International Human Rights Clinics

The Promise Institute supports three practice-based human rights clinics, including an international field experience: one supports UN monitoring and reporting on human rights situations around the world, one involves students in litigation, and one focuses on fieldwork and grassroots advocacy.


Human Rights Clinics at the Promise Institute

Hear from faculty and students and learn about the institute's pioneering clinical education.

International Human Rights Clinic

UCLA Law students

The International Human Rights Clinic requires students to navigate international human rights law theory and practice focused on the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, UCLA Law Professor E. Tendayi Achiume. Clinic students collaborate with international human rights organizations abroad and community-based groups in Los Angeles on policy and advocacy projects. Clinic students also participate in an intensive seminar, which provides the theoretical counterpart to their practical work, and through which they develop skills vital to social justice advocacy.

Human Rights Litigation Clinic

UCLA Law clinical students

The Human Rights Litigation Clinic taught by Catherine Sweetser focuses on mechanisms for human rights accountability in domestic courts. The course is designed as a mix of domestic rights work and international projects, with doctrinal teaching on some days, skills training on others, and project rounds (facilitated classroom conversations among clinic students where they discuss their project work, apply and test lawyering theory in the real world, and extract theory and practical ideas from their classmates' experiences).  These three methods will complement each other by giving the students a doctrinal background in human rights law; allowing students to apply that law in the context of clients and to examine how the current law does and does not obscure their clients' lived realities; and giving the students the chance to discuss with their colleagues innovative approaches to law. In Fall 2020, students worked on a Supreme Court case about child slavery (read more here); a federal case in the Central District of California advocating for the rights of unhoused people (read more here); and a state court case advocating for better conditions and depopulation of the Los Angeles County Jails due to COVID-19 (watch a video of testimony collected here).

Human Rights in Action Clinic – Human Rights in the Americas Projects

UCLA Law clinical students with faculty member Joseph Berra

The Human Rights in Action Clinic is a clinic developed by Joseph Berra, Human Rights in the Americas Project Director for the Promise Institute. Currently, the primary expression of the clinic is the J-Term International Field Experience in Honduras, a two-week immersion experience in the human rights movement in Honduras, including field work in support of one of our partner organizations. Past iterations of the Human Rights in Action Clinic have produced sustained relationships with organizational partners in Honduras and Los Angeles. 

Ongoing opportunities exist for advanced clinic work, independent study, and internship experiences through continuing projects with clinic partners and as part of Promise Institute’s Human Rights in the Americas Project.  

Projects Undertaken by Our Clinics

  • Fall 2019

    The Human Rights in Action Clinic (HRAC) had a distinctive focus on the rights of Native American and Indigenous people in the Fall of 2019, using the international human rights framework on the rights of Indigenous people to support primarily local projects with California Native Nations and the Native American and Indigenous communities of greater Los Angeles.  Students also collaborated on a cross-border project involving the Yoeme nation.

    Lighting a Path Forward Workshop

    The Lighting a Path Forward Workshop brought together Native American academics in the UC system, representatives of California Native Nations, and administrators across the UC system to discuss guidelines for university practices with Native Nations.  Tracks included community engaged research and pedagogy, recruitment and retention of Native students, and the return of ancestors under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

    In coordination with the Special Advisor to the Chancellor for Native American and Indigenous Affairs, Dr. Mishuana Goeman, students worked closely with track leaders to prepare content for the workshop with background research and analysis.  Students subsequently presented at the workshop, participated in the discussion, and took notes during all sessions. Their research and notes will be used by track leaders to develop guidelines in collaboration with Native Nations for university and Native American relations.

    LA City/County Native American Indian Commission (NAIC)

    The HRAC entered into a partnership with NAIC to work on two priority areas using the international human rights framework:  Indigenous education an homelessness.

    Indigenous Education Now

    Students worked with NAIC Chair Chrissie Castro (Diné and Chicana) and Indigenous Education Now, a coalition of land-based tribes and Indigenous organizations seeking to hold Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the nation, accountable for meeting the needs of Native students across the district.  Los Angeles is home to the largest population of urban Native American and Indigenous peoples.  Students provided legal research and memos on the tribal right to consultation under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the meaning of the consultation right under international law, and practices across the nation regarding tribal consultation.  LAUSD has yet to implement tribal consultation under the appropriate standards.  Students presented their research and participated in a Q&A with over 100 grass-roots members of the Coalition.  The Promise Institute continues to work with the Coalition as it considers legal options for holding the District accountable.

    Indigenous Homelessness in LA

    Students worked closely with Commissioner Dr. Andrea Garcia (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) in her efforts to raise awareness and address the issue of the unhoused in the Native American and Indigenous communities of Los Angeles. Students participated in a special forum and the issue, and later wrote a memo on the issue from the international human rights perspective, and gathered experiences around the world from the Indigenous rights movement on land reclamation, tribal-state partnerships, and self-determination in programs to address housing and Native peoples.  Students are continuing to work on the paper with Dr. Garcia for possible publication.

    Rio Yaqui Pueblos

    In part owing to an initiative of Cesar Barreras, a graduate student in American Indian Studies and member of the Yoeme nation (Pascua Yaqui Tribe), students collaborated with Daune Cardenas of the Pascua Yaqui Development Corporation and Professor James Hopkins of the University of Arizona School of Law on issues affecting the Yoeme communities in Sonora, Mexico.  Students researched issues of cultural property rights for Ms. Cardenas, and conducted research on the consultation right and drafted a pleading for Professor Hopkins, who represents the Tribal Authorities of the Rio Yaqui Pueblos of Sonora in a case before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.  The Rio Yaqui Pueblos are fighting for restoration of their water rights and reparation for damages to the health of their communities due to decades of environmental degradation caused by agro-industry in the Rio Yaqui basin.

  • Spring 2019


    Following up on our January 2019 International Field Experience, students in the Spring 2019 Human Rights in Action Clinic (HRAC) prepared an amicus brief on behalf of the Promise Institute in support of the Water and Sanitation Board of the Community of Lower Pajuiles (the Water Board).  The Water Board successfully sued the municipality of Tela, Atlántida for violating the rights of the community to potable water, health, and a healthy environment, obtaining from the trial court an injunction to halt construction of a dam on the headwaters of the Rio Mezapa and prevent further contamination of their drinking water.

    The appellate court, however, revoked the injunction without an opinion and sent the case to the Constitutional Chamber of the Honduran Supreme Court.  The community and their legal team in the the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) requested an amicus on the right to water, health and a healthy environment under international human rights law.

    Students from the J-Term experience were intimately familiar with the community's situation and the facts of the case.  Together with other clinic students, they researched the jurisprudence on these rights under various regional and state systems, with a particular focus on the Inter-American system for Human Rights.   The resulting amicus brief (in Spanish) was filed in the Honduran Supreme Court in March of 2019.  The case is still pending.

    Amicus Brief (Spanish)

    U.S. Policy

    The HRAC began a project to develop an in-depth analysis and critique of U.S. Policy in Honduras since the 1980s, and its role and responsibility in the current human rights and humanitarian crisis in the country.   The Clinic collaborated with the Human Rights Clinic of Western Massachusetts School of Law in the Spring of 2019.  Student teams from each law school researched particular areas of U.S. policy:  political, economic, narcotics enforcement and military assistance, and immigration.  The student memos are first inputs, and Professor Berra along with Professor Lauren Carasik of Western Massachusetts School of Law are continuing the project to produce a white paper in 2020.  The resulting white paper will support the work of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission-USA and other advocacy groups in Washington D.C. seeking to hold accountable U.S. policymakers and re-orient U.S. policy to support democracy, human rights, and equitable development in Honduras.

    Washington Trip

    The Promise Institute supported a learning and advocacy trip by HRAC students to Washington D.C. in April of 2019.  The trip focused on the Inter-American system for human rights, U.S. policymakers, human rights organizations with a focus on Honduras and Central America, and multi-lateral institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)  Students met with attorneys and staff of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the issues of migration and the rights of the child, as well as with attorneys from the Center for Justice in International Law (CEJIL), the leading regional litigation organization in the Inter-American System.  Students met with representatives of the State Department, USAID, and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement regarding Honduras policy, as well as with the Honduran program officer of the IDB and the independent accountability mechanism for investigating complaints to the IDB of communal harms caused by IDB-funded projects.  We also met with our partners at the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission-USA and the office of Congressman Pete Aguilar.

    Garifuna Human Rights

    After meeting with Garifuna leaders from the Fundación Luagu Hatuadi Waduheñu "Por la Salud de Nuestros Pueblos" (LHW Foundation) and the Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH) during J-Term in Honduras, the HRAC drafted a memo on the international legal framework and international best practices on human rights protections for Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities.  This memo served as technical input for an activist research and community organizing and education project of the LHW Foundation on the human rights in Garifuna communities in Honduras.

    The Case of Margarita Murillo

    Margarita Murillo was a political and human rights activist who was assassinated in August of 2014.  She was a leader in the opposition to the coup of 2009, and had a long trajectory in the agrarian and more recently women's rights movements in Honduras.  Her death was linked to powerful political actors involved in drug-trafficking and organized crime.  The prosecutor investigating the case was herself assassinated days before she planned to bring a first round of indictments.  Since then the investigation has languished.

    Students in the J-Term accompanied attorneys with the Foro de Mujeres por la Vida representing the daughters of Margarita in a meeting with the public prosecutor to demand access to information on the case and hold the office accountable for its lack of due diligence.  The HRAC later prepared an initial draft of the facts of the case based on information provided by the Foro.  The Promise Institute, through Professor Berra's Human Rights in the Americas Initiative, has been working in collaboration with the Foro and the Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC) on preparing a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the case.

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