivia to, among other general measures, provide training programs for healthcare and social security professionals on informed consent, reproductive health, gender-based violence, discrimination and stereotyping.
Amicus Brief on the Rights of the Miskitu Community of Honduras for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2014)
In 2014, the Clinic prepared an amicus brief for submission to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding the merits of two cases related to the Miskitu indigenous people of Honduras.
The petitioners allege that over the 1980s and 1990s, many Miskitu in the province of Gracias a Dios were employed in the underwater fishing industry under highly unsafe conditions and without proper regulation or oversight by the State. Though the Miskitu are known for their ability to fish underwater without conventional scuba diving equipment, their working conditions and lack of protection caused the death or permanent disability of many Miskitu divers.
The Clinic’s brief incorporated a wide range of legal standards relevant to the issues presented in this case, including standards from the European system of human rights and the International Labour Organization.
Open Society Justice Initiative: Amicus Brief for African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Addressing Equatorial Guinea’s Violation of Economic and Social Rights (2009)
In 2009, a Clinic team, in cooperation with the Open Society Justice Initiative, acting on behalf of Asociaciòn Pro Derechos Humanos de España (APDHE), prepared an amicus brief for a case brought before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights concerning rampant and systematic corruption in resource-rich Equatorial Guinea.
The case sought to build jurisprudence within the Commission establishing massive, systematic corruption as a violation of internationally protected rights. Article 21 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights protects the rights of “[a]ll peoples [to] freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources” and mandates remedies of recovery and compensation for “spoliation.” The Clinic team produced an amicus brief, on behalf of a group of African international law experts, arguing that the diversion of assets (the Article 21 “spoliation”) due to the bad faith and bad acts of the government constituted an actionable breach of economic and social rights. In 2011, the Commission denied admissibility of the case, stating that the petitioners had failed to exhaust domestic remedies.