September 12, 2011

It’s What Makes This Place Go…

Posted by Tyler Giannini

The International Human Rights Clinic and the Human Rights Program (HRP) are abuzz with energy again—the energy that comes with the start of the semester and the return of students.  They will be joining our team of clinicians and carrying forward a recent flurry of activity: Fernando just traveled to Brazil to investigate prisons conditions, then turned around and headed to Colombia, where he and Deborah made two oral arguments in the same day before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.  Along the way, he worked with local partners to negotiate a precedent-setting settlement with the Government of Brazil to improve conditions in one of the country’s most notorious prisons (watch this space for more on that this week).  Not to be outdone, days after Deborah returned from Colombia, she was in Panama advocating for clients from an indigenous community that has been displaced by a dam.

As for Bonnie—well, she’s in Beirut right now at the Second Meeting of States Parties on the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  For Susan’s and my part, we just came back from Asia, where we were talking to people about the underlying causes of a protracted conflict in one country and the interplay between human rights and democracy.  And Deborah and I have had a few litigation tussles with the Ohio state attorney general on whether we’ll be granted an oral argument in a case there; more motions in other cases are in the works as well.

All of that in the last three weeks alone.  It may have been summer, but we clinicians are not a bunch that likes to sit idle.

As the term approached, we’ve been reconnecting with students who we’ve worked with before.  Some of them gave up their last weeks of summer freedom to join us—Clara Long, JD ‘12, David Attanasio, JD ‘12, and Frances Dales, JD ’13, worked with Fernando in Colombia and Brazil; Deeona Gaskin, JD ’12, worked with Deborah and me on the Ohio case; and Nicolette Boehland, JD ’13, is with Bonnie in Beirut (more on that in a post to come).

As happy as we are to see familiar faces, we’re just as excited about the new ones.  Last week, we welcomed a Clinical Advocacy Fellow, Meera Shah, who comes fresh from a Fourth Circuit clerkship and brings with her extensive experience on the Middle East.  For new students to the Clinic, it’s great to see them on the blue couches outside our offices, filling out their project preferences, poring over a list that tackles everything from violations associated with gold mining in South Africa to torture in the Philippines to extrajudicial killings in Bolivia.

In addition to our Clinic, we have our Academic Program, which Mindy heads.  Through clinical and academic initiatives, we bridge theory and practice, taking a critical look at human rights around the world.  For me personally, one of the best parts of this coming year will be the chance to connect with those in our Visiting Fellows program.  Pill-Kyu Hwang, a leading South Korean human rights practitioner, worked with me on a number of corporate accountability matters.  Another Visiting Fellow, Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, joins us from South Africa, where he built his reputation in the struggle against apartheid.  Those are just two of the fellows who I know, and there are seven others, each of whom brings their research and experience to the human rights community here at HLS.

With all of these people, more than 20 projects in the Clinic this term alone, the string of speakers and conferences to come, and three new fall seminars, we’re in no danger of seeing this energy flag.  Like the real world of human rights, there’s too much to do at any one time.  We take on what we can (and probably sometimes too much).  But I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way—it’s what makes this place go.

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