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International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) Files Amicus Brief on Human Rights Violations of Incarcerated People

Man signing law document
In January 2021, the International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) filed an amicus curiae brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Drafted by IHRLI students under the guidance of IHRLI Executive Director and Director of Global Initiatives Elisabeth Ward (and in coordination with the Instituto Internacional de Responsabilidad Social Y Derechos Humanos), the amicus brief explores the human rights violations endured by vulnerable and marginalized people living in detention.

The brief advocates for the adoption of differentiated approaches to persons deprived of liberty, focusing on three populations: (1) pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding individuals, (2) LGBTQIAP+ persons, and (3) children living in detention with their mothers. It also describes the specific and unique needs of each population.

After years of the Court failing to directly confront the issue, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights forced the issue by requesting an advisory opinion from the Court. Ward states, “It's frustrating that in 2021, human rights NGOs and advocates around the world must advocate for the acknowledgement of such a basic fact–that different populations of persons have different needs in detention." She further expresses concern that even if the Court affirmatively adopts differentiated approaches to persons deprived of liberty, the battle will continue at the domestic state level, as the implementation of differentiated approaches would require substantial financial resources. 

Students who worked on the project praise the experience. Devon Hero ('21) says, “It's easy to feel helpless to the world around us, particularly now, even as lawyers in training. Working on this amicus brief and in this practicum enabled us [students] to combine our law school studies with our passion to advocate for human rights and to take a step towards making a substantial difference." Megan Osadzinski ('22) recognizes the importance of this work because “international human rights law can help to build transnational solidarity and amplify awareness about issues that have a global reach. It is critically important to magnify human rights violations occurring in the United States at the international level, because no state should be immune from accountability. The advisory opinion that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will render on these issues has the potential to effectuate major policy changes in the Western Hemisphere and support crucial incarceration advocacy in the United States."

Following the filing of the brief, the Court will hold a hearing in late April, and practicum students are spending the Spring semester preparing for the hearing.