International Human Rights Clinic: Experience on a World Stage

Each week, students in the International Human Rights Clinic gather around a conference table and discuss ways to help victims of human-rights violations around the globe. In the past year, the students have taken on cases from across Central and South America on such issues as abusive police practices and discrimination against underrepresented groups.

Spearheaded by Professor Cesare Romano in 2011, the clinic operates as an advocacy group for victims of alleged abuse around the world. Participating students learn to analyze cases, as well as draft and file amicus curiae briefs with a range of international human-rights bodies. This year they are working tirelessly to submit several different petitions of human rights violations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

In February, the clinic submitted a legal communication to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on behalf of a political activist from Guinea named Karamo Fofana. After his family was slain during a peaceful protest, he fled to Ecuador seeking asylum from the military junta. But Fofana was arrested in Ecuador, due to a fake French passport he was carrying, and all of his belongings were confiscated by police. Fofana has enlisted Loyola’s clinic to file a complaint on his behalf to attain the refugee status he seeks in Ecuador.

Students write in the communication that this fake passport was necessary for Fofana to escape persecution in Guinea. They urge the U.N. that Ecuadorian police failed to recognize his rights as a refugee and that he was imprisoned unlawfully and abused. The clinic defends Fofana’s right to compensation for arbitrary and illegal arrest in addition to protections entitled to refugees. Students aim to erase his criminal record so he can seek refugee status in a different country.

Last fall, the clinic’s five students began investigating on a purported atrocity in Jamaica involving the alleged murders of a large number of civilians by the Jamaican police. Unable to persuade the government to properly investigate, the victims’ families turned to Romano for help. Students collaborated with the advocacy group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) to identify reasons why there have been legal-process issues in Jamaica. They cite three points of undue delay that undermine the investigation of criminal matters in the justice system. Undue delays occur in obtaining rulings, in the commencement of Coroners Inquests and in the commencement of trials in the Supreme Court and circuit courts. By identifying these failings, the clinic and the JFJ hope to bring justice to the families of the deceased and effect positive change in the Jamaican justice system.

The clinic hopes to represent the case before the Inter-American Commission, which is fitting with Romano’s plans to expand the scope of the clinic’s initiatives. Romano is considering persuading clinic alumni to return to assist on their expanded efforts.  “As we move forward, I would love to draft some graduates back into the clinic who have done it before to get some extra support,” he said. 

The students filed another amicus curiae brief in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a case alleging systemic discrimination. In 2000, a group of illegal immigrants from Haiti were gunned down by a group of Dominican Republic soldiers in an event known as the Guayabin Massacre.  After years of proceedings, the military courts acquitted the soldiers involved. The brief alleges that survivors were denied their rights to a fair trial and judicial protection based on their status as immigrants. The clinic submitted their brief last summer on behalf of the victims and their families. It has been endorsed and co-signed by 25 academics and human rights organizations from around the world. 

For Romano, that real-world experience is invaluable. “They are doing something very concrete,” he said. “It is their names that appear on the amicus curiae briefs in court, and this allows them to reach a level of satisfaction that they may not reach in classroom activities.”

Romano cites the unique setting of the clinic, which operates more like a think tank than a class, as the cornerstone of the experience. And he credits his students’ work with making it all worthwhile. “I was so impressed by the depth and quality of work that they did, I felt like I was among peers with free-flowing ideas. They put a ton of work into it, and I learn so much from the process. That’s why I do it.” 

Pictured above: Professor Cesare Romano (center) supervises Loyola’s International Human Rights Clinic.  Students participating in the clinic in fall 2012 included (from left) Andrea Sitar ’13, Sarah Frost ’13, Dafna Gozani ’13, Shelley Yoo ’13 and Negar Tehrani ’13 (not pictured).