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!”

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

From Fellow to Regional INL Director, Tony Fernandes Returns to the U of M

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U of M Law School graduate and former Human Rights Fellow Tony Fernandes returned to the Human Rights Center to discuss his role as Director for Africa and Middle East Programs in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL/AME) at the U.S. Department of State. The agency assists local law enforcement agencies with transnational threats, including organized crime, human trafficking, and recently wildlife trafficking. His division works in around 30 countries. The INL/AME has built up a slate of capacity-building they can offer, but will only do so upon the partner nation’s request.

For example, his division has assisted the Tunisian security forces in their Arab spring transition. Through retraining, they moved away from being a symbol of the old regime by gaining the capability to handle demonstrations without lethal force. Such newfound restraint played a part in the general success of their most recent election.

When asked what inspired him to go into this line of work, Tony pointed to his own Fellowship in South Africa at the end of apartheid. It opened his eyes and fired his interest in human rights policy making. In the spirit of the Human Rights Fellowship, he has continued in public service from then until now.

Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: Kristin Johnson, Fellowship Year 2014

Kristin Johnson is a third-year Juris Doctor candidate at the University of Minnesota Law School. She graduated summa cum laude in May 2012 from Middle Tennessee State University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Political Science. In the summer of 2014, Kristin was awarded a Human Rights Fellowship from the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center. In this Fellowship, she worked with Gender Justice, a legal aid organization in St. Paul, Minnesota focusing on issues of gender inequality and legal actions arising from such issues. These include civil actions based on sexual assault, pay disparity, wrongful termination, and many other situations commonly accompanying gender and intersectional biases. Over the summer, Kristin endeavored to provide valuable research and legal assistance to founding and staff attorneys as they fight to right gender-based wrongs.

To Kristin, the term “human rights” means to live free from oppression and abuse and to be able to control your own body as well as your destiny. She sees human rights as being based on the inherent worth of each person and the elusive “objective morality.” Among others, there is one human rights topic she can’t stop thinking about: the fact that the atrocities in Darfur continue 10 years after the birth of the Save Darfur movement. President Obama campaigned on the movement, millions of bracelets were sold, and people marched and wrote letters to world leaders. Even George Clooney and Don Cheadle went to China and Egypt to plead for help. Yet last year, more people were displaced by violence than in any previous year of this conflict. Still, Omar al-Bashir, the president of North Sudan, walks freely over five years into the issuance of warrants for his arrest for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even genocide. Kristin asks, “When is our R2P (Responsibility to Protect) going to kick in?”

Kristin’s past experience centers around LGBT rights. While they weren’t what led her to the Human Rights Fellowship Program, her interest in LGBT rights ended up being served by her time at Gender Justice because broad gender equality (whether the issue is around sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity) is their mission.

Kristin initially wanted to complete her Human Rights Fellowship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda because she has always been haunted by the 1994 Rwandan genocide and wanted to play even a tiny role in bringing perpetrators to justice. When that was squashed due to a minimum intern period instituted in the summer of 2014, she chose Gender Justice in St. Paul on recommendation from Professor David Weissbrodt and the work they do to advance gender equality. There she did a great deal of research and drafted motions, memoranda, complaints, and letters. All in all, Kristin describes her Fellowship as a great practical experience in both communicating with clients and applying the law to help them. Because of the need for confidentially, she can’t share details, but simply seeing the courage of the clients in the types of cases Gender Justice handles was life-changing to her. Over and over again, she saw people who were deeply wounded by horrible abuse suffered at the hands of others, who, instead of hiding from it, sought to face it and hold the perpetrators accountable and change or implement programs and policies to help protect others from suffering the same experience.

Kristin sees her career goal as helping and supporting people in need. That’s why she attends law school. Whether she is going to work in traditional civil rights, international human rights, immigration, or other fields such as employment or housing law, her career will involve fighting for people who cannot fight for themselves.

Kristin’s general advice for people who want to work in the field of human rights:

“Significant power disparities, regardless of scale, are a breeding ground for abuse, and the powerless need advocates. If this is where your interests lie, and if you do it to full capacity, you’ll go mad with frustration every day, and you’ll have your heart broken with equal frequency. But nothing else is as sure to get you up every morning and keep you coming back and giving your all.”

Human Rights Workshop with Mr. Shiran Gooneratne: Adoption and Integration of Human Rights Treaties in Commonwealth Countries

On April 7, Mr. Shiran Gooneratne presented on the topic of “Adoption and Integration of Human Rights Treaties in Commonwealth Countries.” Mr. Gooneratne is a judge of the High Court of Colombo in the Republic of Sri Lanka. He has experience with court cases related to trafficking offenses both as a Judge and a former prosecutor, and is dedicated to creating a court system focused on the well-being of victims and witness protection, in line with international and domestic standards. During his presentation, Mr. Gooneratne introduced to the audience the famous Sri Lankan Supreme Court case, Nallaratnam Sinharasa v. the Attorney General. This thought-provoking case deals with many difficult legal concepts, such as national sovereignty versus due process and dualism versus monism. Mr. Gooneratne invited the audience to think about the legal arguments in the case from different perspectives. At the end of the presentation, he proposed that, to better integrate human rights treaties in commonwealth countries including Sri Lanka, legal reforms need to happen – some treaties should be adopted as self-executing in dualist states while some other treaties should be adopted as non-self-executing in monist states.