IHR Clinic Fellow at Helm of Human Rights Database

Meredith Heagney
Law School Office of Communications
November 21, 2013

For activists and lawyers working around the world, information is often one of the most important tools for promoting human rights. Knowing if the law protects people from abuse and mistreatment and whether it provides access to basic services is the first step to combating injustice.

And that job, for the dedicated people who do it, just got much easier, thanks to a project managed by Brian Citro, ’10, Clinical Lecturer in Law and Fellow in the International Human Rights Clinic. Citro was Project Manager and is now Project Consultant for the Global Health and Human Rights Database, a free online collection of case law and other legal instruments concerning health and human rights. The database was launched on October 24 at the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.

The website seeks to publish all significant judgments involving health and human rights from domestic, regional and international jurisdictions. So far, 1,000 cases have been posted from more than 80 countries, in 25 languages. It provides more than 500 original case summaries and 200 new translations of judgments previously unavailable in English. The website also contains national constitutions and international and regional instruments, such as treaties and legislation.

The database is a joint project of the Lawyers Collective, a nongovernmental organization in India, and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. It was developed in close consultation with partners in civil society, academia, and the legal profession around the world, Citro said.

The website gives human rights workers, lawyers, and scholars free access to judgments that demonstrate legal strategies that have worked in promoting health and human rights elsewhere. It also provides an invaluable global perspective of the intersection between various rights (right to health, right to due process, etc.) and a variety of health topics (HIV, sexual and reproductive health, etc.). Traditionally, many of these legal documents have been difficult to find, especially at no cost and in one location.

“We want this website to be a one-stop shop for people interested in health and human rights,” Citro said. “The idea is to promote health and human rights as a field, and the right to health, in particular, as an enforceable right…if you’re in Pakistan litigating or researching the right to health, it’s important to know what’s happening in the U.S. or the U.K. or Ghana.”

Citro started working on the database in September 2010 while working in New Delhi in the HIV/AIDS Unit of the Lawyers Collective. He served as Project Manager before moving on to working as a Senior Research Officer to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover. Grover also serves as the Executive Director of the Lawyers Collective’s HIV/AIDS Unit. In his UN role, Citro conducted fact-finding missions throughout the world and drafted reports in support of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate to promote realization of the right to health. Meanwhile, he continued to oversee the development and design of the database and its website, which is funded by the Ford Foundation and the Levi Strauss Foundation.

Citro said he is grateful to Professor Martha Nussbaum for helping him get his first job at the Lawyers Collective, as part the Law School’s International Human Rights Summer Internship Program during the summer before his 3L year. Nussbaum does extensive work in India and has a longtime relationship with Indira Jaising, Additional Solicitor General of India and Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Initiative at the organization. That’s how Citro ended up in New Delhi, eventually working for both Jaising and Grover.

Nussbaum said that Citro, at the Lawyers Collective, went above and beyond his basic job description. “His job was primarily to assist Anand Grover, but with his energy and initiative he got involved in all areas of the group’s work,” Nussbaum said. “He rapidly became indispensable because of his energy, dependability, and command of the issues.”  

Clinical Professor Sital Kalantry, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, said the website will “allow advocates to bring legal analysis and strategies that have worked in other countries to their  own courts.” Kalantry worked on her own database project while teaching at Cornell University Law School, where she started a website listing cases related to women’s rights.

“Courts in many countries are increasingly using comparative and international law, and this gives them access to these materials, which are otherwise extremely difficult to find,” she added. 

Now, anyone with Internet access can learn new ways to promote health and human rights.