UW School of Law > Clinical Law Program > International Human Rights

LAW E556 International Human Rights Clinic

3 Credits*/Qtr (Winter/Spring)

The International Human Rights Clinic focuses on business involvement with human rights violations. Under the supervision of two faculty members and in partnership with select nongovernmental organizations, students work in teams of 2-3 on projects designed to prevent corporate violations of human rights in global supply chains, in impacted communities (e.g. indigenous communities), and in areas with natural resources. Clinic projects focus on skills such as: developing draft legislation and advocacy strategies for legislative campaigns; drafting amicus briefs; assisting with research, evidence collection and complaint drafting for various types of business and human rights grievance mechanisms and advising companies on how to create and implement human rights policies in their global operations. The projects have a global reach, not necessarily focused on the United States.

Students submit their learning objectives before the clinic convenes.

* You are expected to spend approximately six hours in out-of-class time, including a team meeting with your supervisor. Independent Study (1 credit) may also be available.

Winter 2014 Projects

International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and EarthRights International

ICAR and EarthRights International have launched a nationwide project partnering with law schools to research state law and propose recommendations for corporate accountability legal reform in their respective states. This is in part a response to the recent Supreme Court Kiobel Alien Tort Statute (ATS) decision, holding that human rights cases can only be brought in U.S. federal courts under the ATS if the actions "touch and concern" the United States "with sufficient force." The practical effect of the decision has been that many federal cases that have an international element, including cases against U.S. corporations, have been dismissed.

In state court, victims and survivors can bring claims for assault and battery or wrongful death (as opposed to torture, genocide, or war crimes, which they could bring in federal court). Still, litigating in state courts presents many unique obstacles for victims of international human rights abuses. Targeted legislative amendments can make it easier for victims to sue in state courts. Students will also examine their state law and propose recommendations of how the law could be improved to better protect human rights victims.

Phase 1: Research state law litigation issues and draft research memos; research state law legislative issues and draft legislation; research state legislators and approach allies to introduce and support bills; build a movement around the legislation; work with other organizations to help garner support.

Phase 2: Introduce bills; legislative advocacy re state level legislation and federal legislation; tracking state level litigation developments.

Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking (CAST)

The mission of CAST is to assist persons trafficked for the purpose of forced labor and slavery-like practices and to work toward ending all instances of such human rights violations. Its activities "are interconnected by a client-centered approach that seeks to empower survivors of trafficking to fully realize their individual potential while advancing the human rights of all trafficked survivors."

Since the inception of a Caucus in 2003, survivors have transformed into advocates and the impact of their voices on policies and public awareness have led to the development of stronger protections for victims in both California and Federal anti-trafficking laws. Caucus members have become influential advocates and the impact of their voices on policies and public awareness have led to the development of stronger protections for victims in both California and Federal anti-trafficking laws.

Each year, based on their own experiences, the Caucus identifies key areas of state legislation which they believe are most important to the identification and protection of trafficking victims. Recent legislative focus has been on SB 1193, which gives current victims a viable means of escape by posting information about forced labor and trafficking and providing hotline numbers where they can get the help they need. In 2014, CAST will attempt to amend another human trafficking bill, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (SB 657) for further disclosure requirements, expanding coverage from goods to services.

Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC)

The Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC) works to protect the human rights of individuals and communities in developing countries who are fighting against harm to their environment by:

  • finding top law firms to advocate, negotiate, or litigate on their behalf
  • advising, filing legal briefs, and providing resources
  • giving grants to fund cases

EDLC is often asked by communities to assist local lawyers in cases brought before domestic courts. These cases typically involve violations of the human rights of community members resulting from harm to their environment. The courts are usually required to consider international law in deciding these cases because people affected by harm to their environment enjoy substantial human rights protections under international law. Yet local lawyers often lack the time or training to address these issues, and many judges have a limited understanding of the relevant international law they must consider.

As a result, EDLC frequently prepares and submits legal briefs in these cases, focusing on the key issues under international human rights law. This international approach also dovetails with the local lawyers' focus on domestic law. And when arguments based on international law are presented by lawyers from another country, it serves to emphasize to the court that international law must be followed.

EDLC has written briefs on behalf of communities around the world for use in cases that seek recognition of the land rights of indigenous peoples, tackle health and environmental harm caused by pollution from natural resource development projects, fight for the participatory rights of communities affected by mines and dams, and defend speech and protest critical of a wide variety of environmental harms. Students will conduct research and drafting of briefs.

BSR

BSR works with its global network of more than 250 member companies to develop sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research and cross-sector collaboration. With six offices in Asia, Europe, and North America, BSR uses its expertise in the environment, human rights, economic development, and governance and accountability to guide global companies toward creating a just and sustainable world.

Whether operating in developing or industrialized locations, human rights continue to be one of the most significant issues for extractives companies, particularly when indigenous peoples and other vulnerable populations are involved or impacted by large-scale projects. The United Nations' endorsement of the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, developed by John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, and his team, underscores the global expectation that business operates with respect for human rights. BSR helps companies develop and implement strategies that ensure respect for human rights and contribute to business success..

For the mining companies the projects would likely involve either a research project on hands-on participation regarding human rights impact assessments or due diligence work or research.

BSR has also advised on:

  • Grievance mechanisms
  • Developing human rights training or adding a legal angle to existing human rights training
  • Tailored research on a business and human rights issue –e.g., conflict of national laws vs. int'l human rights standards, or another area that would involve some aspect of legal research.

Last updated 4/10/2014