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Law and Disorder October 11, 2010

Attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard mara22

Lawyers You’ll Like Series: Mara Verheyden Hilliard Part II

Today we’re joined by attorney Mara Verheyden Hilliard co-founder of The Partnership for Civil Justice Legal Defense & Education Fund in the second part of our Lawyers You’ll Like series. Mara and her partner Carl Messineo have worked to defend and advance fundamental civil, constitutional and human rights secured by the U.S. Constitution and under law. We talk about her work, and criminalizing dissent, surveillance, data mining, and FBI harassment. A lot of Mara’s work is at the intersection of first and fourth amendment rights, such as the assault on free speech, assembly and misuse of datamining tools. The Partnership for Civil Justice has many victories, and recently a settlement was reached in a class action lawsuit about the illegality of the arrests of approximately 700 protesters and other persons on Saturday, April 15, 2000 in Washington, D.C.

Attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard:

  • I co-founded the Partnership for Civil Justice in 1994 with Carl Messenio. We decided we wanted to do this work specifically, Constitutional rights, civic justice, public interest litigation.
  • We began this work right after we left law school. We undertook some of the longest running protest cases that we had, in particular, the recently settled class action from the April 2000 mass arrests.
  • I grew up in Washington DC and I spent my childhood going to civil rights demonstrations, anti-war demonstrations, having our house filled demonstrators.  Both of my parents are deeply political people who care very much about civil rights, liberation struggles and womens’ rights.
  • The core of the work we do we recognize as the underlying social justice movement.
  • The municipalities, the governments, they want these cases to go on as long as possible, they want to fight a war of attrition, because they want plaintiffs to feel they have to take toothless settlements.
  • The fact is the law has changed in DC, we’ve changed the way police operate. They can’t use these tactics, these tactics we took apart piece by piece have been removed from the arsenal of the police department in DC.
  • The DC police can’t use the trap and detain tactic, they can’t hold people, they have to release them within 4 hours now. They can’t use the wrist to ankle handcuff mechanism against people anymore.
  • Police need to have their badges plainly available and visible, they can’t come out in riot gear to first amendment assemblies.  Now we’re seeing this effort (FBI) against solidarity activists with the raids and subpoenas. I think it is outrageous, and baseless for the government to be coming in and targeting people for solidarity work.
  • It’s also reflective of the huge security apparatus that was put in place under Bush and is being accelerated under Obama.  Those beliefs, that hope, that thought, that you can  change the direction of the country that you live in, is absolutely true.
  • All you gotta do is look at the past history of the United States, all 150 years.
  • Recognize that it’s no fault to hope and to think that an elected official is going to do it, but historically the elected official has never been the one to do it.

Guest – Constitutional Rights Attorney Mara Verheyden Hilliard co-founder of The Partnership for Civil Justice Legal Defense & Education Fund. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is an activist, Constitutional Rights attorney, and the cofounder of the Partnership for Civil Justice. She is also co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee.

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IDF22 gazaflotillattack11

United States Plays Down UN Report on the Gaza Flotilla Attack

A United Nations fact finding mission into the May 31, 2010 Israeli lethal attacks of ships traveling to Gaza, has reported that Israeli forces violated international law, “including international humanitarian and human rights law.” Eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American were killed in the raid on board the ships attempting to break the Gaza blockade.  The UN Human Rights Council’s investigation judged Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory to be “unlawful” because there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza at the time. However, the United States criticized what it termed as the report’s “unbalanced language, tone and conclusions.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, the Free Gaza Movement and the National Lawyers Guild responded to the report and the comments made by the United States at the Council

“Unfortunately, the United States used the opportunity of the Human Right Council’s discussion on the flotilla fact-finding mission’s report to promote its political agenda instead of engaging on the issue of legal accountability for Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza and the unlawful attack on the Gaza flotilla,” said CCR attorney Katherine Gallagher. “The U.S. must recognize that there can be no peace without justice, and that until it supports accountability for violations of international law–even when violations committed by Israel – instead of a culture of impunity, it lacks the legitimacy necessary to serve as a broker of peace.”

Attorney Katherine Gallagher:

  • There were 6 civilian ships and their goal was to both bring humanitarian aid to Gaza which has been under a Naval blockade by Israel for the last 4 years as well as to challenge the legality.
  • The United Nations back in June 2010 set up a fact finding mission. The 3 commissioners traveled to London, to Geneva, Istanbul and Jordan to interview passengers. They met with legal experts and others to analyze the evidence they heard.
  • The UN fact finding report was submitted last week, 56 detailed pages of what precisely happened that night on those ships on the night of May 31.  It was concluded that the blockade is illegal under international law. It found that the 6 ships traveling to Gaza to break the blockade presented no imminent threat to the Israelis.
  • The 3 commissioners have experience in international law matters. One had been a judge on the international criminal court. Their conclusions are grounded in law and not political conclusions. They were peaceful protesters preparing for an attack on the ship.
  • It’s hard to see what they find as unbalanced. I think the report is carefully written, it’s cautiously written beginning with an analysis of its own mandate. Turkey very much welcomed the report.
  • The bulk of the passengers were detained in Israel, at detention sites that had already been established.
  • Confiscated property consists of cameras, computer chips, video equipment. It contains electronic equipment that provides first hand evidence of the flotilla passengers activities and then the attack on the ship.
  • In the past 4 months Israel has been in possession of that material.

Guest – Katherine Gallagher,  Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where she focuses on holding individuals, including US and foreign government officials, and corporations, including private military contractors, accountable for serious human rights violations. Among the cases she is working on are Arar v. Ashcroft, Matar v. Dichter, Saleh v. Titan and Estate of Atban v. Blackwater.

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honduras july4honduras

Post Coup Honduran Human Rights Crisis

A human rights crisis continues to get worse in Honduras, more than a year after the June 28, 2009 military coup. People on the front lines that oppose the regime installed after the coup are beaten and illegally detained by the state. Nectali Rodezno, Co-Coordinator of National Front of Lawyers in Resistance Against the Coup in Honduras is among the lawyers dircectly involved in defending those are being abused and whose lives are on the line everyday. To inform people about the ongoing crisis in Honduras, there will be a speaking tour this fall called JUSTICE IN HONDURAS: Witness for Peace Mid-Atlantic Fall Speakers Tour will be November 1 – 22.

Attorney Pam Spees:

  • From that moment on you began to see alot of repressive tactics immediately after the coup.
  • Immediately, leaders of that resistance were being targeted. There were several key people who were killed in aftermath of the coup. Walter Trochez was a key LGBT activist who was targeted and killed in a very brutal way.  You also saw the targeting of labor leaders. The killing continue even in this new de facto administration.
  • In March you saw the targeting of journalists. In that month alone, 8 journalists were killed.
  • The Honduran judiciary were taking certain steps before the coup to help undermine Zelaya and what he was doing. We’re still learning about how much of this was driven by official US policy.
  • Before the coup we had the financial crisis in the US that was effecting food security which was making it difficult everywhere. Zelaya was trying to buffer the Hondurans against this. One of the things he did was raise the minimum wage. He raised it and tied it to the food index.
  • The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America
  • On June 28, the Honduran resistance has set up its own truth commission, The Alternative Truth Commission. The International Criminal Court is an actor and could investigate and potentially prosecute some of these acts.
  • In the US we have the Alien Tort Statute. It’s a very old law that allows non-citizens to bring suit in US courts for violations of international law.
  • The courage show by all sectors of this resistance is just incredible. www.resistenciahonduras.net

Guest – Pam Spees,  senior staff attorney in the international human rights program at the Center for Constitutional Rights. She has a background in international criminal and human rights law with a gender focus, as well as criminal trial practice.

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