Promise Institute Annual Symposium

In its annual symposium, the institute addresses the most pressing contemporary human rights concerns of our times – from race and migration to the environment and technology, matters which resonate with our location here in Los Angeles, and which are reshaping our world.


  • 2020 Symposium - Human Rights and the Climate Crisis

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    New lawsuits and recent rulings are connecting human rights to the climate crisis in increasingly urgent ways. The Urgenda ruling in the Netherlands, the complaint filed by Greta Thunberg and others under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Philippines' Commission on Human Rights' finding against fossil-fuel companies exemplify recent cases that have captured the attention of the public, advocates, and legal scholars.

    On February 28, 2020, UCLA's Promise Institute for Human Rights, Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs hosted a symposium at UCLA School of Law on Human Rights and the Climate Crisis. At the daylong event, leading lawyers, scholars, and activists examined the potential of rights-based arguments to halt and seek remedy for environmental harms, with a focus on climate change.

    Kumi Naidoo, former head of Greenpeace and Amnesty International, and Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, General Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, delivered keynote speeches.


    Welcome and Opening Keynote - Video

    • Kumi Naidoo, former head of Greenpeace and Amnesty International

    Panel One: Domestic Rights-Based litigation and Climate Change - Video

    The last few years have seen a proliferation of imaginative legal strategies at the domestic level that have mobilized rights-based arguments to protect the environment and address climate change. Founding themselves on the human rights to life, health and privacy, as well as constitutional protections – in some cases of natural phenomena – and innovative intergenerational claims, these strategies have had unexpected success in some quarters. What principles are emerging from these various domestic cases, can they be translated across borders, and which offer the best potential to protect our environment and avert the climate crisis?

    • Ann Carlson, Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law, UCLA School of Law
    • Philip Gregory, Co-Lead Counsel in Juliana v. United States
    • César Rodríguez-Garavito, Visiting Professor of Clinical Law, New York University School of Law
    • Marco Simons, General Counsel, EarthRights International

    Moderator: Cara Horowitz, Co-Executive Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA School of Law

    Panel Two: International Human Rights Mechanisms and Climate Change - Video

    International human rights mechanisms are paying increasing attention to climate change and the environment. The UN Human Rights Council resolutions on human rights and climate change since 2008 and the creation of the position of UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment in 2012 are symptomatic of this at the global level; regional human rights bodies, notably in Europe and the Americas, have issued important recent judgments and recommendations in this area. What potential do international human rights mechanisms offer to prevent and mitigate climate change, and how can this best be realized?

    • Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)
    • James Hopkins, Associate Clinical Professor of Law, James E. Rogers College of Law, Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program
    • Erika Lennon, Senior Attorney, Climate & Energy Program, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

    Moderator: Tendayi Achiume, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

    Lunchtime Concurrent Workshops

    Concurrent Workshop Panel 1-A: Domestic Rights-Based Litigation and Climate Change

    Discussant: Daniel Jacobs, Clinical Associate Professor of Management, Loyola Marymount University

    1. Luisa Gómez, Constitutional Lawyer, Colombia, Environmental protection of the Amazon in post-conflict setting: an opportunity for peace in the era of climate change 
    2. Natalie McCauley, Law Fellow, Public International Law and Policy Group, Water Rights and Day Zero: Perspectives on the Cape Town Water Crisis 
    3. Melodie Meyer, JD Candidate, UCLA School of Law, Paguate-Jackpile Mine: Uranium Mining, Climate Crisis, and American Eco-Nationalism 

    Concurrent Workshop Panel 1-B: Domestic Rights-Based litigation and Climate Change

    Discussant: Sean Hecht, Co-Executive Director, Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Evan Frankel Professor of Policy and Practice and Co-Director, Environmental Law Clinic, UCLA School of Law

    1. Paolo Farah, Assistant Professor of Public Administration, West Virginia University, Urgenda vs. Juliana: Lessons for Future Climate Change Litigation Cases 
    2. Elizabeth Wilson, Visiting Scholar, Rutgers Law School–Newark, Is there a Constitutional Right to a Climate Capable of Sustaining Human Life? The Youth Climate Movement and the Problem of Natural Rights 

    Concurrent Workshop Panel 2: International Human Rights Mechanisms and Climate Change

    Discussant: Catherine Sweetser, Deputy Director, Promise Institute for Human Rights and Director, International Human Rights Clinic, UCLA School of Law

    1. Cinnamon Carlarne, Alumni Society Designated Professor of Law, Michael E. Moritz College of Law, Climate Change, Human Rights, & The Rule of Law: Untangling the Rights-Rule of Law Relationship in the Climate Change Context 
    2. Fabrizio Vona, PhD Candidate, Sapienza University of Rome, Identifying Achilles' Heels: An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Human Rights Law in Climate Change Litigation 

    Concurrent Workshop Panel 3: International Criminal Law and Climate Change

    Discussant: Máximo Langer, Professor of Law, Director of the UCLA Transnational Program on Criminal Justice and Faculty Director of the UCLA Criminal Justice Program, UCLA School of Law

    1. Erika McDonald, JD Candidate, University of Houston Law Center, Truth, Dignity, and the Power of Global Witness: A Criminal Law Approach to Resisting the Normalization of Climate Change Denial 
    2. A. Camilo Ramírez Gutiérrez, Law Clerk, Revision Section of the JEP; Professor of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Universidad del Bosque and Alvaro Sebastian Saavedra Eslava, Lawyer at Colombian Commission of Jurist, Protection of the Natural environment under IHL and ICL: The case of the JEP [Special Jurisdiction for Peace] in Colombia 

    Poetry Reading - Video

    Karen McCarthy Woolf, Fulbright All Disciplines Scholar and Promise Institute Poet-in-Residence

    Panel Three: International Criminal Law and Climate Change - Video

    Faced with the climate crisis, the movement to create a new international crime of environmental destruction is gaining voice. What would such a crime look like? Is it necessary, or can existing international criminal law be mobilized, for example by classifying massive environmental damage as a crime against humanity? What are the legal and political obstacles to either approach? What opportunities do they offer and how realistic is it to look to international criminal law to prevent and mitigate climate change?

    • Jelena Aparac, Lecturer and Consultant, member of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries
    • Nema Milaninia, former Trial Attorney, Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court
    • Richard Rogers, Founding Partner, Global Diligence LLP

    Moderator: Kate Mackintosh, Executive Director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights, UCLA School of Law

    Closing Keynote - Video

    • Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, General Coordinator, Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, environmental and human rights activist
  • 2019 Symposium - Critical Perspectives on Race and Human Rights: Transnational Re-Imaginings

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    March 8, 2019

    Welcome and Introduction - Video

    Panel One: Race, Political Equality and Human Rights - Video

    The international human rights regime often falls short of its universal ambitions, and does so in racially discriminatory or racially unequal ways. This panel will apply TWAIL and CRT to illuminate the racialized implications of the history, evolutions, structure, and priorities of the international human rights regime, including the primacy accorded individual “civil and political rights”. Panelists will also consider political equality among peoples or sovereigns, by exploring how race, sovereignty and human rights interface. Drawing on TWAIL and CRT perspectives will enrich the panel’s engagements with the many meanings and valences of political equality among individuals and among sovereigns in a postcolonial age that remains marked by empire.

    Moderator: Kimberlé Crenshaw, Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

    • Aziz Rana, Professor of Law at Cornell Law School
    • John Reynolds, Lecturer and Programme Director of LL.M. in International Justice at Maynooth University
    • Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Associate Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning; head of the International Development Group; founding Director of the Program on Human Rights and Justice; and founder of the Displacement Research and Action Network (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
    • Laura Gómez, Professor of Law & Faculty Director of Critical Race Studies Program, UCLA School of Law, Professor by Courtesy, UCLA Departments of Sociology and Chicana & Chicano Studies

    First Concurrent Session

    Concurrent Panel 1: Migration - Room 1347

    Discussant: Hiroshi Motomura, Susan Westerberg Prager Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

    1. Amanda Brown, Class of 2020, UCLA School of Law, Racism at the Gate to Refuge: A Critique of the Special Immigration Visa Program
    2. Blanche Cook, Assistant Professor of Law at Wayne State University Law School, Johnny Appleseed: Citizenship Transmission Laws and a White Heteropatriarchal Property Right in Philandering, Sexual Exploitation, and Rape (The "Whip")
    3. Susan Reardon-Smith, Academic Support Officer Refugee Law Initiative, School of Advanced Study, University of London, Linking Land and Sea: Intersections between Indigenous peoples' dispossession and asylum seekers' containment by Australia

    Concurrent Panel 2: Migration - Room 1357

    Discussant: Cecilia Menjivar, Dorothy L. Meier Chair and Professor of Sociology at UCLA

    1. Jay Johnson, Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at UCLA, State Borders, Urban Boundaries, and Legal Identities: The Case of Refugee Reception Offices in South African Cities
    2. Eleni Karageorgiou, Lecturer in Law at Lund University, Sweden, Making sense of EU cooperation with third countries as a response to the 2015/2016 'refugee crisis': an intervention project legitimized by a quest to solidarity?
    3. Janine Silga, Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Luxembourg, The Ambiguity of the Migration and Development Nexus Policy Discourse: Perpetuating the Colonial Legacy?
    4. Thomas Spijkerboer, Professor of Migration Law at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Global Mobility Infrastructure: Reconceptualising the Externalisation of Migration Control

    Concurrent Panel 3: Political Equality - Room 1420

    Discussant: Kamari Clarke, Visiting Professor in Anthropology at UCLA, and Professor of Global and International Studies and Anthropology at Carleton University

    1. Catherine Powell, Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law, Race, Gender, and Nation in an Age of Shifting Borders
    2. Yuvraj Joshi, Doctoral candidate at the Yale Law School, Affirmative Action as Transitional Justice
    3. Mack Eason, PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at UCLA, Legacies of Empire in International Law: Discourses of International Crime and Criminality in the Long 19th Century
    4. Gil Gott, Associate Professor at DePaul University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Human Rights, Neoliberalism and Race


    • HRH Prince Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
    • Introduced by: Aslı Ü. Bâli, Faculty Director, the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law

    Panel Two: Race, Migration, Human Rights - Video

    Today, migrants and refugees confront hostility across the world, at risk from explicit political projects of racialized or religious exclusion, and from institutional and governance regimes that have this very same effect. As nation-states, especially in the global north, consolidate regimes of migrant and refugee exclusion and control, the human rights frame stands as the ascendant counter to sovereignty discourse at the global and regional levels. Panelists will explore the human rights frame as both “problem” and “solution,” and consider the circumstances of refugees, involuntary displaced persons (including as a result of climatic conditions), and those who move on account of economic conditions.

    Moderator: Tendayi Achiume, Assistant Professor, UCLA School of Law

    • Jennifer Chacón, Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law
    • Chantal Thomas, Professor of Law at Cornell Law School
    • Maxine Burkett, Professor of Law at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, William S. Richardson School of Law and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

    Second Concurrent Session

    Concurrent Panel 4: Political Equality - Room 1347

    Discussant: Angela Riley, Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law and Director of UCLA's Native Nations Law and Policy Center

    1. Kristen Carpenter, Council Tree Professor of Law and Director of the American Indian Law Program at the University of Colorado Law School & Alexey Tsykarev, Chair of the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples and Civic Diplomacy "Young Karelia" ("Nuori Karjala"), (Indigenous) Language as a Human Right
    2. Sujith Xavier, Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor, The Human Rights Complex: A Site of Emancipation for People of Colour & Indigenous Peoples?
    3. Danielle Boaz, Assistant Professor in the Africana Studies Department (University of North Carolina at Charlotte), Witnessing Terrorism: Religious Racism and Access to Justice in Brazil
    4. Ntina Tzouvala, Postdoctoral Fellow with the Laureate Program in International Law at the University of Melbourne Law School, The 'logic of biology' and the international legal argument: the standard of civilisation and its enduring relevance

    Concurrent Panel 5: Socio-Economic Inequality - Room 1357

    Discussant: Noah Zatz, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

    1. Anthony Farley, James Campbell Matthews Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Albany Law School, Banners of Colonial Occupation: Marxism, Development Theory, International Law, and Critical Race Theory
    2. Kai Fees, Research affiliate at the Promise Institute for Human Rights, visiting scholar, and project supervisor of the International Human Rights Clinic at the UCLA School of Law, Narrowing Neutrality… Now What? Preliminary thoughts on the UN human rights system’s recent critiques of neoliberal economic policies (Working Title)
    3. Zinaida Miller, Assistant Professor of International Law and Human Rights at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Global Law & Policy, Harvard Law School, Rupture and Reckoning: The Times, Victims, and Experts of Transitional Justice
    4. Catherine Imbeck, Legal Consultant for the United Nations, Re-conceptualizing decolonization in international law

    Concurrent Panel 6: Socio-Economic Inequality - Room 1430

    Discussant: Peter Hudson, Associate Professor of African American Studies and History at UCLA

    1. Jay Butler, Assistant Professor of Law at William & Mary Law School, The Corporate Keepers of International Law
    2. Ernesto Hernández-Lopez, Professor of Law at Chapman University Fowler School of Law, México’s GMO corn fight: Race’s Role in Sovereignty, Biodiversity, and Regulation
    3. Chaumtoli Huq, Associate Professor of Law at CUNY School of Law and Founder/Editor of Law@theMargins, Charting Global Economic Inequalities in the Garment and Tea Worker Struggles of Bangladesh
    4. Andrea Freeman, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, William S. Richardson School of Law, A Comparative Study of Food Inequality under Capitalist and Socialist Political and Economic Systems

    Concurrent Panel 7: Roundtable on Global Raciality: Empire, Postcoloniality, and Decoloniality - Room 1420

    1. H. Samy Alim, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Language, University of California, Los Angeles
    2. Lee Cabatingan, Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology, Law & Society, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine
    3. Kamari Clarke, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles
    4. Laura Gómez, Professor of Law & Faculty Director of Critical Race Studies Program, UCLA School of Law, Professor by Courtesy, UCLA Departments of Sociology and Chicana & Chicano Studies
    5. Howard Winant, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

    Panel Three: Race, Socio-Economic Inequality, and Human Rights - Video

    This panel seeks to interrogate legal protections for economic, social and cultural rights in the seven decades since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, from a perspective that centers racial equality, and the rights of the Third and Fourth Worlds. Recent scholarship has asserted that human rights frameworks developed in ways that complement neoliberalism rather than attenuating the gaping inequalities it has produced. Using CRT and TWAIL approaches, panelists will query whether and to what extent the individual conception of rights at the heart of the human rights framework has been implicated in the promotion of free markets at the expense of social welfare.

    Moderator: Hannah Appel, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

    • Adelle Blackett, Professor of Law and Canada Research Chair in Transnational Labour Law and Development at the Faculty of Law, McGill University
    • Vidya Kumar, Associate Professor at the University of Leicester, Law School
    • Radhika Balakrishnan, Faculty director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership, and Professor, Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University
    • Matiangai Sirleaf, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh Law School
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