Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights seeks to respond to the demonstrated demand among Harvard Law students for opportunities to engage in meaningful human rights advocacy work. Students focusing on human rights at HLS currently have a diverse set of options open to them; the Law School offers an expanding array of human rights-related courses, the Human Rights Journal allows students to familiarize themselves with human rights scholarship, and the Human Rights Program Clinical Advocacy Project provides students with for-credit options to get involved with legal human rights advocacy. Since 2003, the Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights have formed an integral part of the human rights landscape at Harvard Law School. The Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights will continue in its mission to promote the salience of the human rights discourse at Harvard Law School, ideally lobbying the University and the Human Rights Program to provide us with
qualified supervision to assist us with our mission.
Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights is an organization dedicated to fostering and facilitating student advocacy of international human rights by: cultivating student interest in human rights, providing HLS students with opportunities to engage in substantive ‘real-life’ human rights advocacy, promoting the sharing of information and institutional memory, maintaining quality output, allocating resources equitably and efficiently, engaging with the local community, Harvard College and other venues to teach the fundamentals of human rights, fostering contact between students and faculty interested in human rights, and ensuring the existence of advocacy opportunities for future Harvard Law School students.
The organization has seven primary functions:
- Sponsoring and developing specific projects for students to engage in human rights advocacy;
- Providing representation to victims of human rights violations, and legal counsel to civil society groups;
- Organizing training sessions, internship advising, career advising, and conferences to give students the practical knowledge needed for effective advocacy; and
- Promoting the increased involvement of students in meaningful academic work related to human rights;
- Actively promoting awareness of human rights at Harvard and in Cambridge, whether through events, editorials, public awareness campaigns, or other forms of non-violent direct action.
- Developing opportunities for its members to teach human rights in local area schools and/or the Harvard College;
- Encouraging networking/social interaction among students and staff interested in human rights.
Any student working towards a degree at Harvard Law School may become a member by participating in any of the activities of Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights. Non-HLS students may also participate, resources permitting.
Note on Direct Action
HLS Advocates is a student organization devoted to the peaceful promotion of human rights. HLS Advocates recognizes that many important activists come to Harvard University and Harvard Law School, some of them promoting human rights and some promoting other, conflicting agendas. In all likelihood, there will be times when HLS Advocates volunteers will either wish to themselves plan a direct-action campaign around a human rights issue or join a campaign organized by another group.
In balancing our right to express ourselves freely with others’ right to express themselves freely, HLS Advocates will incorporate non-violence training into its annual Fall Training. It will also ensure that any protest action to which it either implicitly or explicitly encourages its members to attend be non-violent in nature. This means that the protest organizers will take all reasonable measures to prevent damage to property, violence, or any unreasonable nuisance to the private or business affairs of third parties.
It also means that HLS Advocates will at all times abide by the HLS Protest Guidelines, any applicable University behavioral guidelines, and any other relevant local, state or national laws.
GOVERNANCE: THE EXECUTIVE BOARD
(1) Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights shall be governed by an Executive Board and a Board.
(2) The Board’s central purpose is to steer the organization toward its mission of promoting human rights advocacy at Harvard Law School. Among the Board’s primary functions are:
i. Building the community of human rights-minded students at HLS;
ii. Approving the formation of new Groups and Committees;
iii. Vetting new project or advocacy ideas, and ensuring the quality of any documents produced in the name of the HLS Advocates;
iv. Undertaking outreach efforts across the broader University community as well as the international human rights community; and
v. Improving contact and communication between students and HLS faculty that are involved in human rights issues/work.
vi. Appropriately allocating financial and other resources.
(3) The Executive Board’s central purpose is to coordinate administrative responsibilities, make final budget decisions, and facilitate communication between the various Groups and Committees.
The Board shall be composed of the Chairs of the Groups and Committees, as well as the members of the Executive Board.
(4) Executive Board: The members of the Executive Board are responsible for the administration of the HLS Advocates. Members of the Executive Board shall meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis (as necessary), and shall give direction to the rest of the board: planning broad initiatives, handling complaints, managing the relationship with HRP, the Dean of Students’ Office, the Office of Clinical Programs, and other student organizations, etc. Members of the Executive Board will also be called upon to officially represent the HLS Advocates if necessary.
a. The Executive Board shall decide any urgent and potentially controversial issues that arise. The process for making such decisions will be to consult with the other members of the Executive Board, come up with a provisional decision, send an e-mail to the full Board communicating that decision and asking for commentary and dissent, and – unless anyone dissents – proceed with that decision. If anyone dissents, it will be the job of the Executive Board to either find consensus or postpone the matter for a vote at the next full board meeting.
b. The Executive Board shall organize monthly meetings by the full Board. Only the full Board can make decisions requiring a vote. The voting procedure for all decisions requiring a vote is described below.
c. The members of the Executive Board may – depending on their own initiative – reallocate and pool their responsibilities as they see fit. The default descriptions for each position are listed below.
d. Each member of the Executive Board – whether appointed or elected – has a vote in general Board votes.
(5) Regular Board Membership: The remaining seats on the Board shall be filled by Chairs of each Group and Committee. The full Board shall meet once a month (more often if necessary), to discuss and coordinate the HLS Advocates events and projects, and to make any necessary decisions.
(6) Groups and Committees: Group and Committee Chairs are tasked with planning and organizing HLS Advocates events within the subject matter of that Committee. There shall be Chairs for each Committee or Group. A non-exhaustive list of such activities can be found below.
a. Group and Committee Chairs shall keep in close contact with faculty, staff, and other students at Harvard to best gauge how to provide the service offered by their Group or Committee. The purpose of these Groups and Committees is to provide information to the Harvard Law School community pertaining to their designated aspect of the human rights practice.
b. The Group or Committee Chair shall serve as the point person for any questions about HLS Advocates events relevant to a particular type of service.
c. Currently (2008), five Groups and Committees exist:
ii. Speakers, Events, Activities
iii. (“SEA”) Advocacy/Action
(7) The Executive Board shall consist of:
a. President: One (1) or two (2) Presidents, elected annually by a vote of the entire membership of Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights (see information about the elections). Presidential candidates must be members of the organization and must have served at least one semester as a member of the Board.
1. The President(s) sits on the Executive Board.
2. The President(s), in consultation with the Vice Presidents and other members of the Executive Board, bears primary
responsibility for promoting the organization’s mission. The President(s) will manage the day-to-day administration
of Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights, and actively promote human rights at Harvard Law School.
3. The President(s) will maintain active communication with the Editorial Board of the Human Rights Journal, and will
ensure to the maximum extent possible that the existence of the HLS Advocates does not negatively impact the viability of the Human Rights Journal.
4. The President(s) will call monthly meetings of the full Executive Board, and preside over such meetings.
5. The President(s), in consultation with the Vice Presidents, and after having solicited applicants from among the entire Advocates membership, will appoint to the Executive Board:
a. a Secretary/Treasurer, and
b. a Projects Coordinator, and
c. any other officers deemed necessary for furthering the organization’s mission.
d. If another position is deemed necessary, the Secretary/Treasurer shall send out an email regarding the availability of such a position to the general Advocates membership.
e. Each new position on the Executive Board shall receive a vote in Board decisions, and shall attend the weekly or bi-weekly meetings with the President and the Vice Presidents.
f. The President will report all appointments to the Board. If a member of the Board objects to an appointment, s/he may call for a vote on that appointment. If a majority of the Board votes against the appointment, then the appointment will not take effect.
6. The President will continue to advise the incoming President after stepping down for the remainder of the academic year after the President’s term has officially ended.
7. The outgoing President shall compile or update an annual comprehensive guide on relevant procedures, contacts, and ‘tips’ for the use of future board members.
8. The President(s) will each have one (1) vote in all Board decisions, and their votes will be the deciding vote in the event of a tie.
b. Vice Presidents: Two (2) Vice-Presidents, elected annually by a vote of the entire membership of Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights (see information about the elections). Vice-presidential candidates must be members of the organization. If a successful candidate currently holds a position as a Chair of a Group or Committee, she or he must resign that position upon election to the position of Vice-President.
1. The Vice Presidents sit on the Executive Board.
2. The Vice-Presidents, along with the President, bear primary responsibility for promoting the organization’s mission. The Vice-Presidents will chair the Skills Committee and manage all outreach and training efforts of the organization:
3. The Vice-Presidents will continue to advise the incoming Vice-Presidents after stepping down for the remainder of the academic year after the Vice-Presidents’ terms have officially ended.
4. The Vice-Presidents will each have one (1) vote in all Board decisions.
5. HLS Advocates Annual Fall Training: The Vice Presidents will be primarily responsible for organizing the annual fall training. This will involve significant preparation during the later part of the summer.
6. HLS Advocates ongoing training: The Vice Presidents will be primarily responsible for organizing a series of practical advocacy trainings throughout the year for the benefit of the HLS Advocates membership and the general HLS student body. The Vice Presidents shall coordinate closely with the HRP Academic Director in planning these events.
c. Secretary/Treasurer: One (1) Secretary/Treasurer, to be appointed by the President:
1. The Secretary/Treasurer sits on the Executive Board.
2. The Secretary/Treasurer shall be responsible for keeping records of Executive Board and Board meetings, administering the organization’s financial affairs, and managing communications between the Board and the membership at large, including the listserv.
3. The Secretary/Treasurer shall be present at Board meetings, and will have one (1) vote in Board decisions.
d. Project Coordinator: One (1) Project Coordinator to be appointed by the Executive Board:
1. The Project Coordinator sits on the Executive Board.
2. The Project Coordinator shall convene the Executive Board during or immediately following the Annual Fall Training. This special meeting shall be used to assign all interested HLS Advocates volunteers to projects based on their preferences.
3. The Project Coordinator shall be responsible for keeping track of all HLS Advocates projects. In particular, she or he will:
a. Designate a project leader for each project. In cases where the project is run by the HRP Clinical Advocacy Project, the project coordinator will automatically be one of the Clinical Advocacy Fellows, thus the Project Coordinator’s point person will be that CAP Fellow. If the project is run exclusively through the Advocates, however, the Project Coordinator should convene each project group and designate a project leader in collaboration with the group.
b. Be responsible for ensuring that each project has a Project Reading Group of three readers, that each project coordinator has filed the required paperwork in the HLS Advocates file cabinet, and files any materials sent to partner organizations in the appropriate file.
c. Whenever appropriate, the Project Coordinator shall work with the project leaders, the volunteers who worked on the project and the relevant Committee Chair to organize a project presentation. These presentations shall be open to the public, providing the project volunteers with an opportunity to draw attention to the human rights issues of their project, and (if applicable) to invite relevant experts to campus to help bring light to these concerns.
d. Organize meetings with the project leaders as appropriate, both to keep informed of the status of projects, as well as to facilitate communication between and among project leaders.
e. Report on the status of HLS Advocates projects at Board meetings.
f. Approve new project ideas with the Board as they come up. (See Project Proposal Template – Annex B)
4. When appropriate (given confidentiality considerations), the Project Coordinator will also ensure that completed projects are represented on the HLS Advocates website.
5. The Project Coordinator will either him/herself update the website, or request that the President appoint a website technician. (See appointment procedure above).
6. The Project Coordinator will serve as the primary point person for questions by HLS Advocates members, board
members, or HRP staff regarding the status of projects. This includes reassigning Advocates volunteers to new projects once their first assigned projects are completed.
e. Group or Committee Chairs: The Chair(s) of each Group or Committee shall be a member of the Board. The Chairs are elected according to the general HLS Advocates election timetable.
1. Group or Committee Chairs shall be responsible for planning events within their subject area. The types of activites will vary by Groups or Committee, as explained below:
a. SEA Committee shall organize speakers, event and activities about general human rights topics. Examples include panel discussions, reading groups, project presentations, movie screenings, brown bag lunches, etc. This group shall organize smaller interest group devoted to a particular theme if there seem to be interest within Advocates.
b. Job Committee shall organize events regarding job opportunities within human rights. Examples include summer job panels, career panels, summer job advising, etc.
c. Advocacy/Action Committee shall organize events and action designed to encourage the law school community and general Boston community to become more engaged in pressing human rights issues. Examples include protests, outreaches, activism campaigns, letter-writing campaigns, etc.
d. Social Committee shall organize event designed to foster and greater sense of community within HLS Advocates. Examples include parties, happy hours, etc.
2. The Chairs shall be responsible for liaising with other relevant student interest groups, both at HLS and elsewhere.
3. The Chairs shall be responsible for providing updates to the Board regarding their group’s activities, and relating the ideas and concerns of that Group or Committee’s members to the Board.
4. Each Chair shall be responsible for approving the initiation of any major events within their Group or Committee.
5. Each Chair shall endeavor to develop and maintain relationships with relevant Clinical Advocacy Fellows, NGOs, visiting fellows, Harvard LLMs and SJD’s, etc.
6. The Board will be responsible for calling an election at least once a year to decide on the Advocates leadership for the upcoming year. They will time these elections according to the election timetable.
7. Each Group or Committee Chair will have one (1) vote on the Board.
(8) Executive Board Elections: Elections for the President(s) and Vice-Presidents of the Board will be held annually during the spring semester. Following elections, a transition period will occur during which the new officers will attend Board meetings and become familiar with the organization, however for purposes of the Dean of Students’ Office, the outgoing officers retain their duties until the end of the academic year. The outgoing officers will collaborate with the incoming officers for the remainder of the semester.
(9) Group and Committee Chair Elections: Elections for the Chairs of the Groups and Committees will be held annually during the spring semester Following elections, a transition period will occur during which both the incoming and the outgoing board representatives will attend board meetings. The precise transition in leadership is up to the individual groups and committees.
(10) In the unfortunate event that a Chair cannot continue to exercise his or her functions – for whatever reason – the group will itself organize to have that person replaced as soon as possible.
(11) Unless otherwise noted, all decisions of the Board will be taken by majority vote. At least 2/3 of the members of the Board must be present in order for a quorum to exist; no Board vote may take place in the absence of a quorum.
PROCEDURES FOR RECOGNIZING GROUPS AND ACTIVITIES
(12) New Groups and Committees will be adopted by way of a three-step process:
a. Student(s) interested in engaging in work that does not fall within the purview of an existing Group or Committee may contact the Executive Board.
b. If the Board believes the Group or Committee would further the organization’s mission and is not easily absorbed by any existing Group or Committee, she or he may provisionally approve the new Group or Committee (“Provisional Group or Committee), upon consultation with the other members of the Board. The Executive Board will then work closely with the Provisional Group or Committee so that the students involved may enjoy access to the resources and support of the organization. The development of a Provisional Group or Committee shall be a collaborative process, involving frequent interaction between the Provisional Group or Committee’s Initiator, the Vice Presidents, the Executive Board, and the remainder of the Board. The Executive Board will keep the Board informed of these activities, and consult the Board’s members as necessary.
c. Once the Provisional Group or Committee has begun to engage in work or project design, its members may choose to petition the Board for status as a fully recognized Group or Committee within HLS Advocates. In order to do so, the Provisional Group or Committee must present to the Board a written or oral proposal that includes:
i. A mission statement (area of focus, goals, furtherance of the organization’s objectives, and location of the mission within the international human rights movement);
ii. A brief history of the group to date (including how it formed, current status, and a list of at least four (4) students who are committed to working on the group’s projects);
iii. [if applicable] A description of initial projects or activism campaigns the group would like to work on;
iv. Relevant skill sets and experiences of the Chairs of the Group or Committee (including time spent in the U.S. or abroad doing related work, language skills, related courses, journal experience or any other personal or work experience that is relevant);
v. Faculty members, lecturers, fellows etc., if any, who have been involved with the Provisional Group or Committee to date
and in what capacity; and
vi. The name of the Provisional Group or Committee’s Chair(s).
(13) All Provisional Groups or Activities must be approved by a majority of the Board. The Board will make its decision based on the criteria listed above. The Board may invite members of the Provisional Group or Committee to one of its meetings in order to answer questions and discuss the Provisional Group or Committee.
a. If the students petitioning for full recognition wish for their Provisional Group or Committee Chair to sit on the Board, they may request this in their proposal to the Board. In such a case, the Chair will become an Board member once the Provisional Group or Committee is approved by the Board.
(14) Procedures for discontinuation of a Provisional Groups or Committees shall be as follows:
a. If the Chair of a Provisional Group or Committee, in consultation with students involved in the group, decides that the Provisional Group or Committee is no longer viable, she or he may ask the Board to vote to suspend it. A suspended group will no longer hold a seat on the Board, and may no longer automatically access the financial resources of the organization. Students who believe that a suspended Provisional Group or Committee is viable may petition the Board for its reactivation. Reactivation may occur by a majority vote of the Board.
b. If it becomes clear that a Provisional Group or Committee is no longer functioning effectively and/or furthering the mission of HLS Advocates for Human Rights, the Board may by a majority vote place it on probation for a period of one (1) semester. The Board will explain to the Chair what steps must be taken in order to continue being a part of the organization. At the end of the probation period, the Board will vote on whether to continue recognizing the Provisional Group or Committee. If 2/3 of the Board votes against continued recognition, the Advocacy Initiative will be suspended.
PROJECT QUALITY CONTROL
(15) All major research projects and court/public documents produced by any member(s) of Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights are subject to the organization’s approval procedures. These procedures are designed to be as collaborative as possible while guaranteeing quality control. The types of considerations that a project coordinator might want to consider in structuring and presenting a project are outlined in Annex B.
(16) Project Reading Group: All final project output requires approval by a reading group. The Project Coordinator and the project leader will decide collaboratively whether formal approval is required for interim output, such as project status reports, drafts, etc. that are being sent to the community partner. If they do not agree, the default will be to require approval by a Reading Group. Reading Groups will operate in the following manner:
a. The project leader will suggest three individuals to serve as the Reading Group for the project, subject to approval by the Project Coordinator.
b. One of the Reading Group members must be a member of the Board. A second must be a staff member with the HRP clinical, (or someone designated to replace such a staff member by the HRP Clinical Representative). The third member of the reading group may be drawn from the Board Membership, the HRP Clinical Staff, or the larger University and academic community (professors, HRP non-clinical staff, visiting fellows, qualified SJDs and LLM.s, etc.).
c. All members of the reading group should be well informed that the position requires checking the final documents for both substance and style, and they should express a willingness to dedicate substantial time and effort to reviewing the project’s output.
d. The Project Coordinator shall ensure that individuals do not get overloaded with reading group commitments toward the end of the semester. To this end, the Project Coordinator shall keep a calendar with all of the expected dates of project completion, and keep the relevant reading groups appraised of the project’s progress.
e. The Reading Group provides the final check-off of the finished product. They should be presented with a final product. If the product has a deadline for submission, the students will endeavor to submit the final document to the reading group at least two weeks prior to the deadline. As necessary, the reading group will make suggestions for improvement on the final product before it delivers its recommendation for approval to the Project Coordinator and the project leader(s).
f. Once the Reading Group is satisfied with the quality of the final product, it will recommend to the Project Coordinator and the project leader(s) that the document be officially endorsed by Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights. The Project Coordinator has the power to grant this endorsement, unless she or he wishes to consult with the Board, which would vote on the matter by majority vote.
(17) Non-Legal Project Components: HLS Advocates believes that the human rights movement should avoid a “project mentality” about its work. To that end, and recognizing the desire of many HLS students to develop their legal skills, HLS Advocates encourages projects to include both legal (traditionally defined) and non-legal (not illegal) components. Examples of non-legal project components include:
i. Opinion pieces in the HLS Record and Harvard Crimson newspapers, as well as more mainstream news sources.
ii. Publicity & letter writing campaigns.
iii. Events showcasing abuses pertinent to the advocacy piece: examples can include inviting speakers to campus.
iv. “Press releases” upon publication of the report.
v. Direct Action to compliment the aims of the project.
Amendments to the Constitution
(18) This Constitution may be amended by a 2/3 vote of the Board. Proposals for amendments may be submitted for the Board’s consideration by any member of the organization. Notwithstanding any such proposals, once a year, the Board will conduct a formal review of the Constitution in order to update and revise, as necessary.