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

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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.

Humphrey Fellowship Reflection: Sandhya Sitoula (Nepal), Fellowship Year 2013-2014

Sandhya Sitoula is a Program Coordinator at the Center for Legal Research and Resource Development, a national level NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her responsibilities include providing capacity building training to human trafficking protection actors and encouraging stakeholders to adopt a victim-centered approach to trafficking cases. She conducts research on trafficking issues, trains organizational field staff and other concerned stakeholders, and supervises Trafficking in Person (TIP) cases. In addition, she is an Executive Member of the Human Rights Committee of the Kathmandu District Court Bar Association and also works at the South Asian Women Fund as a Legal Fellowship Program Coordinator. At the moment, Sandhya’s core job is to assist victims of human trafficking and several other kinds of gender based violence. She helps them through legal representation in courts to ensure access to justice and fair trials. One of Sandhya’s main goals is to assist Sabdhya 2women and children who have suffered from victimization. In this way she focuses on empowering women and making them able to recognize and exercise their rights. Furthermore, Sandhya is engaged in initiating rights-based advocacy in different women related issues throughout the country. Sandhya received her LL.B. in Jurisprudence and Human Rights Law from the Kathmandu School of Law and went on to receive a Master of Laws in Human Rights and Gender Justice from the same institution. Sandhya was a 2013-2014 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at the University of Minnesota Law School.

In Sandhya’s opinion, one of the biggest human rights issues in Nepal is gender inequality. There are still provisions that ban women who are under 30 years old to apply for foreign employment, she said. The literacy rate is very low and early age marriage is another serious challenge, which the women in Nepal have to face. Sandhya herself experienced many cases of injustice in Nepal, particularly against women and female children. Because females are considered to be worth less than males, Sandhya was confronted her whole life with discrimination. But she also recognized that discrimination against women often comes along with violence and dependency on men. Growing up under these living conditions strengthened Sandhya’s will to work in the human rights field. She applied for a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship in order to learn more about international approaches to human rights and to get in touch with diverse human rights leaders from different countries. Sandhya attributes her fellowship year at the University of Minnesota Law School to helping her realize her own potential.

The knowledge Sandhya gained during her stay in the United States was incredibly beneficial for her career on the one hand and for her personal understanding of human rights on the other hand. Sandhya realized that she unknowingly had some bias too. But during her stay abroad, Sandhya could identify her bias. From now on she tries to see the world through “human rights lenses” and live the legacy of Hubert H. Humphrey. In theory, the concept of human rights seems to be very simple to Sandhya. It is just a bundle of rights, which people receive by being born as human beings. These rights belong to all humans. In practice, however, Sandhya understands first hand that human rights are very hard to implement into societies. Nonetheless, she keeps on working for the underprivileged in Nepal every day. If she cannot change the system from one day to the next, Sandhya at least wants to share her knowledge with people who need a helping hand.

Sandhya’s advice to future Humphrey Fellows:

I would like to tell prospective fellows that this opportunity is very precious! So plan your fellowship year in a very tactful manner. Take as much as you can from the program and try to build as many strong networks and relationships. These contacts  can be very useful in the future.

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