In 2022, the Northwestern Access to Health Project partnered with a range of community-based organizations around the world on issues related to human rights, global health, and development. We worked in Somalia on climate change, peace, and security; in Bangladesh on sexual and reproductive health education for Rohingya women and girls; in Gaza on access to potable water; and in the Dominican Republic on financial sustainability for a nonprofit health clinic.
Also in 2022, along with Schuette Clinical Fellows in Health and Human Rights Alex Tarzikhan and Megan Osadzinski, we submitted an amicus brief in an amparo proceeding in Mexico related to the human rights violations incurred by an indigenous woman charged with the aggravated homicide of her infant, and a request for Magnitsky sanctions in the United States, the UK and Canada targeted at human rights violators in a particular country that arbitrarily detained peaceful protestors (country anonymized to protect the identity of the community partners and victims of the regime).
In addition, Alex Tarzikhan coached a team of Northwestern students in the international migration law moot court. They won first place for their written briefs and competed in the oral argument rounds in Ghent, Belgium, where they made it to the semifinals.
Supporting human rights advocacy for the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka
Since 2013, Prof. Bridget Arimond and her IHR Advocacy Clinic students have collaborated with EQUAL GROUND, a Sri Lankan NGO that has won many accolades for its work on behalf of the LGBTIQ community throughout Sri Lanka. During 2021-2022, clinic students worked with advocates at EQUAL GROUND to prepare written reports for two human rights review processes: the Human Rights Committee’s upcoming review of Sri Lanka’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Human Rights Council’s review of Sri Lanka under the Universal Periodic Review process. Clinic students hope to join EQUAL GROUND in Geneva to participate in the March 2023 Human Rights Committee session.
International advocacy in support of indigenous people facing toxic contamination from Ethiopia’s Lega Dembi gold mine
Prof. Arimond and her IHR Advocacy Clinic students are continuing their international advocacy on behalf of an indigenous Guji community that has been hard hit by toxic contamination from Ethiopia’s Lega Dembi gold mine. Failures of mine management and government regulatory oversight have left the soil and water contaminated with dangerous levels of mercury, arsenic, and other toxins, leading to high rates of miscarriage and stillbirth, children born with profound disabilities, local villagers afflicted with debilitating illnesses, and devastation of livestock, crops and wildlife. The Government has refused to make public environmental and health impact reports, the community has been denied its right to free, prior and informed consent, and mine opponents have faced retaliation and intimidation.
Because domestic protests had led to not to success but to repression, in 2018, a local Guji NGO asked Prof. Arimond and her clinic to bring the Lega Dembi situation to the attention of international human rights mechanisms. Since that time, Prof. Arimond and her students have visited Ethiopia on three occasions, meeting with NGO partners and obtaining the information needed to submit reports to a host of international mechanisms. Over the past year, they have submitted reports to the UN Special Rapporteurs on toxics and on the right to safe water, to CEDAW, and to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Most recently, they submitted a report to the Human Rights Committee, in connection with the Committee’s review of Ethiopia’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To gather information for the report, Prof. Arimond, clinic student Regan Seckel, and an Ethiopian alumnus of the IHR LLM program visited Ethiopia in August 2022 to meet with NGO partners and others who could provide current information about the situation in the communities near the mine. In October 2022, Regan, Prof. Arimond, and clinic student Michaella Baker traveled to Geneva to attend the Human Rights Committee’s review of Ethiopia. Led by an Ethiopian colleague who had met them in Geneva, they were able to speak with members of the Committee and orally brief them on the Lega Dembi situation.
As a result of these written and oral submissions, during the State review session the Committee forcefully questioned the Ethiopian government delegation about Lega Dembi. Lega Dembi was also singled out in the written “Concluding Observations” issued by the Committee at the close of its session. The Committee expressed concern at the Lega Dembi situation, and urged the State to take immediate steps to protect the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands, to obtain their free, prior and informed consent for any development projects affecting them, to effectively monitor and regulate extractive activities to prevent toxic contamination, to conduct and make public independent health, environmental and socioeconomic impact assessments, and to provide full reparations, including adequate compensation and rehabilitation, to victims.