Thursday, December 13, 2012

Haiti's Draft GBV Law

Dear Anita,

We write to you with some unprecedented and wonderful news----that reflects the culmination of work in Haiti by Rhonda Copelon. 

Haiti’s Ministry of Justice is currently considering a draft penal code revision law that, if approved by the Haitian Parliament, would be a major advancement in legislation addressing gender-based violence and includes a landmark provision on LGBT rights both in Haiti and much of the world. Although not public yet, among its advancements, this penal code revision would change the discourse for women’s rights in Haiti through three critical provisions:

1. Legalize first trimester abortions that threaten the health of the mother and in instances of rape and incest; criminalize marital rape;

2. Modernize the definition of rape, including specific codification of marital rape as a crime; 

3. Protect Haiti’s LGBT community by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 

While the penal code revision process is public, the specific provisions are not, and we ask that you keep these provisions confidential until the MOJ decides to make them public. 

In partnership with the Haitian women’s organization KOFAVIV, MADRE and the IWHR Clinic have been working diligently for the past two years with Haitian civil society and specifically, Haitian grassroots women’s groups on the substance and mobilization of this draft law. Now that the law is complete it will be submitted to Parliament in January and voted on for passage this spring. 

As the final step in this two-year process, the IWHR Clinic and our partners worked to put together a civil society workshop to generate the civil society support and build the momentum needed for its passage. This workshop was supposed to take place on October 25, in Port-au-Prince Haiti. Unfortunately hurricane Sandy hit Haiti before heading to New York and forced us to cancel the event. With international speakers already in town and the event venue paid for in advance, we lost the funding we had secured to make the event possible.

We are urgently writing in hopes of raising the $16,000 needed to host the event again on February 6, 2013 in Port-au-Prince. We are working in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, and grassroots Haitian organizations and believe that this conference is crucial and is the final action needed in order to get this law passed. 

As you know, Rhonda laid the groundwork for the current efforts to end sexual violence in Haiti. In 1994, after Haiti experienced a surge in politically motivated sexual violence, the IWHR Clinic, under Rhonda’s leadership, pulled together a team to file a brief with the Organization of American States arguing that the rape of Haitian women by State actors that was underway amounted to torture under international law. Nearly fifteen years later, when Haiti suffered another surge in sexual violence, this time due to the devastating earthquake in 2010, the same organizations that Rhonda had rallied in the 1990s, came together to file our petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The decision was striking as the Commission expanded on Rhonda’s work to call attention to the State’s due diligence obligation to end sexual violence committed by private actors. The Commission not only called on immediate measures to be implemented, it also implored the Haitian government to draft law that would strengthen women’s rights and eliminate inconsistencies that exist around the prosecution of sexual violence crimes. In response, the Government started drafting such a law. 

The total estimated cost for this workshop is $16,000 and any amount of support you may be able to give would greatly help. The IWHR Clinic, MADRE and our other partner groups have formed the Gender Law and Policy Project as a coalition of organizations who are working to educate lawmakers on this draft law. Checks can be made payable to the CUNY Law School Foundation with Gender Law and Policy Project written in the memo. The address is 2 Court Square, Long Island City, NY 11101. Donations are tax-deductible.

If you have any questions feel free to contact us at anytime and thank you for your consideration.

In Solidarity,

Lisa Davis                                                Yifat Susskind
Clinical Professor of Law                     Executive Director
IWHR Clinic, CUNY Law School      MADRE

Friday, May 25, 2012

On March 30, 2012, a packed auditorium of human rights advocates, lawyers, students, and others gathered for the CUNY Law Review symposium "Looking Forward: Rhonda Copelon's Legacy in Action and the Future of International Women's Human Rights Law" (see March 16 post, below). The day-long event looked at how Rhonda's work helped to define and shape the field of international women's human rights and described how her vision continues to influence and inspire advocates and practitioners.

The CUNY Law Review has posted the program, a slideshow of photos and video footage of the symposium online at, where you can watch the full day of panels on YouTube or as a free download from iTunes U.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Looking Forward: Rhonda Copelon’s Legacy in Action and the Future of International Women’s Human Rights Law

March 30, 2012
8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
The Graduate Center, The City University of New York
365 Fifth Avenue, New York City
“Elebash Recital Hall”

CLE Credits Provided: There is a $15 fee for those seeking CLE credit. A fee waiver for economic hardship is available upon written request to Angela Perez:

Registration for the event: (Pre-registration for this event is now closed, but seats are being held for same day registration so please come early to ensure availability. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m.)

The City University of New York Law Review’s Symposium, “Looking Forward: Rhonda Copelon’s Legacy in Action and the Future of International Women’s Human Rights Law,” will highlight current applications and extensions of Rhonda Copelon’s groundbreaking work through current, cutting-edge implementations of international women’s human rights law. International and U.S. practitioners and human rights advocates will discuss their current work regarding topics such as: Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Rape as a Form of Torture, and Domestic Implementation of International Human Rights Law.

Professor Rhonda Copelon was a trail-blazing human rights lawyer and activist, one of the world’s foremost legal scholars of the rights of women, and founder of the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at CUNY School of Law. Her extensive work on women’s human rights has had a formative influence in shaping discourse on human rights under international and domestic law.

The program will feature four panels and will bring together leading international and U.S. experts to discuss current implementation of Rhonda Copelon’s pioneering work in the realm of international human rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender violence.

Panel One: Sexual Rights Developments under International Law. This panel will explore cutting-edge developments in international law for upholding sexual rights based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and sex work/ sexual exchange, as well as ongoing challenges and obstacles to securing rights in these areas.

Panelists Include:

* Rosa Celorio, Legal Advisor, Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women, Inter-American Human Rights Commission
* Scott Long, Visiting Fellow, Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School
* Andrea Ritchie, Director of Streetwise and Safe, co-author of Queer (In)justice
* Jessica Stern, Director of Programs, International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Moderator: Ruthann Robson, University Distinguished Professor of Law, CUNY School of Law

Panel Two: Reproductive Rights. From the struggle to end the shackling of pregnant women, to court battles to overturn anti-choice regimes, this panel will discuss current legal challenges and successes for reproductive rights domestically and internationally. Specifically, participants will discuss judicial and legislative trends and reproductive rights violations in the U.S., Latin America, Africa, and Europe.

Panelists Include:

* Marianne Mollmann, Senior Policy Advisor, Amnesty International
* Nancy Northup, Executive Director of the Center for Reproductive Rights
* Monica Roa, Director, Women’s Link Worldwide
* Cindy Soohoo, Professor of Law and Director of the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, CUNY School of Law

Moderator: Caitlin Borgmann, Professor of Law, CUNY School of Law

Panel Three: Rape as a Form of Torture. This panel will explore groundbreaking achievements in expanding the notion of rape as a form of torture under international law, including the State’s obligation to address sexual violence committed by private actors. Panel participants will review new developments in the International Criminal Court, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, and UN treaty bodies.

Panelists Include:

* Felice Gaer, Vice Chair of the UN Committee Against Torture
* Nigel Rodley, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, UN Human Rights Committee
* Patricia Viseur-Sellers, Former Legal Adviser for Gender-Related Crimes in the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia
* Blaine Bookey, Staff Attorney, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

Moderator: Penny Andrews, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, CUNY School of Law

Panel Four: Domestic Implementation of International Human Rights Law. This panel will examine innovative litigation regarding the implementation of an international human rights framework in a domestic context. Topics include the use of international human rights law to create change from the local level to the federal courts and innovative tactics to advance Economic and Social Rights.

Panelists Include:

* Catherine Albisa, Executive Director, National Economic & Social Rights Initiative
* Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, Professor of Law and Director, Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law
* Pam Spees, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights
* Joey Mogul, Partner, People’s Law Office

Moderator: Julie Goldscheid, Professor of Law, CUNY School of Law

Co-Sponsored by:

The City University of New York Law Review,
The International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at CUNY Law School,
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and