May 28, 2019

To the Class of 2019


By Susan Farbstein

As graduation approaches, students often ask us, “Am I ready?” As in, “Am I ready to go out into the world and be a real human rights practitioner?”

Yes, you are ready. Look at what you have accomplished this year:

You built momentum for a preemptive ban on killer robots through publications, advocacy, and legal analysis. In collaboration with Human Rights Watch, you published a major report examining the legal and moral problems with these weapons. You participated in the global meeting of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, helping to shape the Campaign’s legal positions on the elements of a new treaty, and advocated at three UN disarmament conferences.

You traveled to Guinea to examine the human rights implications of the country’s booming bauxite industry, the raw material needed to make aluminum. Working alongside Guinean NGOs, you conducted fieldwork and interviews in communities that have lost land to mining, as well as in areas facing the threat of mining in the near future. Your work will assist Guinean NGOs to convey concerns about the impacts of mining on land and the local environment to the Guinean government and mining companies.

You developed materials for, and delivered trainings to, arms expert officials from twelve Central and Eastern European governments, so they can better assess arms export requests to account for the risk that arms could be used to commit gender based violence or other human rights violations.

You drafted a shadow report to the CEDAW Committee highlighting gaps in legal protections for Muslim women in Mauritius and the resulting injustices that these women face, in collaboration with Musawah and Mauritian advocates. You helped brief CEDAW Committee experts and engaged closely in the debate on proposed legal reforms, leading the CEDAW Committee to incorporate these proposals in its recommendations to the State of Mauritius, which local advocates are using as one more advocacy tool to push for reform of the national civil code.

You designed and ran workshops for multi-ethnic, multi-faith stakeholders in Yangon, aimed at de-escalating communal tensions and developing messages for peace and religious tolerance in Myanmar. You developed a facilitation guide that will be shared with local partners and used to train future facilitators so that these workshops will continue in the coming years.

You helped finalize and launch two reports on freedom of movement and business documentation in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council. Thanks to the outstanding coalition-building of work of local staff at the NRC, measures to implement the reports’ recommendations are now a reality.

You interviewed medical doctors, scientists, and veterans about the impacts of burn pits used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Working closely with colleagues from Amnesty International, you designed a project investigating how these burn pits caused serious health problems for veterans, local and foreign contractors, and Iraqi and Afghan civilians living nearby. 

You researched and published a report for the Women’s League of Burma which details procedural and substantive recommendations for the proposed draft Protection and Prevention of Violence Against Women Law. The report has been widely disseminated among key stakeholders in Myanmar.

You collaborated with Helem and The Legal Agenda in Lebanon to support their ongoing efforts on behalf of persons targeted by criminal prosecutions because of their sexual activities or orientation, developing a model legal defense for use in strategic litigation.

You produced briefing papers and government submissions promoting the treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, working closely with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. You played a leading role in interpreting and advocating for the treaty’s innovative positive obligations to assist survivors and remediate environmental impacts.

You continued to push for justice on behalf of the victims of Bolivia’s Black October, working relentlessly with attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Akin Gump as the Mamani case went on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit.

You helped convene a high-level meeting at the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Ferencz International Justice Initiative around international accountability for atrocity crimes in Myanmar. The meeting brought together international human rights organizations, policy makers, international criminal law experts, human rights defenders, and activists from Myanmar to strategize and coordinate about accountability efforts. 

You engaged with and interviewed global experts on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender and on the creation of a new treaty for crimes against humanity.

You learned from a superstar roster of visiting clinicians—Thomas Becker JD ’08, who supervised a team investigating femicide in Bolivia; Amelia Evans LLM ’11, a co-founder of MSI Integrity, who worked with students to re-conceptualize industry and government in an era of extreme poverty; Nicolette Waldman JD ’13, previously the Iraq and Syria researcher for Amnesty International, who led trainings on field research in armed conflict; and Jim Wormington, an Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, who brought perspective on how to integrate locally-driven, participatory work into advocacy at large international human rights organizations.

As you leave the Law School and launch your careers, your success may depend upon your ability to think analytically, to write clearly, and to speak persuasively—but equally it will depend upon your capacity for compassion, empathy, and generosity; your ability to draw strength from friends and colleagues; your willingness to connect and collaborate across difference; and your resilience and optimism in the face of serious challenges.

We know you are ready for whatever comes your way because we have watched with pride as you have practiced these habits together, through your clinical projects. You have worked tirelessly and passionately, asking all the right questions and making space for both reflection and action. You have inspired us with your creativity and intelligence, and motivated us to improve ourselves and our Clinic.

We celebrate with each of you, and look forward to seeing the difference you will continue to make in the world. Congratulations to the Class of 2019!

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