Bringing Human Rights Norms into State Courts and Legislatures
Over the past several years, Faculty Co-Director Professor Martha Davis has engaged in numerous projects to implement human rights norms in the USA. These projects have included co-editing the three-volume series "Bringing Human Rights Home," participating in trainings on human rights for advocates and legislators, filing amicus briefs asserting human rights norms in domestic cases and producing training materials for litigators. She has also has also been a prolific speaker on human rights in a domestic context. In April 2013, Professor Davis provided opening remarks at a conference held at American University’s Washington College of Law entitled, “Human Rights Lawyering at the State and Local Level in the United States.” It assembled legal aid attorneys and juvenile public defenders to discuss approaches to incorporating human rights more fully into their work. In March, Professor Davis provided an overview of international human rights in domestic litigation and advocacy under the auspices of the Judicial Institute of Maryland in Annapolis. In October, Professor Davis delivered remarks on the domestic importance of human rights law at a plenary panel at the annual conference for the National Association of Women Judges in Miami, Florida.
PHRGE has worked to support Human Rights norms in a domestic context through a number of other mediums. In April 2013, PHRGE cosponsored “Bringing Economic and Social Human Rights Home: the Right to Adequate Housing in the United States” which engaged 150 attorneys, advocates and federal, state and local government representatives in a discussion of the impact of the human rights perspective in strengthening advocacy on behalf of homeless and poor Americans. Professor Davis participated in a panel discussion that explored the connection between the right to housing and other human rights, and PHRGE Faculty Co-Director Professor Lucy Williams spoke to the implications of a series of South African legal decisions related to the right to housing. Professor Davis has assisted the American Bar Association and NUSL alumnus, John Pollock, in the creation of judicial handbook on the right to civil counsel, including an appendix on the right to counsel in international law. The judicial handbook will be released in early 2014. Professor Davis also provided technical assistance to human rights practitioners and scholars, including the authors of a new poverty law casebook seeking to incorporate human rights material.
In January 2013, a PHRGE team consisting of Professor Davis, Greg Dorchak and Andrew Kirtley filed an amicus brief on behalf of scholars of international law and state law in al-Janko v. Gates, pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The case arises from the U.S. government’s treatment of Abd Al-Rahim Rassak al-Janko, a Syrian Kurd who was taken by U.S. forces from a Taliban prison, only to be accused as an al Qaeda collaborator and confined at Guantanamo Bay for seven years. Al-Janko was cleared of all charges and released to Belgium in 2009. Following his release, al-Janko initiated a civil suit for damages against the United States claiming physical and emotional injuries resulting from “abusive interrogation techniques” used at Guantanamo. Among other things, the complaint alleges that the United States transgressed the law of nations in violation of the federal Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Under Professor Davis’s supervision, Dorchak and Kirtley researched the origins of D.C. law -- some borrowed from Maryland – ultimately establishing that the District has incorporated the law of nations since its inception and continues to recognize its role; therefore, al-Janko’s ATS claim could not be summarily dismissed. A decision on the case is expected in mid-2013.