April 30, 2024 | We write as human rights clinics and centers at law schools across the United States and beyond to stand with students exercising their fundamental human rights to expression, peaceful assembly, and association. As clinics and centers, we share the educational mission of training students to engage in advocacy and critical debate on human rights; to protect and expand civic space; and to safeguard human rights defenders worldwide. We are deeply concerned that many of our universities are undermining human rights by enlisting police forces to disperse and arrest nonviolent student protesters calling for Palestinian human rights. Available information indicates that at the time of this statement, police have arrested more than 700 students, faculty, and staff in response to on-campus protests across the country.(1) 

We recognize the responsibility of university administrators to ensure the safety and well-being of diverse communities and the challenges they may face in doing so. We condemn antisemitic speech and harassment, just as we condemn anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim speech and harassment, wherever it occurs—and especially, as law school clinics and centers, on or near university campuses. However, repressive and violent measures against peaceful protesters are not the answer. The academic freedom and human rights of our communities must be protected. 

In the past week, university administrators across the country have called on police forces (2) to disperse nonviolent student protests and encampments.(3) At times, police have used excessive force on students, including batons, tear gas, tasers, and rubber bullets.(4) For example, at Emerson, students reported being dragged, beaten, and shoved to the ground.(5) At both Columbia and New York University (NYU), the New York Police Department (NYPD) deployed its Strategic Response Group, a unit which the ACLU of New York has called to be disbanded for its “history of escalation and violence.”(6) Police have also arrested and harmed protest observers, who are essential for ensuring the safety of protestors.(7) At Columbia, police arrested two law students acting as legal observers.(8) At NYU, the NYPD reportedly pepper sprayed one student reporter,(9) while at the University of Texas a photojournalist was arrested.(10) 

These alarming developments are the latest escalation in a wave of repression of student speech in support of Palestinian human rights. Across academic institutions, we are witnessing the chilling of speech and closing of civic space. University administrators have abruptly closed student common spaces when protests were planned;(11) canceled events for unspecified security concerns;(12) issued new interpretations and guidelines to expand restrictions on assembly;(13) and taken disciplinary measures based on non-transparent rules or regulations against students peacefully organizing.(14) Students have also raised concerns regarding university administrators’ failures to adequately protect those who have been doxxed for their protected free speech, even when students have faced threats of physical and sexual violence.(15) These actions call into question our universities’ commitment to respecting human rights. 

The rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association are foundational principles of international human rights law.(16) The UN Human Rights Committee has underscored that the protections of free speech and assembly continue to apply when peaceful protests cause disruption—as they often are designed to do.(17) 

Protection of freedom of expression and assembly are also central to our institutions’ educational missions. Retaliatory actions against students and suppression of freedom of expression and assembly interfere with a number of other core human rights, including, critically, the right to education. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression has explained, “academic institutions…should also adopt and enforce policies that ensure the protection of the free expression rights of the members of their communities, resisting official or social pressure.”(18) 

As human rights clinics and centers, we are committed to fostering campus communities that respect the rights of all students to free expression and assembly, and that are free from all forms of discrimination, racism, and sexism. As peaceful student protests spread across university campuses, we call upon university administrators to: 

  • Allow students to peacefully congregate; 
  • Refrain from calling in police forces to suppress or disband peaceful protests; 
  • Cease and rescind punitive disciplinary measures against students for peacefully organizing; and 
  • Protect and defend the rights of our students, staff, and faculty to engage in protected speech and actions without censorship or chilling measures of any kind. 

We urge our institutions to respect the human rights of our students, faculty, and staff. 



1. Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School

2. *Antiracism & Community Lawyering Practicum, Boston University School of Law

3. *Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, NYU School of Law(19)

4. Clinique Internationale de Défense des Droits Humains de L’Université du Québec à Montréal

5. Environmental Justice Clinic, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law

6. Gender Justice Clinic, Cornell Law School

7. Global Human Rights Clinic, University of Chicago Law School

8. Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law

9. Housing Justice and Legal Design Clinic, Seton Hall Law School

10. Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, CUNY School of Law

11. Human Rights Entrepreneurs Clinic, Harvard Law School

12. Human Rights at Home Clinic, UMass Law School

13. Human Rights at Home Litigation Clinic, St. Louis University School of Law

14. Human Rights Institute, Columbia Law School

15. International Human Rights Clinic, Boston University School of Law

16. International Human Rights Clinic, Cornell Law School

17. International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School

18. International Human Rights Clinic, Santa Clara University

19. International Human Rights Clinic, UCLA School of Law

20. International Human Rights Law Clinic, American University Washington College of Law

21. The International Human Rights Law Practicum, DePaul College of Law

22. International Justice and Human Rights Clinic, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University

of British Columbia(20)

23. Legal Empowerment and Judicial Independence Clinic, NYU School of Law

24. Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham Law School

25. Refugee and Human Rights Clinic, UC Law San Francisco

26. University Network for Human Rights

27. Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights, University of Cincinnati College of Law

28. Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic, Fordham Law School


* Signatures will be updated as received 

** All citations along with the pdf version of this statement can be found here. 

*** HRI Tweet: "Over 25 human rights clinics and centers across the U.S. and Canada issued a statement today calling on universities to respect the human rights of their students, faculty, and staff, including their rights to expression, assembly, and association." 


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