Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: Transitional Justice in Belfast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by Megan Manion

Mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland is not the most instinctual hub for international conflict resolution research. However, it is an important, influential, and symbolic one. I have spent the last two months working on research to support a reparations process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while living in Belfast. Working towards meaningful and concrete reparations to be implemented in an ongoing conflict in the DRC while living in a post-conflict setting has meant having a first-hand interface with the uncertainty of conflict. The unease of experiencing the very tangible effects of conflict in Belfast – whether it be tension surrounding controversial holidays, expressions of violence from organized groups, flags which demarcate and threaten, or merely the division of neighborhoods – reminds me that solutions to conflict, in order to have meaning and effect, are processes, not mere solutions.

In early June, the Trust Fund for Victims and the Transitional Justice Institute held a meeting to consult experts for the reparations process that the International Criminal Court will be undertaking in the Thomas Lubanga Dyilo case. The choice of Belfast as the locale was purposeful. Belfast, a Western democracy, is still dealing with remnants of conflict, the continuation of harmful traditions, and lack of acknowledgement for losses and human rights abuses. This choice was an acknowledgement of the universality of conflict across cultures, regions, and systems. In human rights law conversations, initiatives, and actions there can be a significant and systematic tendency to “other” conflicts and portray them as somehow different from conflicts that occur in Western democracies. As such, my work has highlighted the core similarities between post-conflict societies and the issues that individuals, communities, and systems have to address as conflicts resolve or digress with fluidity.

Having this opportunity and reminder as I research and support the work of the Transitional Justice Institute has been a practice in humility and an unparalleled opportunity to participate in a process with international and local experts who approach these critical issues of conflict and repair with critical awareness of their own impact and the implications of their perceptions and choices.

By Megan Manion, Human Rights Fellow, Summer 2015

Megan Manion is conducting her Human Rights Fellowship at the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute.

 

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Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: The Murals of Belfast, by Amanda McAllister

Mural in Belfast

The conflict is written onto the walls of Belfast. After thirty years of violence during The Troubles conflict, murals have become a tradition for every community. The murals reflect public opinion, recent agreements, hopes for the future, and signs of solidarity. They range from optimism to harrowing predictions for the future of Northern Ireland. There is simultaneously the “peace wall,” depicting hopeful murals and images of leaders like Nelson Mandela, and the infamous “prepared for peace, ready for war” mural in North Belfast. At the heart of these murals lay visions of identity, national belonging, and methods for pursuing rival futures.

The experiences of Northern Ireland play a significant role in the purpose of the organization that I am a part of this summer. Ulster University’s Transitional Justice Institute takes the experience of Northern Ireland and exports those lessons to transform and inspire resolutions to conflict. One way in which these lessons are shared is through the Annual Summer School on Transitional Justice. This year’s topic was “Gendering the Practices of Post-Conflict Resolution: Investigations, Reparations and Communal Repair.” The school is a week-long course consisting of interactive lectures, workshops, roundtable discussions and cultural outings for the visiting human rights leaders. The workshop focused on global approaches to gender, violence and transitional justice, assessing gender in the context of community, reparations in comparative perspectives, and communal interfaces with gender accountability. Each working part of this perspective and field is intricate and interlocked. If one, essential part is severed, the nuance of effective understanding of the relationships among those parts is lost and the system is left dysfunctional.

Mural in BelfastAs I go forward in my legal studies, I understand the necessity of the ways in which fields and perspectives work as part of a dynamic system requiring rigorous analysis of the way in which those parts work separately and together. Like the murals in Belfast, which display a breadth of history, images of solidarity with other conflicts, and even pop culture, the complexities of the human experience cannot and do not exist in a vacuum. They are entwined and demand thoughtful and purposeful unraveling in order to effect change.

By Amanda McAllister, Human Rights Fellow, Summer 2015

Amanda McAllister is conducting her Human Rights Fellowship at the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute.

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. 

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 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.

Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: Hollie Nyseth Brehm, Fellowship Year 2009

HollieHollie Nyseth-Brehm is a new Assistant Professor at the Ohio State University Department of Sociology and an affiliate member of the Mershon Center for International Security Studies as well as of the Criminal Justice Research Center. In 2009 she was awarded with an Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship. Working as a student and intern with the Mexico City Human Rights Commission in Puebla, Mexico, Hollie quickly discovered that human rights was not just an interest; it was a calling. This opportunity allowed her to apply her skills in research in order to better understand the causes of human rights violations.

Hollie’s time in Mexico City was spent interviewing public defenders about the effects of the 2005 judicial reform of the Mexican Constitution. The reform guaranteed the use of oral trials and ensured a presumption of innocence that did not exist in Mexico until that point. Hollie describes these changes as “an effort to decrease human rights violations and restore public faith in the criminal justice system.” This was done to address the widespread problem of unconvicted criminals being kept in pre-trial detention, where they experienced both physical and psychological torture. The atrocities described to Hollie were a major catalyst in her decision to pursue a career in genocide and torture prevention. While in Mexico Hollie also had the opportunity to construct a database detailing the history of torture in Mexico and she assisted in planning two human rights conferences. Her experience in creating databases and conducting research as well as her Spanish skills were utilized as she analyzed data from research studies on the causes of Mexican human rights violations. Hollie’s projects with the Mexico City Human Rights Commission helped her further appreciate the complexities of working in human rights and gave her invaluable hands-on experience.

After her fellowship in 2009 Hollie continued to utilize her experiences and skills in preparation for a career in human rights. Among others, Hollie worked as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Research on Crimes Against Humanity and International Law in Bosnia and in Rwanda. There she trained government researchers of the Rwandan National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide. Through these experiences she was able to present her research with the Rwandan Director of Research at a conference in the summer of 2013.

Due to her research and her academic excellence, Hollie was recently asked by the CIA to join their Political Instability Task Force, a small team of scholars that consults with the CIA and other government agencies regarding international political instability and violence. The group will work on forecasting models for genocide and other forms of mass violence.

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

“Remember to reflect on your own privilege but do not let debates about privilege paralyze you.”

If you would like to learn more about Hollie, you can find her on LinkedIn.

Your Help is Needed Today– Share #SwaziJustice Video and Help WCL Alum Thulani Maseko in prison in Swaziland

We hope you will be willing to assist our partner at American University, the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, with the urgent request below.

Today we need your Twitter and Facebook help to share a video that the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law has launched to support our alum, Thulani Maseko (ILSP ’11) in prison in Swaziland.  Together with the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, the ABA Center for Human Rights and an array of international NGOs we are launching the #SwaziJustice campaign to raise awareness of the case in the lead up to a hearing in the Supreme Court of Swaziland on November 3.  More details of the case can be found at www.swazijustice.org or on the Center’s website.

We have produced a 3 minute video featuring Rev. Desmond Tutu, the actress Alfre Woodard, UN Special Rapporteurs Juan Mendez (torture) and David Kaye (freedom of expression), Kerry Kennedy as well as a wide array of human rights activists and luminaries, to support their cause.  Please watch and share the video through your networks (direct link is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jD95h23-Gr0) , “like” Swazi Justice on Facebook, tweet and retweet (and retweet) at #SwaziJustice, and go to www.swazijustice.org to find out more ways to take action.

Please spread the video through your personal networks (churches/mosques/synagogues, schools, professional networks, listservs, alumni associations, etc.)  We are trying to make the video go viral and your help is essential!

 

Take action now to support Thulani and free speech in Swaziland by SHARING THIS VIDEO

I was Thulani’s faculty host at WCL and am awed by the brave work he’s done to promote basic human rights in his country, at great personal expense.  I’m proud of our school and our alumni  – and hope that you will help our colleague, whose only crime was speaking truth to power…

If you have more ideas about how to get this video out into the world, please a) go ahead and do it, and b) let me know if we can help!

THANKS

For more of the specifics of the case go to www.swazijustice.org

Hadar Harris

Executive Director, Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law

American University Washington College of Law