The Humanitarian Law Project is a non-profit organization founded in 1985, dedicated to protecting human rights and promoting the peaceful resolution of conflict by using established international human rights laws and humanitarian law. Our long-term objectives are to strengthen human rights standards ratified by nations around the globe and to foster communication on compelling international human rights issues among human rights activists, law faculty and students, members of Congress and their staffs, as well as interested citizens.

The Humanitarian Law Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) with consultative status at the United Nations with a mandate to seek compliance with armed conflict laws.

The Truths that Costa Rica Hides

The truth that Costa Rica hides is that its Public Forces, Judicial Investigation and
Public Ministry authorities knew from Nicaraguan authorities that from October 1
to October 5 the Army of Nicaragua carried out an operation against drug traffick-
ing in Nicaraguan territory in localities of the municipality of San Juan de Nicara-
gua along the border with the Republic of Costa Rica.

Read full report:

Washinton Post, June 22, 2010

The Supreme Court goes too far in the name of fighting terrorism

Editorial - WHICH OF the following is illegal under the law that bars providing "material support" to terrorists? Read full editorial.

Los Angeles Times , June 22, 2010

Terror and Free Speech

Editorial - The Supreme Court's ruling that advising terrorist groups to pursue their goals peacefully is 'material support' of their violent activities is wrongheaded. Read full editorial.

San Francisco Chronicle , June 22, 2010

Giving peace advice to terrorist can be illegal

By BOB EGELKO - The government can prosecute private citizens for giving advice to a foreign organization - on how to negotiate peace or take its case to the United Nations, for example - if the group is on the U.S. terrorist list, the Supreme Court ruled Monday. Read full article, or listen to story.

Center for Constitutional Rights,, June 21, 2010

Supreme Court Ruling Criminalizes Speech in Material Support Law Case

President Carter Could Be Prosecuted for Monitoring Fair Elections in Lebanon

June 21, 2010, Washington and New York – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to criminalize speech in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the first case to challenge the Patriot Act before the highest court in the land, and the first post-9/11 case to pit free speech guarantees against national security claims. Attorneys say that under the Court’s ruling, many groups and individuals providing peaceful advocacy could be prosecuted, including President Carter for training all parties in fair election practices in Lebanon. President Carter submitted an amicus brief in the case.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority, affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding the case back to the lower court for review; Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. The Court held that the statute's prohibitions on "expert advice," "training," "service," and "personnel" were not vague, and did not violate speech or associational rights as applied to plaintiffs' intended activities. Plaintiffs sought to provide assistance and education on human rights advocacy and peacemaking to the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Turkey, a designated terrorist organization. Multiple lower court rulings had found the statute unconstitutionally vague.

Said CCR Cooperating Attorney David Cole, “We are deeply disappointed. The Supreme Court has ruled that human rights advocates, providing training and assistance in the nonviolent resolution of disputes, can be prosecuted as terrorists. In the name of fighting terrorism, the Court has said that the First Amendment permits Congress to make human rights advocacy and peacemaking a crime. That is wrong.”

Originally brought in 1998, the case challenges the constitutionality of laws that make it a crime to provide “material support” to groups the administration has designated as “terrorist.” CCR’s clients sought to engage in speech advocating only nonviolent, lawful ends, but the government took the position that any such speech, including even filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, would be a crime if done in support of a designated “terrorist group.”

Said CCR Senior Attorney Shayana Kadidal, “The Court’s decision confirms the extraordinary scope of the material support statute’s criminalization of speech. But it also notes that the scope of the prohibitions may not be clear in every application, and that remains the case for the many difficult questions raised at argument but dodged by today’s opinion, including whether publishing an op-ed or submitting an amicus brief in court arguing that a group does not belong on the list is a criminal act. The onus is now on Congress and the Obama administration to ensure that humanitarian groups may engage in human rights advocacy, training in non-violent conflict resolution, and humanitarian assistance in crisis zones without fearing criminal prosecution.”

The Court rejected the government’s argument that the statute, when applied to plaintiffs’ proposed speech, regulated not speech but conduct, and therefore needed to meet only a low standard – “intermediate scrutiny” – to survive. Instead, the Court found that the statute did criminalize speech on the basis of its content, but then found that the government’s interest in delegitimizing groups on the designated "terrorist organization" list was sufficiently great to overcome the heightened level of scrutiny. This is one of a very few times time that the Supreme Court has upheld a criminal prohibition of speech under strict scrutiny, and the first time it has permitted the government to make it a crime to advocate lawful, nonviolent activity.

For more information on the case, including briefs and a detailed explanation of material support, visit CCR's HLP legal case page.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

ACLU, June 21, 2010

Supreme Court Rules "Material Support" Law Can Stand

Court Upholds Broad Interpretation Of Anti-Terrorism Law That Inhibits Work Of Humanitarian Groups

June 21, 2010, NEW YORK – The United States Supreme Court today upheld the broad application of a federal law that hinders the ability of human rights and humanitarian aid organizations to do their work by making it a crime to provide "material support" to designated "foreign terrorist organizations" (FTOs). The ruling thwarts the efforts of human rights organizations to persuade violent actors to renounce violence or cease their human rights abuses and jeopardizes the provision of aid and disaster relief in conflict zones controlled by designated groups, said the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, on behalf of the Carter Center and several other organizations known for their work to promote peace, further human rights and alleviate human suffering around the world.

Under the law, individuals face up to 15 years in prison for providing "material support" to FTOs, even if their work is intended to promote peaceful, lawful objectives. "Material support" is defined to include any "service," "training," "expert advice or assistance" or "personnel."

President Jimmy Carter, founder of the Carter Center, commented on the ruling: "We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has upheld a law that inhibits the work of human rights and conflict resolution groups. The 'material support law' – which is aimed at putting an end to terrorism – actually threatens our work and the work of many other peacemaking organizations that must interact directly with groups that have engaged in violence. The vague language of the law leaves us wondering if we will be prosecuted for our work to promote peace and freedom."

"Today's decision is disappointing and inconsistent with our First Amendment position. The government should not be in the business of criminalizing speech meant to promote peace and human rights," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

Organizations that signed onto the ACLU's brief are the Carter Center, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Grassroots International, Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University, Operation USA and the Peace Appeal Foundation.

National Public Radio, Feb. 23, 2010

"Supreme Court Examines Limits Of Material Support"

By NINA TOTENBERG - At the U.S. Supreme Court, it is rare that conservative and liberal justices team up to bludgeon lawyers for both sides with equal ferocity. But that is what the justices did on Tuesday. Read full article, or listen to story.

New York Times, Feb. 23, 2010

"Before Justices, First Amendment and Aid to Terrorists"

By ADAM LIPTAK - WASHINGTON — The line between speech protected by the First Amendment and aid to terrorists appeared elusive at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, and the justices’ lively questioning complicated rather than clarified matters. Read full article.

Los Angeles Times, Feb. 23, 2010

"Supreme Court weighs anti-terrorism law, free-speech rights"

By DAVID G. SAVAGE - Reporting from Washington - The Supreme Court struggled Tuesday to resolve a conflict between the free-speech rights of a Los Angeles-based advocate for international peace and a broad anti-terrorism law that makes it a crime to advise a foreign terrorist group, even if it means advising its members to seek peace. Read full article.

New York Times, Feb. 10, 2010

"Right to Free Speech Collides With Fight Against Terror"

By ADAM LIPTAK - WASHINGTON — Ralph D. Fertig, a 79-year-old civil rights lawyer, says he would like to help a militant Kurdish group in Turkey find peaceful ways to achieve its goals. But he fears prosecution under a law banning even benign assistance to groups said to engage in terrorism. Read full article.


This spring, the US Supreme Court will hear two cases brought by the Humanitarian Law Project challenging provisions of the Patriot Act.


Humanitarian Law Project, et al. v. Ashcroft is a case filed on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project and several Tamil-American organizations with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles. It challenges the United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA Patriot Act), claiming it is vague and overbroad and that it violates their First and Fifth Amendment rights.

The attached brief was filed January, 2008, in the appeal from Judge Collins’ decision in Humanitarian Law Project v. Dept. of the Treasury, our challenge to the restrictions on association with PKK and LTTE created by Executive Order 13224 (issued just after 9/11), the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations, and the IEEPA statute.

Judge Collins issued a ruling against us on most grounds on November 27, 2006, and this appeal goes to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the same court that last month affirmed our partial victory before Judge Collins in Humanitarian Law Project v. Mukasey (the latest round in our ongoing challenge to the “material support” statute).

Read brief.

See also Humanitarian Law Project, et al. v. Mukasey, HLP, et al. v. Gonzales, and HLP, et al. v. Ashcroft (Center for Constitutional Rights).


In 2007 Humanitarian Law Project board member, David Lynn, drawing from past HLP efforts, embarked on a mission to explore the viability of providing accompaniment delegations for the refugees fleeing Darfur to the camps in Chad. David video-chronicled his experience in The Face of Genocide, narrated by David and Mia Farrow, human rights activist, actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

Most of the violence resulting in the deaths of an estimated 300,000, is attributed to the Janjaweed, an Arab militia allied with the Arab-dominated government of Sudan. Responding to discrimination and human rights abuses, ethnic African rebel groups took up arms in 2003 against the government. Between two and three million civilians have been displaced and have fled to other parts of Sudan and more than 250,000 to neighboring countries, mostly to Chad.

The images on the news and in The Face of Genocide evoke outrage at the scope and depth of the daily tragedy plaguing Darfur. Peace talks and efforts at the U.N. ebb and flow, with no end to the crisis in sight. Mia Farrow says, “Personally, I think there should be a permanent U.N. Force. U.N. Resolution 1706 provided for 22,700 U.N. peacekeepers and was passed with a robust Chapter Seven mandate without requiring the government’s consent but it did require the political will to go against the government.” Due to various obstacles, the full deployment of the peacekeeping force will probably be delayed until 2009.

David Lynn sums it up best: “To do nothing concerning the crisis in Darfur and Eastern Chad, makes us all accomplices. The world has simply watched as hundreds of thousands were murdered, raped and mutilated. Today, millions more remain vulnerable to ongoing violence and are teetering on the brink of starvation. What are you going to do about it? We encourage you to view the video, The Face of Genocide, and visit to find out how to get directly involved in bringing hope and resources to the refugees in Darfur and Eastern Chad and ending the genocide that continues on our watch.”

Humanitarian Law Project
International Educational Development, Inc.

8124 West Third Street, Suite 105
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Telephone: (213) 999-1037
Ralph Fertig: (310) 474-3815
Fax: (323) 658-6306