The International Human Rights Clinic requires students to navigate international human rights law theory and practice in the service of real clients. Clinic students collaborate with international human rights organizations abroad and community-based groups in Los Angeles on policy, litigation and advocacy projects and in some cases students provide individual representation. 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.
Who We Are
Tendayi Achiume is Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law. She is also a Research Associate with the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand. The current focus of her work is the global governance of racism and xenophobia; and the legal and ethical implications of colonialism for contemporary international migration. In November 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Professor Achiume the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, making her the first woman to serve in this role.
Professor Achiume has directed the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at UCLA since Fall 2013. Prior to her current appointment, she was the second recipient of the Binder Clinical Teaching Fellowship at UCLA School of Law.
Joseph Berra is Human Rights in the Americas Project Director with the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law. His teaching and research interests include immigrant rights, international human rights, and the rights of Indigenous and Afrodescendent peoples in Central America. Berra coordinates projects with organizational partners in the U.S. and Latin America to engage students in human rights advocacy and the Inter-American system for human rights. Current projects include collaboration with Indigenous organizations resisting extractivist industries in their territories, litigation at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, and research on the human rights challenges faced by Indigenous migrants in the U.S. detention and immigration systems.
Before coming to UCLA, Berra was a successful civil and human rights litigator with both the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the Texas Civil Rights Project. He is the past Executive Director of the Caribbean Central American Research Council, an inter-disciplinary activist research organization, and currently serves on the CCARC Board. He co-authored two studies with CCARC in 2002 and 2007 to support the territorial claims of Indigenous and Afrodescendent communities in Honduras. A former Jesuit, Berra spent many years living and working in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America before earning his law degree.
Todd Schneider teaches Legal Research and Writing at UCLA School of Law and assists in teaching upper division clinical courses. From 2008-2017, he worked in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Prior to that, he spent six years with the U.S. Department of Justice, first with the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division, then with the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section of the Criminal Division. Upon graduating law school, he clerked for the Honorable John M. Steadman for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
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.
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)
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.
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.
The California Institution for Women Think Tank (CIW) Memorandum
The central purpose of the report, Women Beyond Bars: Reentry and Human Rights, is to ex-plain what adopting a human rights approach to reentry means for the women of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles, and other local government authorities responsible for the reentry land-scape in Los Angeles, specifically as it relates to housing and employment.
Prohibition of Racial Discrimination on the Basis of Citizenship, Nationality and Immigration Under International Human Rights Law (UN Human Rights Council Report A/HRC/38/52)
Clinic students assisted the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance prepare a report pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 34/35 based on racial discrimination in the context of laws, policies and practices concerning citizenship, nationality and immigration. Students provided legal research, worked on drafting report outlines, and assisted with finalizing the report. Clinic students had the opportunity to travel to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City and also assisted with the presentation of this report at the Human Rights Council convening in Geneva, Switzerland.
- Citizenship Report
- Presentation of the Citizenship Report and the Interactive Dialogue with the Human Rights Council in Geneva
Contemporary Manifestations of Glorification of Nazism and neo-Nazism (UN Human Rights Council Report A/HRC/38/53)
Clinic students worked with the Special Rapporteur from the inception to the final draft of a report addressing the broadening of neo-Nazi groups pursuant to General Assembly resolution 72/156. Students facilitated background and historical research, led seminar discussions, created draft outlines, and assisted with source collection and citations. The report highlighted the rise of white nationalists and right-wing populist movements, and the manner in which this broadening poses a serious threat to many racial, ethnic and religious groups. Clinic students may also have the opportunity to travel to the UN General Assembly in New York City in fall 2018 to attend the presentation of this report.
- Glorification of neo-Nazism Report
- Presentation of the Glorification of neo-Nazism Report and the Interactive Dialogue with the Human Rights Council in Geneva
Consultations with Civil Society Organizations at Columbia Law School
While traveling to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, clinic students also had the opportunity to attend civil society organization (CSO) consultations hosted at Columbia Law School. The Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and clinic students spoke with CSOs and noted the pressing issues organizations on the ground were faced with. Clinic students then advised the Special Rapporteur on common human rights challenges to be addressed in upcoming reports to the UN.
Fieldwork in Rio Blanco
Students traveled to the Lenca community of Rio Blanco, Intibucá, Honduras and conducted field and archival research with Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH) on the territorial claim of the community and recent land conflicts and intimidation connected to their resistance to the dam project.
- Students took testimony and prepared affidavits of community members;
- Visited archives in Santa Barbara obtaining historical records of their title;
- Walked the territory with community elders documenting the claim and their conflicts with third parties with photos, video and a GPS mapping program.
Students met with grass-roots and human rights activists in a series of knowledge encounters to learn from their work on the ground and the challenges of the Honduran context. This included peasant and community organizations, mothers and family members of disappeared migrants, students, human rights and professional legal organizations.
Post-Electoral Human Rights Violations
Students were present in the midst of the unfolding human rights crisis following the November 26, 2017 elections, during which over 30 protesters were killed and hundreds injured by government repression. Following the fieldwork, students prepared internal memos for Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC) on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Global Magnitsky Act as means to hold government actors accountable.
Human Rights Seminar at B.J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall
In collaboration with the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) and the UCLA Prison Education project, students offered a seminar to youth in B.J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall on transformative justice and human rights. Students developed the curriculum based on the presentation of What it Iz, the Spoken Wordical, a production of Professor Bryonn Bain and the UCLA Prison Education Project.
Human Rights Impact of Random Searches in Schools
Students analyzed data on random searches in schools and their impact on students based on the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child and the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Students wrote a letter to the LAUSD School Board advocating for an end to the practice based on human rights principles, and produced a detailed Memo for YJC for use in further advocacy.
Indigenous Rights and Resistance to the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project
COPINH and their attorneys with the Movimiento Amplio de Dignidad y Justicia (MADJ) sought to pursue further legal challenges to the legislative and administrative acts that gave rise to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in the territory of Rio Blanco. In ongoing support of their efforts, clinic students further systematized the facts in the case and developed legal analysis under the international human rights framework for Indigenous rights regarding not only the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), but underlying substantive rights to territory and self-determination. COPINH is following multiple legal avenues and exhausting domestic remedies in its effort to permanently rescind the concessions and halt the dam project.
Decolonizing Place - California Native Nations and the Camino Real de las Californias Memos and Workshop
The clinic partnered with the Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples to support its Decolonizing Place initiative by analyzing the application of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to UNESCO and the World Heritage Site designation process. Clinic students produced a four-part memo on the UNESCO process, the application of UNDRIP, World Heritage Sites affecting Indigenous Peoples, and the use by Indigenous Peoples of alternative practices of memorialization of place, such as sites of conscience. Students also organized a workshop to discuss the results of their research and promote dialog and strategizing between representatives of California Native Nations.
Geremías v. Honduras, IACHR Petition in collaboration with ERIC Honduras
Clinic students assisted with legal research and the drafting of a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the immediate relatives of Nery Geremías, a Honduran journalist assassinated on account of his reporting on corruption by local government officials. The case is emblematic of the 69 assassinations of journalists in Honduras, over 90 percent of which have gone unpunished. Building on jurisprudence by the Inter-American Court and Commission for Human Rights, students developed arguments that the Honduran state failed its duty to protect and prevent the violation of Nery's right to life and freedom of expression by failing to investigate crimes against journalists and contributing to a hostile environment for the exercise of free expression. The petition was filed in July of 2017 and is currently pending before the IACHR.
Under rules of the IACHR, the petition is confidential while pending.
The California Institution for Women Think Tank (CIW) Memorandum
In collaboration with the Professor Bryonn Bain and the UCLA Prison Education Program, clinic students during the fall 2016 semester traveled twice a month to CIW to meet with the CIW Think Tank in order to develop a memorandum addressing human rights violations. Clinic students then conducted interviews with community partners and other stakeholders, and also conducted secondary research on Los Angeles' reentry landscape and the applicable international human rights standards. The clinic students pursued an intersectional approach to evaluating the needs and concerns of women reentering Los Angeles and identified steps the Mayor's Office of Reentry and other public actors in Los Angeles must take to fulfill the human rights to housing and employment of reentering women.
Right of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior, and Informed Consultation and Consent—Consultancy for the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) - Expert Brief
On the night of March 2, 2016, Berta Cáceres, the Indigenous leader of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH) was assassinated on account of her leading role in opposition to the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Lenca territory of Rio Blanco. COPINH and the Lenca community of Rio Blanco, in their ongoing struggle against the dam, asked the clinic to prepare an expert brief on the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). The right to consultation and FPIC forms part of the evolving international human rights framework for indigenous rights. Clinic students researched the emerging contours of the right and its application in different case studies around the world and in the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights. They then applied the applicable standards to the case of Rio Blanco and the Honduran state's concession of water rights and environmental licenses in violation of the right. The brief was submitted in conjunction with litigation by COPINH in the Honduran Supreme Court.
Morales v. Honduras – IACHR petition in Collaboration with the Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC) (Team for Reflection, Research and Communication – ERIC) of El Progreso, Honduras
Clinic students assisted with the legal research and drafting of a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for José Isabel Morales, also known as "Chabelo," who has become a symbol of the criminalization of peasant farmers and recognized as a political prisoner in Honduras. After spending 6 years, 9 months and 7 days in jail for trumped-up charges lacking foundation, attorneys with the human rights division of the Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC) collaborated with clinic students to file the IACHR petition in November of 2016 for violation of his rights to liberty, personal integrity, and due process. The petition is currently pending before the IACHR.
Under rules of the IACHR, the petition is confidential while pending.
Legal Services to the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance
In June 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance focused his report on the problem of xenophobia and the role of human rights in addressing it. Students of the International Human Rights Law Clinic devoted the spring semester of 2016 to providing comprehensive legal research and analysis to support the Special Rapporteur's drafting process.
ICE OUT OF LA Human Rights Report on Sheriff-ICE Collaboration
In the spring of 2016 students of the International Human Rights Clinic were commissioned by the Coalition ICE Out of LA to investigate and draft a report on the impact of the collaboration between the LA County Sheriff's Department (LASD) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from a human rights perspective. Students analyzed the history of this entanglement arising from an interior enforcement strategy by ICE to commandeer the local criminal justice system to serve the ends of federal civil immigration enforcement. Students conducted interviews with detainees, former detainees, and their family members who were subjected to the most recent iterations of ICE's interior enforcement strategy known as Secure Communities and the Priority Enforcement Program. They also distributed surveys in the immigrant community to assess the impact of these programs. Students uncovered human rights concerns and violations that impacted the due process and equal protection rights under international human rights law of immigrants in detention, as well as a negative impact on the immigrant community's rights to safety, integrity of the family, and human dignity. The Human Rights Consequences of LASD-ICE Collaboration: A Toxic Entanglement was published in January of 2017 by the ICE Out of LA Coalition, and continues to be used in their advocacy to disentangle LASD from ICE enforcement.
Syrian Refugee Access to Information Project
To improve Syrian refugee access to legal and other services, the International Human Rights Clinic developed a guide on best practices for information dissemination strategies in refugee crisis. A key challenge faced by both refugees and their advocates is access to vital information. The International Human Rights Clinic, on behalf of the Syrian League for Citizenship (a Syrian-led non-governmental organization in Lebanon), created a guide detailing information dissemination strategies that have been successful in improving access to vital legal and other information during refugee crises. Clinic students researched various communication strategies, and identified those most effective in the context of crisis. Students also students conducted extensive research on the varying characteristics of different refugee populations in the host countries, and how best to improve their access to information regarding their rights. This guide will be translated into Arabic by the Syrian League for Citizenship, and distributed widely to refugees and their advocates in Lebanon.
Dignity and Power Now Breaking the Silence report
In spring 2015, clinic students drafted and released the first report documenting human and civil rights violations due to medical neglect of women of color with mental health conditions in Los Angeles County jails. On behalf of Dignity and Power Now, clinic students documented human rights violations resulting from medical neglect of women incarcerated in the LA County jail system. The report focused on abuses committed by LA County officials against women of color with mental health conditions, highlighting how race and gender heighten their vulnerability to this abuse. Clinic students conducted interviews with formerly incarcerated women. Students also conducted extensive legal and secondary social science research on the human rights harms that incarceration generates especially with respect to mental health. Additionally, the students participated in informative meetings with community activists and formerly incarcerated women, which greatly impacted the students' analysis of the violations and their advocacy strategy.
Using International Tribunals to Vindicate International Human Rights Abuses in the United States: Filings Before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
After rigorous client interviews and legal research, students of the International Human Rights Clinic filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and another before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, on behalf of four brothers. Within weeks of the September 11, 2001 attacks, United States agents arrested Mostafa Mirmehdi, Mohsen Mirmehdi, Mojtaba Mirmehdi and Mohammed Mirmehdi. These agents knowingly used fabricated evidence to detain the brothers for over 40 months. The Mirmehdis, who were never charged with any crimes, unsuccessfully sought justice in domestic courts for more than a decade for their arbitrary and abusive detention. On behalf of the Mirmehdis, students of the International Human Rights Clinic pursued vindication of these human rights violations at the international level. In addition to filing two international petitions, students also hosted a successful advocacy event that was widely covered by media sources in Los Angeles, to raise public awareness of the Mirmehdis’ case and the broader issue of arbitrary detention in the United States.
Addressing Human Rights Violations Against L.A. County Jail Inmates: A Proposal for Civilian Oversight of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department
At the request of the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. (the Coalition) students of the International Human Rights Clinic produced a detailed analysis of possible models of civilian oversight to combat human rights violations in L.A. county jails. Patterns of misconduct have persisted within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) for decades. Most recently the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence extensively documented serious problems of excessive force, lax oversight and a general culture of aggression. As reform efforts gather pace, the Coalition, which has worked tirelessly to bring attention to the problem of jail violence, has urged the immediate creation of a Civilian Review Board (CRB) to oversee the LASD as a crucial part of the solution. Students participated in meetings with survivors of human rights violations in custody, community activists, civil rights lawyers and L.A. county officials, which deeply informed their research and analysis. Students also gained valuable experience working on behalf of a grassroots community organization to address human rights violations right here in Los Angeles.
International Human Rights Protections for Migrant Workers: Improving Benefit Portability for Mozambican Mineworkers in South African Mines
Mozambican mineworkers working in South African mines have great difficulties accessing work benefits to which they are entitled upon their return to Mozambique. In partnership with Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa, students of the International Human Rights Clinic contributed to a larger project to address this pressing issue. As advocates in South Africa and Mozambique weigh strategy options, students provided them with a comprehensive research memorandum on (1) South Africa’s human rights obligations to protect Mozambican mineworkers, and (2) strategies that Mexican migrant workers in the United States have used to secure benefit portability upon their return to Mexico.