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The Human Rights Law Foundation uses strategic litigation and targeted advocacy to ensure perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to justice. Torture and other crimes against humanity are violations that cannot be justified by any political, religious or cultural claim. Yet a global culture of persecution against persons based on these and other grounds allows persecution to occur daily and with impunity. HRLF is aware of these challenges and is dedicated to protecting the moral rights of all people to be free from torture and persecution. The cases we handle are cases in which these principles are at stake. Our basic philosophy is that law serves these principles rather than the reverse. While this may seem an unusual approach for an NGO, it is nonetheless part of the tradition of human rights law and the moral principles upon which it is based.

Through a combination of litigation and advocacy, HRLF has developed an expertise in several areas that include the use of propaganda to further egregious human rights violations and the role of the Internet to further and suppress fundamental freedoms. HRLF is also committed to creating partnerships with Chinese human rights lawyers to further the rule of law in China.


Ronald Dworkin, the leading political, moral and legal philosopher of the 20th century, died today, February 14, 2013, in London. He was 81.

In his most recent publication, Justice for Hedgehogs,  Ronald Dworkin reminds us “without dignity our lives are only blinks of duration. But if we manage to lead a good life well, we create something more.  We write a subscript to our mortality. We make our lives tiny diamonds in the cosmic sands.”

Known to most as a prolific author and brilliant thinker, to some (including the founder of the Human Rights Law Foundation), he contributed in major ways through his teaching. As a wise and eminently clear professor who taught at Yale Law School, NYU Law School, and Oxford, Ronald Dworkin generated a clarity of thought in his students as he taught so many of us to “decide how to make something valuable of our lives” and like him, to enable others similarly to enjoy the benefits of what he called in his recent book,  “Justice for Hedgehogs,” a legitimate government.

A longer statement in his honor is forthcoming.


Law and Conscience Project

At the core of this project is one basic proposition: That the Chinese people remain dedicated to the value of human dignity, and thus to the rights of the individual before the state. Our reports, outreach efforts, and network-building among reform-minded professionals aim to affirm this cultural belief as the basis for a community of legal reformers and rights advocates. Read more >>

Oral Argument in Zhao Zhizhen

Oral arguments were held in Gang v. Zhao Zhizhen before the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on March 15, 2012. HRLF’s Executive Director, Terri Marsh, argued on behalf of the plaintiffs. Judge Robert Chatigny subjected Defendant’s counsel to questioning on the violent and persecutory meaning of certain Chinese terms employed by Zhao Zhizhen. At this phase of a lawsuit, the Court is obliged to take the Plaintiffs’ allegations as true, including the alleged definitions of the Defendant’s use of persecutory terms (such as “douzheng,” “jiepi,” and “zhuanhua”) to instigate and enable the crimes perpetrated against Plaintiffs. The Judge’s questioning of Defense counsel regarding this and other points is available in an excerpt. Following Defendant’s Counsel, Ms. Marsh made arguments on behalf of the plaintiffs, citing to landmark propaganda cases before international tribunals at Nuremberg and Rwanda, and describing the need for U.S. courts to provide a forum for the plaintiffs to pursue justice for the abuses they have suffered. These are available in a second excerpt. The entire transcript is available as well.

For links to the excerpts and the complete transcript, please visit HRLF’s Zhao Zhizhen case page.

Increasing Misuse of the 2002 Extremism Law to Censor and Disrupt Religious Organizations, and in particular Falun Gong, in Russia

Since 2008, Russian authorities have been working to censor the publication of materials related to the religious practice of Falun Gong, as well as materials documenting the persecution of the Falun Gong in China. 
Read full report (PDF Format)

Chinese Lawyers at Risk

The protection of the rights of human rights defenders is itself indispensable to the vital operation of the United Nations as well as to the ability of human rights defenders to give voice to those who are unable to speak themselves, and more generally to interface between the victims of human rights abuses and the mechanisms of legal redress. Read more >>

Connie Smead Fellowship

Each year, HRLF awards the Connie Smead Human Rights Fellowship to a recent law graduate with a record of excellence in the area of international human rights law. This year’s recipient is Jordan Berman.

Doe v Cisco

HRLF filed a class action against Cisco for its role in designing the Golden Shield, technology used by Chinese authorities to commit human rights abuses against practitioners of Falun Gong. The suit alleges that Cisco aided, abetted and conspired with the Communist Party of China to persecute practitioners of Falun Gong by marketing its technology to Chinese authorities as a tool for surveilling and suppressing Falun Gong activity and customizing its products to aid in such repression. HRLF filed an amended complaint on September 2, 2011 and the case is pending before the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Read more >>


Direct Litigation

Our cases include:

Does v. Cisco [USA]

Does v. Zhizhen  [USA]

Doe v. Jiang Zemin, Bo Xilai et al. [Spain]

Cases Filed Map

China Task Force

HRLF collaborates with a team of human rights attorneys involved in the litigation of cases dealing with human rights in China. These include cases filed in:





HRLF has drafted legal documents for Falun Gong believers detained in Re-education through Labor Centers and prisons in China in order to secure their release and to assist with their safe passage to the United States and other places where they may reside and practice their religion freely and without the threat of torture and ill treatment.

For security reasons, further detail about these individuals and their cases is not included here.

Persons interested in rescuing family members who have been unfairly detained in China may contact HRLF by sending an initial inquiry through our contact form.