Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: Real-Life Law, by Charles Moore

After having studied law during my first year of law school, having an opportunity to see real-life issues play out in a legal context has been eye-opening for me in many regards. It is one thing to read cases in textbooks and quite another to be confronted with an individual living in your community who has legal problems students have only ever read about. It is far too easy in law school to lose sight of the fact that there are people who are adversely affected by the law and instead focus on legal concepts and doctrine. Working with the St. Paul Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO) has made apparent the individual component of the law and the ways people can be empowered by it.

Lobby of the St. Paul Department of Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity

Lobby of the St. Paul Department of Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity

HREEO receives complaints from individuals who feel they have been discriminated against primarily in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodation. I have had the opportunity to become involved in the investigation of several cases and have even been able to write a few decisions. By doing this, not only do the legal issues come to life, but the impact lawyers can have on a community becomes apparent as well. Although many times our office is not able to issue the decision an individual is hoping for, we play an important role in empowering the individual and mediating a resolution. At all stages of the process, an open line of communication is created and mediation is encouraged throughout. Often times, an individual feels they have been wronged and they need to be heard. Our office provides a medium through which individuals can express their grievances and also have a platform to highlight discriminatory behavior. Even if at the end of the process they do not receive the decision they were hoping for, they have been given the opportunity to discuss the incident with our office and the offender, and still preserve their right to file a complaint in court. Our process allows for open dialogue and reconciliation, which often times is exactly what is needed in order for an offended party to feel vindicated.

This experience with HREEO reinforces all the reasons I went to law school. I wanted to empower the disadvantaged and provide assistance to those who are often not afforded the benefit of legal counsel. Even in a setting where I am not directly advocating for individuals and am instead acting as a neutral facilitator, I have the ability to assist those in need. By providing a listening ear and a helping hand, I am giving these individuals a voice they may otherwise not have found.

By Charles Moore, Human Rights Fellow, Summer 2015

Charles Moore is conducting his Human Rights Fellowship at the St. Paul Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity.

Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: An Internal Struggle, by Ally Billeaud

Arusha, Tanzania

Arusha, Tanzania

When I arrived in Arusha, it was my first time in Africa and since I have traveled a lot in the past, I did not consider that I might become homesick. For the first four days, I was tired and delirious, I did not have any way to contact home, and I missed my family and friends miserably. The only thing that kept me from getting on a plane to go back home was my landlord and his wife. They took me in as family—the way any parent would want their child to be cared for in a foreign country.

Mr. Farhan speaks English very well. He is a seventy year old man but looks and acts like he is in his forties. His wife is drastically different. She is soft-spoken, speaks very little English, and is much younger. I fell in love with them immediately; it was equivalent to moving into my own grandparents’ house in Louisiana. Jokingly, they call me a typical American: I don’t cook, I take a ton of vitamins, and I don’t go to church on Sundays. But most importantly, they have helped me succumb to my surroundings, to ease the transition of moving from the States to a third world country.

Arusha, Tanzania

Arusha, Tanzania

Every day I walk to work, I see the same lady taking the same trek. However, she is walking with an awful limp and terribly unsupportive shoes. I want to just pay for a cab to pick her up each time I pass her. And every night that I lock up my apartment, I see the same dog across the street and I know he is starving. Besides the fact that I watch him constantly, I walked past him one morning and literally heard his stomach growling. Again, I just want to feed him, give him anything so that he isn’t so hungry.

Both of these things are actions I can take. The lady might not want a ride to work and the dog could be worse off after I leave this summer, but I can do something. But there are countless things that I cannot do. These are the issues that are emotionally draining to ponder and embrace.

When Mr. Farhan explained to me how the doctors were unable to fix the clot in his wife’s arteries, I wondered if it was because of their lack of money or the absence of doctors capable of doing the surgery. He proceeded to tell me how pigs’ heart valves are used to repair blood flow. Once I heard this, I instantly remembered how my grandma had the same problem three months ago and had surgery immediately thereafter to solve the problem. Without the surgery, she faced the risks of stroke or death.

I broke down inside. Mrs. Farhan deserves the same surgery my grandma received. They are both wonderful women who worked hard to earn a decent living. They both have husbands and children that love and rely on them. So why does one grandma get to mend her life-threatening condition, but not the other? Is it really only because of where one just so happened to be born?

Ally Billeaud in Arusha, Tanzania

Ally Billeaud in Arusha, Tanzania

I am having this internal struggle of deciphering what I can and cannot do. I have to stop myself from feeling guilty but also remember to be sensitive to the struggles others face. I think I am still somewhat in shock to the things I have seen here because my question for why the world is so random, mean and beautiful has only become more convoluted. What I hope for is that I gain a better perspective of the world and use that knowledge to lead a more meaningful life for myself and others.

 

By Ally Billeaud, Human Rights Fellow, Summer 2015

Ally Billeaud is conducting her Human Rights Fellowship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.

Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: First Week, by Peter Grenzow

I exit the elevator and walk to the office. The waiting room is already packed, humans spilling out into the hallway and around the corner, hoping that today they will have an opportunity to obtain what so many Americans take for granted—a chance for a better life. Voices silent, uncountable, waiting to be heard.

I open the door to the office, and it’s as if I have entered the crossroads of the world. A cacophony of noises and different languages spoken. The Xerox constantly chick, chick, chick-ing as a new I-130 or I-589 slowly congeals, page by page, in its tray. A thousand keyboards clacking and languages whispered and shouted in 20 different dialogues. Spanish and Creole the official tongues of this corner of the world.

Peter Grenzow and his supervisor, Br. Mike LaFrance, at Catholic Legal Services

Peter Grenzow and his supervisor, Br. Mike LaFrance, at Catholic Legal Services

The first week flies by, but it could have been 9, already having worked with well over thirty clients. Thirty stories ranging from the desperate and downtrodden to the excited and hopeful. Clients ranging from a newly arrived Haitian sitting in the waiting room for hours on end, homeless, nowhere else to go, waiting for us to help find him a roof over his head and a warm meal for a rainy night, to children who have experienced unimaginable hardship, but still manage to crack a smile. People coming to the United States for a thousand different reasons and one. Escaping persecution at the hands of governments, thugs, gangs, or neighbors, or moving away from immeasurable poverty in hope of a better life.

In just one week I have filed asylum applications, prepared naturalization and visa applications and conducted legal research relating to various aspects of immigration law. I have translated forms from Spanish to English for staff attorneys, including U-Visa affidavits, a medical record and a birth certificate. I have also interpreted Spanish at multiple client interviews, and have started preparing motions relating to removal proceedings in EOIR courts.

The experience I have gained in just 5 days has been invaluable, and I know that the next 8 weeks will continue to be nothing but an adventure.

 

By Peter Grenzow, Human Rights Fellow, Summer 2015

Peter is serving his Human Rights Fellowship at Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. in Miami, Florida. 

Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: Hope, by Damir S. Utrzan, M.S.

What is hope?

While the meaning of hope has been discussed and debated throughout history, the South African social rights activist Desmond Tutu defines hope as “being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

This definition of hope embodies my experiences at the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) over the past few months. CVT was established to help displaced persons recover from politically sanctioned torture and war-related trauma. The rehabilitative services CVT offers include medical treatment, nursing care, social services, and psychotherapy.

As a pre-doctoral intern in couple/marriage and family therapy (C/MFT), I work with clients on processing traumatic memories with the ultimate goal of re-establishing a sense of safety. While the approaches to psychotherapy I use depend on the client’s needs and problems, they are all evidence-based forms of treatment such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET). This means that they have undergone rigorous scientific research and replication in demonstrating their effectiveness.

Center for Victims of Torture Healing Center Entrance, St. Paul, MN

Center for Victims of Torture Healing Center Entrance, St. Paul, MN

Being trained as a scientist-practitioner, which incorporates research with clinical practice, I was convinced that an evidence-based approach is the most appropriate in recovering from severe trauma. But one day, as I was walking through the CVT Healing Center entrance in St. Paul, MN, my conviction was challenged. The flower pedestals were bright red with a pink hue. Their shadows were dancing on the ground as the wind gently blew across each individual blade of grass and the old wooden gate swung open.

This moment encouraged me to wonder whether CVT provides more than rehabilitative services to clients. It also led me to wonder whether evidenced-based forms of treatment are the only tools psychotherapists – and human rights activists for that matter – have in combating the devastating consequences of human rights violations.

Since that experience I have realized that CVT provides clients with more than rehabilitative services. It shines a light onto the dark crevices of a painful past. This enables clients to gain a better understanding of how the past continues to influence them in the present. And while this may not re-write their past, it enables them to envision a better future. I have also realized that psychotherapists extend a helping hand in reaffirming that healing occurs in the context of relationships, which is essential to being able to see a better future.

In the end, it is hope that helps those who have suffered enormous losses to rebuild their lives. This may not be the end to a treacherous journey but it is a new beginning.

 

By Damir S. Utrzan, M.S., Human Rights Fellow, 2015-2016

Damir S. Utrzan is serving his Human Rights Fellowship at the Center for Victims of Torture in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Humphrey Fellowship Reflection: Abalo Assih (Togo), Fellowship Year 2014-2015

Abalo-1Abalo Assih is a current Humphrey Fellow for the 2014-2015 Fellowship year. In Togo he works as a Superintendent of Police with the National Police. He is responsible for creating training programs for all National Police Forces in order to establish strong criminal justice administration in the country. He is also in charge of educating other trainers in professional police instruction. Previously, he led and conducted criminal investigations and police officer trainings on criminal justice procedures. He has served as representative of his country at the International Criminal Police Organization’s (ICPO-INTERPOL) meetings and conferences and had a short United Nations mission experience as a member of the investigation section in Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1994. Mr. Assih completed criminal justice programs in Roswell (New Mexico, USA), Stockholm (Sweden), and Lyon (France) after receiving his LLB from the Université du Benin in Lomé in 1989.

 Human rights mean a great deal to Abalo because he knows the feeling of living in a country where human rights are often violated. He defines human rights as inherent rights of every human being that must not be taken away from an individual by governmental orders or discrimination.

Abalo mentions that police work is inherently socially divisive. According to Abalo, in Togo the national police’s quality is very poor. Often the national police commit human rights abuses. In Abalo’s home country, the national police are directly linked to the political system and the party in power, which is not democratic. Abalo notices a huge lack of human rights education in Togo as well.

Abalo applied to the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program in order to improve his language and leadership skills as well as to gain knowledge about human rights law. During his fellowship year, Abalo has built partnerships with governmental organizations and NGOs that are involved in human rights advocacy. He has also received educational support in becoming a “Mission Leader” who coordinates peacekeeping operations within the scope of ECOLAWS, the African Union or the United Nations Organizations. For achieving that goal, Abalo is using his stay in the United States to gain more knowledge about international justice and administration standards. In this way, Abalo hopes to establish and preserve human rights recognition in Togo. He wants to be part of Togo’s development into a democracy.

Abalo’s advice for future Humphrey Fellows:

“The Humphrey Hubert Fellowship Program is a rewarding and enriching international program to achieve professional goals. Therefore, every professional who is keen on working for a better life should focus on contributing to his/her management skills, leadership abilities, and commitment to public service.”

Abalo Assih with Anoka County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Wayne Heath (left) and Sheriff James Stuart (right). Photo by Eric Hagen

Abalo Assih with Anoka County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Wayne Heath (left) and Sheriff James Stuart (right). Photo by Eric Hagen

Humphrey Fellowship Reflection: Kathya Cibelle Dawe (Brazil), Fellowship Year 2010-2011

kathyaKathya Cibelle Dawe was a 2010-2011 Humphrey Fellow at the University of Minnesota Law School. Before that, Kathya worked as a Public Defender at the Penitentiary of Marilia in Brazil. She provided legal aid to the inmate population at the penitentiary – writing petitions and appeals to the local and supreme courts in order to enable prisoners to exercise their right to challenge their detention. She holds a Bachelor of Law degree and specialization in Criminal and Civil Law and Criminal and Civil Procedure, as well as a Master of Arts degree in Anthropology. After her Fellowship year, she returned to Minnesota to work among others as a TV Producer and Host at the Minneapolis Television Network. She has created fantastic videos about human rights topics you can watch online on the Human Rights Center’s YouTube channel.

 Kathya’s interest in human rights issues occurred at a very early age. Two major world events aroused her emotions and her desire to defend human rights: the Vietnam War and Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment. Soon after graduating from Law School, Kathya started to work in a high-security prison as a criminal defense attorney for male inmates. This phase in her life was very difficult because she was not only confronted with the gravest criminals but also with other employees of the prison who didn’t appreciate her work. In prison she saw human rights violations every day. At that point, the active defense of human rights started to be not just part of her profession but part of her life.

 When Kathya applied for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship, she wanted to learn more about human rights law in the United States in order to improve her skills and the situation in Brazil. While in the US, she visited prisons in Arizona and Minnesota and was eager to learn more about immigration, refugees, terrorism, counter-terrorism, and alternative dispute resolution. As a volunteer, Kathya taught tango to children from disadvantaged communities as well as in a Spanish immersion school.

 To draw attention to human rights abuses and topics, Kathya started her professional affiliation at a local Minnesota TV channel. That was an enlightening and enriching experience for her because she gained experience in working behind and in front of the camera.

 The Humphrey Fellowship Program opened up new opportunities for Kathya’s career in human rights. Over the period of the program, she gained knowledge and improved her competency, elevating her professionally. Because of her outstanding commitment and skills, Kathya was awarded with a Human Rights Fellowship from the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center in 2014. During her Human Rights Fellowship, she worked in the chambers of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague (Netherlands), supporting the judges in a major trial concerning crimes against humanity.

 In the future Kathya wants to continue producing TV shows and videos on human rights issues. In addition, she plans to contribute actively to the defense of human rights causes internationally.

 Kathya’s advice for future Humphrey Fellows:

 “Berthold Brecht once wrote:There are men who struggle for a day and they are good.
There are men who struggle for a year and they are better. There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still. But there are those who struggle all their lives:
These are the indispensable ones.’ Obstacles are just a test of your perseverance. Keep going. Be indispensable!”

028

Kathya Cibelle Dawe and Ben Ferencz, the last living prosecutor of the Nuremberg Tribunal.