Naz K. Modirzadeh

Professor of Practice

Biography

Naz K. Modirzadeh is the founding Director of the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (PILAC). In May 2016, she was appointed as a Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, having previously joined the HLS faculty as a Lecturer on Law in Fall 2014. In the Fall 2016 term, she will teach International Humanitarian Law/Laws of War, and in the Spring 2017 term she will teach Public International Law as well as International Law, Policy and Decision-Making in War: Advanced Seminar. At PILAC, Modirzadeh is responsible for overall direction of the Program, collaboration with the Faculty Director and other affiliated faculty, development of research initiatives, and engagement with key decision-makers in the armed forces, humanitarian organizations, government, and intergovernmental organizations.

Modirzadeh regularly advises and briefs international humanitarian organizations, UN agencies, and governments on issues related to international humanitarian law, human rights, and counterterrorism regulations relating to humanitarian assistance. For more than a decade, she has carried out legal research and policy work concerning a number of armed conflict situations. Her scholarship and research focus on intersections between the fields of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and Islamic law. She frequently contributes to academic and professional initiatives in the areas of humanitarian action, counterterrorism, and the laws of war.

Modirzadeh has served on several expert advisory groups for UN research initiatives, as a non-resident Research Fellow at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the Naval War College and as a non-resident Research Associate in the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute. She is also on the Board of Trustees of the International Crisis Group, on the Advisory Board of Geneva Call, and on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP). She received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and her J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Areas of Interest

Naz K. Modirzadeh, International Law and Armed Conflict in Dark Times: A Call for Engagement, 96 Int'l Rev. Red Cross 737 (2014).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Terrorism
,
Military, War, & Peace
,
National Security Law
,
Foreign Relations
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
International Law
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
,
Human Rights Law
,
Treaties & International Agreements
Type: Article
Abstract
This Opinion Note highlights the international humanitarian law (IHL) provisions mandating dissemination of the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols to the civilian population. In referencing three dilemmas concerning contemporary challenges to international law in armed conflict and how each of those dilemmas may result in a “breaking point” or a “turning point”, the author argues that it is vitally important not only for armed forces but also for the general public to learn – and actively engage with – IHL both during war and in (relative) peacetime.
Naz K. Modirzadeh, Folk International Law: 9/11 Lawyering and the Transformation of the Law of Armed Conflict to Human Rights Policy and Human Rights Law to War Governance, 5 Harv. Nat'l Security J. 225 (2014).
Categories:
Government & Politics
,
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
Military, War, & Peace
,
National Security Law
,
Executive Office
,
Foreign Law
,
Foreign Relations
,
Global Lawyering
,
Human Rights Law
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
International Law
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
,
Treaties & International Agreements
Type: Article
Abstract
This Article argues that the positions many U.S.-based lawyers in the disciplines of international humanitarian law and human rights law took in 2013 on issues of lethal force and framing of armed conflict vis-à-vis the Obama Administration would have been surprising and disappointing to those same professionals back in 2002 when they began their battle against the Bush Administration’s formulations of the “Global War on Terror.” In doing so, the Article demonstrates how, by 2013, many U.S.-based humanitarian and human rights lawyers—in the face of a perceived existential threat to their relevance from the Bush Administration’s general rejection of international law as a binding constraint in the “Global War on Terror”—had traded in strict fealty to international law for potential influence on executive decision-making. These lawyers and advocates would help to shape the Obama Administration’s articulation of its legal basis for the use of force against al Qaeda and others by making use of “folk international law,” a law-like discourse that relies on a confusing and soft admixture of IHL, jus ad bellum, and IHRL to frame operations that do not, ultimately, seem bound by international law—at least not by any conception of international law recognizable to international lawyers, especially those outside of the U.S. In chronicling the collapse of multiple legal disciplines and fields of application into the “Law of 9/11,” the Article illustrates how that result came about not simply through manipulation by a government seeking to protect national security or justify its actions but also through a particular approach to legal argumentation as mapped through various tactical moves during the course of the legal battle over the war on terror.
Naz K. Modirzadeh, The Dark Sides of Convergence: A Pro-civilian Critique of the Extraterritorial Application of Human Rights Law in Armed Conflict, 86 Int'l L. Stud. 349 (2010).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Military, War, & Peace
,
National Security Law
,
Human Rights Law
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
International Law
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
Type: Article
Abstract
This paper argues that the formalist machinations currently employed to argue that violations of IHL should come within the jurisdictional ambit of human rights instruments and courts may be harmful to the very aims liberal international lawyers seek to achieve. My argument is that parallel application is equally as bad for the Iraqi civilian as it is for the American soldier. As we pull back the layers of legalistic argumentation, the real role of rights discourse and the real function of human rights law on the battlefield seem much less thought-out than leading scholars suggest, and the implications for this new approach to international law seem much more problematic than the current debate on the issue presents.
Jessica S. Burniske, Naz K. Modirzadeh & Dustin A. Lewis, Armed Non-State Actors and International Human Rights Law: An Analysis of the Practice of the U.N. Security Council and U.N. General Assembly (Harvard Law Sch. Program on Int’l Law & Armed Conflict, June 2017).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
Human Rights Law
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
,
International Law
,
Treaties & International Agreements
Type: Other
Abstract
Several significant legal, policy, and practical concerns are at issue in whether armed non-state actors (ANSAs) will ultimately be recognized—by all relevant institutions and actors—as bearing human-rights obligations in general under international law in a manner previously reserved primarily for states. In considering this set of issues, it is important to clarify what obligations, if any, the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council and the U.N. General Assembly recognize ANSAs as possessing under IHRL. This June 2017 Briefing Report with Annexes provides an overview of research conducted by HLS PILAC concerning modalities in which the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. General Assembly have addressed ANSAs with respect to human rights; ways in which these U.N. principal organs have distinguished between different types of ANSAs; and the consequences of these organs possibly establishing responsibility of ANSAs in relation to the protection and fulfillment—or, at least, the non-abuse—of human rights. While it is incontrovertible that the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. General Assembly have recognized, at a minimum, that the conduct of at least some ANSAs can amount to violations or abuses of human rights, it is not currently possible to state that either of these principal U.N. organs has taken sufficient steps to formally endow ANSAs with human-rights obligations in general under international law.
Dustin Lewis, Gabriella Blum & Naz Modirzadeh, Indefinite War: Unsettled International Law on the End of Armed Conflict (Harvard Law Sch. Program on Int'l Law & Armed Conflict, Legal Briefing, Feb. 27, 2017).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Military, War, & Peace
,
National Security Law
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
,
International Humanitarian Law
Type: Other
Abstract
Can we say, definitively, when an armed conflict no longer exists under international law? The short, unsatisfying answer is sometimes: it is clear when some conflicts terminate as a matter of international law, but a decisive determination eludes many others. The lack of fully-settled guidance often matters significantly. That is because international law tolerates, for the most part, far less violent harm, devastation, and suppression in situations other than armed conflicts. Thus, certain measures governed by the laws and customs of war — including killing and capturing the enemy, destroying and seizing enemy property, and occupying foreign territory, all on a possibly large scale — would usually constitute grave violations of peacetime law. This Legal Briefing details the legal considerations and analyzes the implications of that lack of settled guidance. It delves into the myriad (and often-inconsistent) provisions in treaty law, customary law, and relevant jurisprudence that purport to govern the end of war. Alongside the doctrinal analysis, this Briefing considers the changing concept of war and of what constitutes its end; evaluates diverse interests at stake in the continuation or close of conflict; and contextualizes the essentially political work of those who design the law. In all, this Legal Briefing reveals that international law, as it now stands, provides insufficient guidance to precisely discern the end of many armed conflicts as a factual matter (when has the war ended?), as a normative matter (when should the war end?), and as a legal matter (when does the international-legal framework of armed conflict cease to apply in relation to the war?). The current plurality of legal concepts of armed conflict, the sparsity of IHL provisions that instruct the end of application, and the inconsistency among such provisions thwart uniform regulation and frustrate the formulation of a comprehensive notion of when wars can, should, and do end. Fleshing out the criteria for the end of war is a considerable challenge. Clearly, many of the problems identified in this Briefing are first and foremost strategic and political. Yet, as part of a broader effort to strengthen international law’s claim to guide behavior in relation to war and protect affected populations, international lawyers must address the current confusion and inconsistencies that so often surround the end of armed conflict.
Gabriella Blum, Dustin A. Lewis & Naz K. Modirzadeh, War-Algorithm Accountability (Harvard Law Sch. Program on Int'l Law & Armed Conflict (PILAC), Aug. 31, 2016).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Government & Politics
,
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Military, War, & Peace
,
National Security Law
,
International Law
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
Science & Technology
Type: Other
Abstract
In this briefing report, we introduce a new concept—war algorithms— that elevates algorithmically-derived “choices” and “decisions” to a, and perhaps the, central concern regarding technical autonomy in war. We thereby aim to shed light on and recast the discussion regarding “autonomous weapon systems.” In introducing this concept, our foundational technological concern is the capability of a constructed system, without further human intervention, to help make and effectuate a “decision” or “choice” of a war algorithm. Distilled, the two core ingredients are an algorithm expressed in computer code and a suitably capable constructed system. Through that lens, we link international law and related accountability architectures to relevant technologies. We sketch a three-part (non-exhaustive) approach that highlights traditional and unconventional accountability avenues. By not limiting our inquiry only to weapon systems, we take an expansive view, showing how the broad concept of war algorithms might be susceptible to regulation—and how those algorithms might already fit within the existing regulatory system established by international law.
Katie King, Naz Modirzadeh & Dustin Lewis, Understanding Humanitarian Exemptions: U.N. Security Council Practice and Principled Humanitarian Action (Harv. L. Sch. Prog. on Int'l L. & Armed Conflict Working Group Briefing Memorandum, Apr. 2016).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
International Humanitarian Law
,
Nonprofit & Nongovernmental Organizations
,
International Law
,
Foreign Relations
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
Type: Other
Abstract
This briefing report summarizes the legal status, content, and nature of relevant U.N. sanctions regimes; defines and analyzes the two general categories of “humanitarian exemptions” (those for designated individuals and for the humanitarian sector); highlights the stakes and interests in the debate on whether such exemptions may be desirable and feasible or may be inadvisable and impracticable; explains some of the few existing and limited exemptions at the international and domestic levels; and discusses the perceived benefits and costs of suggested “humanitarian exemptions.”
Jessica Burniske, Dustin A. Lewis & Naz K. Modirzadeh, Suppressing Foreign Terrorist Fighters and Supporting Principled Humanitarian Action: A Provisional Framework for Analyzing State Practice (Harv. L. Sch. Program on Int'l L. & Armed Conflict (PILAC), Oct. 2015)
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
National Security Law
,
Military, War, & Peace
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
International Law
,
Nonprofit & Nongovernmental Organizations
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
Type: Other
Abstract
This report focuses on the concept of “foreign terrorist fighters” (FTFs) as it relates to U.N. Security Council practice and principled humanitarian action in situations of armed conflict involving terrorists. It has two goals. First, we aim to provide a primer on the most salient issues at the intersection of counterterrorism measures and humanitarian aid and assistance, with a focus on the ascendant FTF framing. Second, we seek to put forward, for critical feedback and assessment, a provisional methodology for evaluating the following question: is it feasible to subject two key contemporary wartime concerns—the fight against FTFs and supporting humanitarian aid and assistance for civilians in terrorist-controlled territories—to meaningful empirical analysis?
Dustin A. Lewis, Naz K. Modirzadeh & Gabriella Blum, Medical Care in Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law and State Responses to Terrorism (Harvard Law Sch. Program on Int'l Law & Armed Conflict (PILAC), Sept. 2015).
Categories:
Government & Politics
,
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Health Care
Sub-Categories:
Military, War, & Peace
,
National Security Law
,
Health Law & Policy
,
Human Rights Law
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
International Law
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
Type: Other
Abstract
The surge in armed conflicts involving terrorism has brought to the fore the general question of medical care in armed conflict and the particular legal protections afforded to those providing such care to terrorists. Against this backdrop, we evaluate IHL protections for wartime medical assistance concerning terrorists. Through that lens, we expose gaps and weaknesses in IHL. We also examine tensions between IHL and state responses to terrorism more broadly.
Jessica Burniske, Naz Modirzadeh & Dustin Lewis, Counter-Terrorism Laws and Regulations: What Aid Agencies Need to Know (Humanitarian Practice Network Paper No. 79, Nov. 2014).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Government & Politics
,
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
Terrorism
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
,
Nonprofit & Nongovernmental Organizations
,
International Humanitarian Law
Type: Other
Abstract
The report is aimed at a generalist humanitarian audience; it does not explore legal concepts in great depth or detail, but rather provides readers with a survey of some of the pressing challenges facing humanitarian actors as they navigate counter-terrorism laws and policies in their work in conflicts where listed non-state armed groups control territory or access to civilians. The paper begins by outlining the legal bases for both counterterrorism law and humanitarian action, and then discusses the challenges and possible consequences of legislation for humanitarian actors. Chapter 3 outlines some of the key challenges anti-terrorism laws and regulations pose to humanitarian action, and Chapter 4 provides some questions and approaches humanitarian actors may wish to consider when facing these challenges.
Naz K. Modirzadeh & Andrew F. March, Ambivalent Universalism? Jus ad Bellum in Modern Islamic Legal Discourse, 24 Eur. J. of Int'l L. 367 (2013).
Categories:
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Government & Politics
,
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
Religion & Law
,
Islamic Law
,
Military, War, & Peace
,
National Security Law
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
Type: Article
Abstract
In this paper, we discuss the trajectory of modern Islamic legal discourse on jus ad bellum questions, challenging the ideas that the choice is between either a defensive or an aggressive jihad doctrine, and that declaring and waging war is regarded in Islamic law as properly a matter to be monopolized by legitimate state authorities. The dominant modern doctrine of just war in Islamic legal thought is not quite as simple as a bare doctrine of mutual non-aggression. While it is understandable that many Muslims have been eager to conclude that the proper understanding of jihad in Islam is that it authorizes only defensive or humanitarian war, virtually indistinguishable from modern international norms, the reality of modern Islamic just war thinking is somewhat more interesting than this. In this paper, we introduce a third modern Islamic concept of just war that would permit war against a country that does not allow for peaceful proselytization of Islam within its borders, and discuss some of the ambiguities of this doctrine.
Naz K. Modirzadeh, Dustin A. Lewis & Claude Bruderlein, Humanitarian Engagement under Counter-Terrorism: A Conflict of Norms and the Emerging Policy Landscape, 93 Int'l Rev. Red Cross 623 (2011).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Terrorism
,
Military, War, & Peace
,
National Security Law
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
Foreign Relations
,
Human Rights Law
Type: Article
Abstract
This article identifies two countervailing sets of norms – one promoting humanitarian engagement with non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in armed conflict in order to protect populations in need, and the other prohibiting such engagement with listed ‘terrorist’ groups in order to protect security – and discusses how this conflict of norms might affect the capacity of humanitarian organizations to deliver life-saving assistance in areas under the control of one of these groups. Rooted in international humanitarian law (IHL), the first set of norms provides a basis for humanitarian engagement with NSAGs in non-international armed conflict for the purpose of assisting populations under their control and promoting compliance with the rules of IHL. The second set of rules attempts to curtail financial and other forms of material support, including technical training and co-ordination, to listed ‘terrorist’ organizations, some of which may qualify as NSAGs under IHL. The article highlights counter-terrorism regulations developed by the United States and the United Nations Security Council, though other states and multilateral bodies have similar regulations. The article concludes by sketching ways in which humanitarian organizations might respond to the identified tensions.
Claude Bruderlein, Elizabeth Holland, Dustin Lewis, & Naz Modirzadeh, Humanitarian Action Under Scrutiny: Criminalizing Humanitarian Engagement (Harv. Prog. on Humanitarian Pol'y & Conflict Res. Working Paper, Feb. 2011).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Criminal Law & Procedure
Sub-Categories:
Terrorism
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
Foreign Relations
,
Laws of Armed Conflict
Type: Other
Abstract
This Working Paper presents HPCR’s research to date on dilemmas arising from the intersection between, on the one hand, counterterrorism laws and policies prohibiting engagement with certain non-state entities (NSEs) and, on the other, humanitarian access and protection of civilians in armed conflict. This Working Paper aims to provide HPCR’s initial analysis of these dilemmas and to suggest key areas for future research and policy engagement.
Naz K. Modirzadeh, Taking Islamic Law Seriously: INGOs and the Battle for Muslim Hearts and Minds, 19 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 191 (2006).
Categories:
Government & Politics
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
Religion & Law
,
Islamic Law
,
International Law
,
Human Rights Law
,
Global Lawyering
,
Developing & Emerging Nations
,
International Humanitarian Law
,
Nonprofit & Nongovernmental Organizations
Type: Article
Abstract
This article focuses on the work of two international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and their impact on the effectiveness of the human rights movement. It presents at typology of methods currently used by INGOs when they encounter Shari'a law, demonstrating through an analysis of their work in this area that they fail to engage with Islamic Law and, instead, offer a first-line of defense to charges of anti-Muslim bias, neo-imperialism, and insensitivity toward Muslim culture. The author calls on INGOs to acknowledge the uncomfortable realities of their current position and consider new ways of engaging with Islamic Law.
Naz Modirzadeh, The Future of the Afghan Legal System: Perspectives from the Young Generation (Harv. Prog. on Humanitarian Pol'y & Conflict Res. Roundtable Report, June 2003).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
Foreign Law
,
Developing & Emerging Nations
Type: Other
Abstract
The purpose of this report is to present the results of a youth roundtable on constitutional and legal reform, hosted February 5-6, 2003, by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) and co-organized by the Afghanistan Youth Center (AYC). This roundtable discussion, entitled “The Future of the Afghan Legal System: Perspectives from the Young Generation,” was held at the Khyber Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan. The roundtable was organized as one of a series of activities aimed at enriching the information environment in which legal reform decisions are made in Afghanistan by the Afghanistan Transitional Administration (ATA), the Drafting Committee of the Constitutional Commission, the Judicial Reform Commission, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and the international community of donor nations. The current publication reflects further research and observation in the months of February through June 2003. It is hoped that many of the views expressed by the participants will serve as an example of the types of frank and open conversations on sensitive issues that can and should take place in the critical months leading to the Constitutional Loya Jirga in October 2003.
Naz Modirzadeh, Afghan Legal Reform: Challenges and Opportunities (Harv. Prog. on Humanitarian Pol'y & Conflict Res. Pol'y Brief, Jan. 2003).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
Foreign Law
,
Developing & Emerging Nations
Type: Other
Abstract
The purpose of this brief is to summarize a series of observations on the current status of legal reform in Afghanistan gathered during a research mission undertaken by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) in November 2002, identify a key set of challenges to the reform process, and suggest strategies for addressing these challenges.

Education History

Current Courses

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