It’s not every day that law students get to participate in a global conference on international human rights, but after dedicating themselves to pro bono human rights research, four UC Hastings students had the surprise opportunity to attend the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
This year, members of Hastings Human Rights and International Law Organization (HHRILO) wanted to actually work on the issues that they care passionately about.
Professor Brittany Glidden worked with the students to find a project that fit their interests. She introduced them to D. Inder Comar, Executive Director of Just Atonement, a San Francisco-based international human rights non-profit that conducts legal research, provides practice guides, and advocates for victims of international human rights violations. “Just Atonement is finding innovative ways to litigate human rights abuses and provide support to others doing this important work. The students were incredibly motivated to have an impact and jumped right in, providing needed research and drafting. It was a great match for all involved,” said Professor Glidden.
Just Atonement, which has participated in UNHRC Sessions for the last two years to present on human rights issues involving the Iraq War, recruited 2Ls Monica Vesga Alfaro, Jessica Rogers, Cathy Roe, and 1L Jorian Heal (all members of HHRILO) to work as legal research interns. “We assisted Inder with research, drafting, and editing advocacy statements that called for accountability for human rights violations and acts of aggression in the Iraq War,” said Cathy.
The statements were then submitted by Just Atonement to be included in the public record of the 37th Session of the UNHRC. However, not only did the students’ research make its way to Geneva, the students were also granted the unique opportunity to personally attend the Session as interns with a sponsorship from International-Lawyers.org. “It was an amazing surprise,” said Cathy. “We were all on board and excited to assist Inder with his panel discussion on the 15th Anniversary on the Iraq War.”
Throughout the Session, the students engaged in various events on international human rights issues to learn about the state of human rights in various countries across the globe. “It felt like a crash course on international human rights among diplomats, lawyers, advocates, and other experts in their respective fields,” recalled Cathy. “I went from attending a panel discussion on the illegal arms trade in the war in Yemen, to meeting the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar (Burma), to even watching Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal deliver a speech on human rights advocacy in Mexico.”
The students were also asked to sit in on the official Sessions of the Council with both Cathy and Jorian delivering advocacy statements during proceedings on the Universal Periodic Review.
“This UN trip was the highlight of my law school career,” says Cathy. “I never imagined having this experience and it reaffirmed my dream of being an advocate for communities suffering human rights abuses across the globe.”
The success of the trip opens the door for more opportunities like this for UC Hastings students. “It was a wonderful experience and colleagues in Geneva have already expressed interest in doing more work with UC Hastings students,” says Inder. “Not only at the Council, but potentially at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and other international bodies. We’re excited at the prospect of having UC Hastings become more prominent in Geneva!”