4 2019


5 2019

Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Symposium

4:15PM - 5:00PM  

Yale Law School

Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Symposium

Borders, Refuge and Rights

April 4-5, 2019

Yale Law School, Room 127


The figures are overwhelming. An estimated 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by persecution, conflict, or violence. Current crises across the globe – Bangladesh, Syria, Sudan, Venezuela, Yemen – have revealed the crumbling foundations of the international refugee regime. Questions that have hounded that system since its founding reverberate even more loudly today amidst the populist and nationalist backlash to globalization. This symposium will convene writers, scholars, activists,  lawyers, and journalists to take stock of what is and to imagine what might come to be.




4:15-6:00     Keynote Address


Discussion of the international refugee system’s many failings often focuses on refugees as objects of humanitarian relief rather than as rights bearers and political subjects. The keynote lecture will consider who speaks for refugees and how. It will be followed by a conversation about the potential for language to re-center discourse on refugees’ dignity, agency and humanity.

Chris Abani, Novelist, Poet, and Board of Trustees Professor of English Northwestern University


Discussant:  Sarah Stillman, Project Director, Global Migration Project, Columbia University


10:30-12:00     Ideas

The contemporary global refugee crisis puts in stark relief longstanding and unresolved questions about the individual rights and state sovereignty. Is granting refuge an act of grace? A humanitarian duty? The fulfilment of a claim of rights? This session examines the limits to a state’s right to close its borders and whether refugees have a special claim on the right to enter.


Sarah Song, Professor of Law and Political Science, University of California, Berkeley


Discussant:  Paul Linden-Retek ’12, Robina Foundation Visiting Human Rights Fellow, Yaw Law School 

Moderator:  Paul Kahn ’80, Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities, Yale Law School

12:00-12:30   Images: 
Mohamad Hafez, artist and creator of UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage

1:30-3:00     Institutions

A central tenet of international refugee law is a system that transcends state borders to protect refugees. Yet, in an historical moment marked by rising populism and nativism, states are embracing multilateralism to evade their legal obligations.  Major powers – the United States, Europe, Australia – are outsourcing policing of their borders to their poorer neighbors, such as Mexico, Niger, and Palau. This session explores the potential – good and bad – of transnational cooperation.

Bill Frelick, Director, Refugee Rights Program, Human Rights Watch

Sana Mustafa, Consultant and Co-Founder of The Network For Refugee Voices

Leah Zamore ’14, Head of Humanitarian Crises Program, Center on International Cooperation,
New York University

Moderator: Ryan Thoreson ’14, Cover-Lowenstein Fellow in International Human Rights Law, Yale Law School 

3:15-5:00      Innovations

Rights-based litigation has been a relatively uncommon strategy to improve the lives of forcibly displaced people. Even so, lawyers across the globe are employing law through courts and other legal institutions in the struggle to recognize the dignity and rights of refugees. This session brings together lawyers from four continents to discuss strategies

Hanaa Hakiki, Legal Advisor, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Executive Director, Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Sirine Shebaya ’14, Interim Legal Director, Muslim Advocates

Katie Robertson, Director of Legal Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre

Moderator: Hope Metcalf, Executive Director and Lecturer in Law, Schell Center for International Human Rights

 Sponsored by the Schell Center for International Human Rights

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