The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.


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After 17 Years, Justice For 9/11 Remains Elusive


Sushma Raman. 9/27/2018. “After 17 Years, Justice For 9/11 Remains Elusive.” Human Rights First. See full text.
After 17 Years, Justice For 9/11 Remains Elusive


Sushma Raman discusses the government’s twin challenges—upholding both the rule of law and national security—and the resulting delays in the trails of the 9/11 suspects.

“My father, along with many residents of the New Jersey town we are from, died on 9/11.  My mother died recently, without seeing justice.  It is possible that we will not see justice in my lifetime.”

—Family member of victim, September 15, 2018 

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? You mean he is still alive and that trial hasn’t even started?” 

—A colleague of mine, who is a retired senior U.S. government official, September 17, 2018 


Earlier this month, as an independent observer for Human Rights First, I attended a pre-trial hearing in the Guantanamo military commission for the 9/11 suspects. The proceedings fell on the week of September 10, and it was particularly poignant to be there on the anniversary of the attacks. Seventeen years later, there is no start date for the trial of the five men accused of orchestrating the attacks, and the long-serving judge has just been replaced. 

The week’s highlights included a “voir dire” of the new judge, in which he was questioned by the prosecution and defense, and a hearing on the dismissal of the former Military Commissions Convening Authority, Harvey Rishikof. 

Judge Pohl, an Army colonel, announced his retirement in August and assigned Keith Parrella, a military judge with two years’ judicial experience, to replace him. Just before stepping down, Judge Pohl ordered the exclusion of statements the defendants made to FBI interrogators after their transfer from CIA secret prisons, also called “black sites,” to Guantanamo. 

Lawyers for the defendants questioned incoming Judge Parrella on his limited experience as a military judge and in death penalty cases. They also raised the potential for conflict of interest, given Parella’s prior work at the Department of Justice (DOJ) as a fellow alongside several members of the 9/11 prosecution team. 

They also inquired about his knowledge of “mitigation”—evidence from the defense geared to persuade the court that the defendants should not receive a death sentence. The defendants spent years in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program. Their brutal treatment will undoubtedly be raised as a mitigating factor during any sentencing phase. Defense attorneys also questioned Parella’s ability to come up to speed on past rulings. He would have to review more than 20,000 pages of transcripts of the last six years of pre-trial proceedings. 

On September 10th, all five defendants were present at the start of the day, along with their defense counsel. The new judge agreed to, among other things, allow the defendants to be unshackled (unless there was probable cause) and keep breaks in the day that coincide with the defendants’ prayer times.

On Tuesday, September 11th, all five defendants were absent in the morning. Judge Parrella set forth his findings that he possessed the requisite skills and experience to preside in the case, that his DOJ fellowship did not pose a conflict, and that he has no personal bias against the defendants or prior affiliation with the case. 

Another key matter was the firing of Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof. The government argued that Rishikof was fired due to concerns about judgment, temperament, and a lack of appropriate coordination with superiors. The court heard testimony from Lieutenant Doug Newman, an investigator assigned to the office that oversees the defense teams, who described his investigation into Rishikof’s firing. Newman discussed his interviews with former Obama Administration officials, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and former White House Counsel Neil Eggleston. According to Newman, Eggleston indicated that President Obama had become frustrated with the slow pace and cost of the process and asked for a path to move the case forward. 

Defense counsel said that Rishikof had been exploring plea deals that would have taken the death penalty off the table and expedited proceedings. They questioned whether his firing constituted unlawful command influence from political appointees who sought to shape the judicial workings of the case and thus, compromise the independence of the proceedings. 

Upholding both the rule of law and national security are the twin challenges facing the government in this case. The use of torture, as well as alleged government surveillance and intrusion into attorney-client conversations, may result in delays for years to come, with justice remaining elusive for the victims, their families, and the American public. 

Sushma Raman is the Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and served as an independent observer representing Human Rights First. This blog does not reflect the official opinion or position of Harvard Kennedy School or the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. 


: Sushma Raman | Sept 27 2018
: Sushma Raman discusses the government’s twin challenges—upholding both the rule of law and national security—and the resulting delays in the trails of the 9/11 suspects.
Last updated on 07/27/2020

170 Years Ago in Seneca Falls New York, Voting Was a Radical Idea

170 Years Ago in Seneca Falls New York, Voting Was a Radical Idea


Original publication via Harvard's Ash Center.

On July 19th, we celebrated the 170th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, a gathering that launched a global movement to secure the right to vote for women. As people in the US and around the world lament the state of our democracy, now is a good time to reflect on an anniversary that reminds us of how democratic change occurs.

Women’s suffrage was the most radical demand that Elizabeth Cady Stanton included in the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments in 1848. When Stanton first suggested a suffrage resolution at the Seneca Falls Convention, even her most resolute supporters were afraid that it might make the women’s movement look ridiculous and compromise their other goals. Voting was considered the quintessential male domain of action. Resolutions on other issues at Seneca Falls, such as equal access to jobs and education for women, passed unanimously, while the suffrage resolution carried by a small majority and only after eloquent speeches by Stanton and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. It would take decades of struggle, including parades, protests, arrests, hunger strikes, and force feeding, before the US acknowledged women’s right to vote in 1920. The struggle to secure the vote for African Americans is an even longer story that can be traced from the Civil War to current voter suppression in states like North Carolina.

Our appreciation of voting as a radical demand secured through decades of struggle has been lost in US politics today, as reflected in low voter registration and turnout. At Harvard, where I teach, 59% of eligible students voted in the 2016 presidential election and only 24% in the 2014 midterm elections. This spring, I did a small set of focus groups with Harvard undergraduates to gauge their attitudes toward voting in an attempt to understand these low numbers. In every group, at least one person clearly articulated the belief that voting is a privilege and duty of citizenship. A small number argued that there was no duty whatsoever to vote and that there might be good reasons not to vote. Most students, however, fell in between these two positions. They argued that voting is the right thing to do, but that it is optional and that there are many reasons why it is acceptable not to vote. These reasons include lack of compelling candidates, lack of information, lack of interest, and lack of a personal stake in the matter.

“All of us have to collaborate in helping people exercise their legal right and their civic duty to vote”

These students revealed disillusionment with the political system, saying their vote would not make a difference. Voting was one option for participation in a democratic society, but for many of the students it held little meaning or impact. The passion of Seneca Falls was missing. One student mused, “I wish that there was a way … to make people more enthusiastic about voting. … apathy is a huge problem…”

People often assume college students don’t need advice or help to vote, especially Ivy League students. But many of the students found the US voting system genuinely complicated, and antiquated, especially in the case of absentee voting. At times, what the students described reached the level of voter suppression.

We need to continue the struggles launched by the activists in Seneca Falls to expand voting. If some of the smartest and most motivated young people in America today find voting difficult, we have a responsibility to help them and many others as they navigate the often complicated and sometimes hostile terrain of the US voting system. Voter suppression has been a conscious and well-orchestrated set of policies in many states; voter encouragement must be no less conscious or collective. Ensuring that US citizens enjoy the right to vote is very much the work of our government and political parties, but should not be left only to them. All of us have to collaborate in helping people exercise their legal right and their civic duty to vote.

Kathryn Sikkink is the Ryan Family Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at Radcliffe

: Kathryn Sikkink | July 31 2018
: On July 19th, we celebrated the 170th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, a gathering that launched a global movement to secure the right to vote for women.
Last updated on 02/11/2020

#Us Too: Children on the Move and Belated Public Attention


Jacqueline Bhahba. 4/12/2018. “#Us Too: Children on the Move and Belated Public Attention.” International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 21, 2, Pp. 250-258. Publisher's Version
#Us Too: Children on the Move and Belated Public Attention


Children on the move are having their #UsToo moment.

Over the past months, momentous developments point to a more intense engagement with the needs and rights of refugee and other migration-affected children than has previously been evident. As with #Me too, many of the most central claims – the pervasive presence of abuse, the scale of the problem, the striking power imbalances that have perpetuated the problem’s relative invisibility – are not new or surprising per se. It is the avalanche of evidence, the mobilization of affected constituencies, and the sobering realization of the extent and consequences of previous denial that are disquieting.

: Jacqueline Bhahba | Apr 12 2018
: Children on the move are having their #UsToo moment.
Last updated on 01/16/2020
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- Mathias Risse