Students speak out against Harold Koh
April 30, 2015
NYU Law students continued their protests against scholar in residence Harold Koh on Wednesday morning, staging a demonstration on the corner of Washington Square South and Sullivan Street outside of the NYU School of Law.
Koh is currently teaching international human rights at NYU Law. March, a group of NYU Law students released a statement criticizing Koh’s role in providing some of the legal rationale for President Barack Obama’s targeted drone strike program while acting as Legal Adviser of the State Department from 2009 to 2013. Koh has been a vocal supporter of the drone program, drawing scrutiny from those working in human rights.
“Given Mr. Koh’s role in crafting and defending what objectively amounts to an illegal and inhumane program of extrajudicial assassinations and potential war crimes, we find his presence at NYU Law and, in particular, as a professor of International Human Rights Law, to be unacceptable,” the Statement of No Confidence reads.
On Wednesday, six protesters, including three NYU Law students, handed out flyers to anyone who would take them. The demonstration included the a life-sized model drone.
Columbia Law student Shan Khan, one of the people handing out flyers, said he felt it takes a lot of courage for NYU students to stand up and make a statement.
“There might be only a couple of us standing out here, but we don’t feel comfortable with the status quo where you can have these institutional figures that have such power go and be a part of something that a lot of us feel are war crimes, only to come back and teach human rights as if there is no glaring contradiction there,” Khan said.
Amanda Bass, an NYU Law student who helped organize the demonstration, said the protesters are not critical of Koh because of his ideas, but because of his actions within the U.S. government.
“What’s at issue is his role and his action as legal adviser in providing the legal defense for the Obama administration’s targeted killing program,” Bass said.
The Statement of No Confidence prompted backlash from NYU faculty members, as well as Koh’s colleagues. More than 750 people, including current and past students of Koh’s, signed an open letter supporting him, calling the movement against him “misguided.”
Koh released a statement in which he said he appreciated how much support he received from both inside and outside the NYU community.
“I’m very moved by the outpouring of support I’ve received from such a broad spectrum,” Koh’s statement reads. “I’ve truly enjoyed my visit to NYU and have had many thoughtful conversations with many NYU students, especially my human rights class, which has taught me a lot about many hard questions.”
Koh added that he wished those who had a problem with him had spoken directly to him.
Bass admitted that the group has not talked to Koh, but said because Koh’s position on the drone program has been very public and well known, they did not feel a need to.
“In terms of understanding the legal arguments that he put forward, we have a lot of information about the role that he played,” Bass said. “For us, it was not useful to actually sit down and talk to him when we’re taking issue not with the reasons for why he may have done what he did, but with his concrete actions in his time in government.”
The group told WSN it plans to hold demonstrations the next two Wednesdays.
A version of this article of appeared in the Thursday, April 30 print edition. Email Alex Bazeley at [email protected]