The HDC works with individuals and communities whose sense of human dignity has been violated in some way. Often, we will work with so-called ‘vulnerable’ populations, helping them to strengthen their own coping mechanisms to overcome their vulnerability.

The HDC works in close collaboration with relevant organizations to provide legal advice to individuals and families struggling with domestic violence, as well as children or families of children in conflict with the law. 

Students also work on larger policy advocacy projects. Representative past and ongoing projects are described below.

Thangkha Conservation Project

In early 2018, the Thangka Conservation Centre (later renamed BARRC, for ‘Bhutan Art Restitution & Reclamation Centre’) approached the HDC to propose a long-term collaboration focused on the return of stolen and lost cultural artifacts to Bhutan. The project was an early illustration of the difference between a Clinic focused on human rights and our human dignity-focused clinic. Whereas most human rights clinics may not have seen a project to preserve cultural heritage as a suitable project, in Bhutan, the preservation of Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage constitutes part of Bhutan’s determination to ensure respect for human dignity.

BARRC contacted the Clinic to help retrieve two Thangkas (a silk applique and embroidered Thangka of Ushnihvijaya, and a large Thangka of Avalokiteshvara Shadakshari) that were stolen from Phajoding Monastery. Thangkas are Buddhist scroll paintings on cloth. In 1972, 40 such Thangkas were stolen from the main altar of the monastery. A formal police report detailing the theft was only filed in 1982, after the proper protocols to document such thefts had been put in place. The Royal Government of Bhutan has been trying to retrieve these Thangkas ever since.

On 3 October, 2017, two of those 40 stolen Thangkas were identified at an auction house in Hong Kong. Upon a request by BARRC to halt their sale, the auction house requested formal documentation proving that the Thangkas were, in fact, stolen artifacts from Bhutan. After submission of the requested documents, the two Thangkas were indeed removed from the auction, but they were not returned to Bhutan. Instead, the families seeking to sell the Thangkas increased the asking price for the artifacts, seeking for BARRC or the Royal Government of Bhutan to pay for their return. Acting through the Auction House, these anonymous owners are currently demanding HKD$ 600,000 for Thangka of Unshinishavijaya, and HKD$1,500,000 for the Thangka of Shadakshari.

The Human Dignity Clinic (HDC), working together with White & Case LLC, ultimately reached the conclusion that the chances of a successful litigation effort to force the return of these stolen Thangkas would be exceedingly slim. Such an effort, the clinic concluded, would require complex litigation in a foreign jurisdiction, with only questionable legal standing to bring the claim. Based on prior experience, our team felt that it would not be a good use of time and resources to attempt such litigation.

In light of this analysis, the BARRC agreed to drop the prospect of litigation and pursue other avenues instead. In the meantime, the owner of the Unshinishavijaya Thangkha, decided to break his silence. Acting through his legal representatives, he contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) seeking to have Bhutan drop its claims on the Thangkha so he could proceed with its sale. The MFA contacted the Clinic, and jointly worked to produce a response inviting discussions. This process is ongoing, and the Clinic continues to play an active consulting role.

RENEW Consensus Building Initiative

The first ‘beta’ clinic project was a joint effort by the HDC and the Appropriate Dispute Resolution Clinic to develop a new way to resolve certain types of domestic violence (“DV”) cases. RENEW approached JSW Law’s clinic to participate in a multi-stakeholder discussion about how to train its Community Based Support Services (“CBSS”) Volunteers in mediation. After some initial research, the clinic presented its strong recommendation to the assembled stakeholders (which included representatives from NCWC, BNLI, the OAG, RENEW and the RBP) that RENEW’s CBSS Volunteers should not be encouraged to mediate domestic violence cases. The clinic arrived at this recommendation because according to a strict interpretation of relevant laws such mediations would be illegal, and secondly from a professional assessment that the straightforward mediation of domestic violence would also be contrary to human rights principles.[2]

In response to RENEW’s request to propose alternatives, the Clinic proposed three potential models whereby RENEW’s CBSS Volunteers might nonetheless respond to the strong demand among DV survivors for informal dispute resolution options. RENEW and the other stakeholders gravitated towards one of those options – the consensus building model – and asked JSW Law to develop the model whereby RENEW’s CBSS Volunteers would serve as “gender-informed” problem solvers, liaising directly with the RBP, LG officials, and other relevant stakeholders in the community to develop binding agreements on how to resolve a dispute. RENEW’s CBSS Volunteers would be authorized to act only for certain types of cases (as specified by Art. 22 of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 2013), and only with the express go-ahead from a counterpart at RBP. The CBSS Volunteers also would not be authorized to write up any agreements, but must instead refer any such drafting to either an LG official, a Jabmi, a Thromde official, etc.

Once the original stakeholder group agreed on the basic contours of a dispute resolution process, the legalities of the proposed process, and the basic requirements that would adequately train the CBSS Volunteers and others to administer the programme, RENEW asked JSW Law’s clinic to lay the groundwork for a nationwide roll-out of what was then dubbed the “Consensus Building Initiative.” This involved the following tasks:

•       Conducting a 6-day training in Paro Dzongkhag with some of RENEW’s most active CBSS Volunteers to reality-test the proposed CBI model;

•       Drafting and helping to negotiate the terms of an MoU between RENEW and the RBP to formalize the referral procedures between RBP Officers and RENEW CBSS volunteers;

•       Developing the content for a 2-day capacity building training for RBP officers about the CBI;

•       Developing the content for a 5-day capacity building training for CBSS Volunteers who intend to serve as consensus builders;

•       Drafting a Facilitators’ manual for RENEW staff persons responsible for delivering the above-mentioned 5-day CBSS CBI training.

•       Delivering two 2-day trainings to a total of 100 RBP OCs, from across Bhutan, to raise awareness about the new CBI process;

•       Delivering a Train-the-Trainer (ToT) workshop for RENEW staff persons to prepare for the delivery of the 5-day CBSS CBI Training;

•       Joining the RENEW Staff persons as they deliver the first CBSS CBI training to CBSS Volunteers and LG officials.

The clinic successfully handed off this project to RENEW in May of 2019.  At the time of publication, the project has already generated interest internationally, and was featured prominently as a notable “better practice” in a High Level Group report published in 2019 (UN Women, IDLO, World Bank and Task Force on Justice (March, 2019) “Justice for Women: High-Level Group Report,” available at: https://www.idlo.int/publications/justice-women-high-level-group-report).

Development of diversion procedure with Nashoen Lamtoen

In 2019, UNICEF approached the HDC to assist in the development of a diversion procedure for the civil society organization Nashoen Lamtoen. Established in 2016, Nashoen Lamtoen is supporting children and youth in conflict with the law and difficult circumstances. 

This upcoming project will support in ensuring that children in conflict with the law benefit from diversion to the greatest extent possible.