By Andrew Cohen
The Human Rights Center has selected Berkeley Law students Ioana Tchoukleva ’14, Elizabeth Jimenez ’14, and Genevieve Painter ’14—each an impassioned social justice advocate—to its roster of summer fellows.
The fellowships enable University of California students to work with human rights groups in the U.S. and abroad, while building connections between their academic studies and complex issues in the field.
Tchoukleva will assist refugee children in Malaysia while working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the only agency helping more than 100,000 refugees in the country. Because Malaysia is not a party to the Refugee Convention, it does not grant refugees permanent status—leaving them to fend for themselves in local cities and towns, where they are often ostracized and abused.
“Resettlement is only available for the fortunate few, so the help UNHCR provides to thousands of people on a daily basis is indispensable,” Tchoukleva said. “Human trafficking is common in Malaysia, so we’ll pay particular attention to signs of sexual abuse and gender-based violence.”
Born in a low-income family in Bulgaria amid “transition, social chaos, and individual despair,” Tchoukleva grew up “surrounded by domestic violence, poverty, and an ever-present sense of hopelessness.” By the time she started law school, pushing for social justice had become a way of life.
In her varied social work, Tchoukleva has volunteered at psychiatric institutions, assisted trafficking and domestic violence victims, and helped launch a business with genocide survivors in Rwanda. At Berkeley Law, she has kept up the momentum by representing asylum-seekers through the California Asylum Representation Clinic, helping form a student organization to assists prisoners with parole hearings, and working to improve Uganda’s response to sexual violence.
“My interest in refugee protection grew out of my own experience with being an ‘other,’ an immigrant in the U.S. and a foreigner in most places I resided,” Tchoukleva said. “The difficulties that refugees face resonate deeply with me —from the fear of persecution and the sadness of leaving everything behind to the struggles of learning a new language and culture.”
Jimenez, planning a public interest career that focuses on corporate accountability, will intern with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. Her duties will include legal research, analysis, and casework on international criminal law related to corporate crimes.
“My goal is to help the center effectively hold powerful, multinational corporations accountable for gross human rights violations,” said Jimenez, who has worked as a labor organizer. “As a Colombian and American citizen who has lived in both countries, I’ve seen how multinationals shape their socio-economic and political landscapes.”
After graduating from Michigan, Jimenez returned to Colombia and worked with a food and beverage workers’ union that was suing Coca-Cola in U.S. federal courts. The case, filed under the Alien Tort Statute, involved alleged complicity in the assassination of several Colombian union leaders. She interviewed union employees and ex-employees of Coca-Cola in Colombia and translated documents for allied organizations, among other tasks.
“The Colombian government, which largely consisted of members of the elite class, aligned itself with multinationals in implementing laws and economic policies,” Jimenez said. “That led to the political and economic turmoil and violence experienced by many Colombians. Given the huge power corporations wield worldwide, the international community should strengthen the handful of existing corporate accountability regulations and laws rather than eliminate or constrain them.”
Finding the Truth
A student in Berkeley Law’s Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, Painter will intern at the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism in Montreal. The center works with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which is charged with learning and documenting what happened in more than 130 government-funded, church-run schools created for Aboriginal people across Canada starting in the 1870s. These schools, the last of which closed in 1996, were designed to bar parental involvement in Aboriginal children’s intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development.
This summer, Painter will draft two working papers. “One will investigate whether the TRC is ensuring that it meets human rights obligations to gender equality,” she said. “The other will ask whether TRC helps ensure that the Canadian government meets its obligations to provide victims with the right to a remedy.”
Painter has worked with the Coalition on Women’s Rights in Conflict Situations, an international NGO, to develop a gender-sensitive approach to reparations. She also worked at the Trust Fund for Victims of the International Criminal Court, giving her insight into the institutional challenges of creating reparations programs. Those experiences formed the basis of her law review article entitled “Thinking Past Rights: Towards Feminist Theories of Reparations,” Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice (2012).
“I’m committed to doing research that benefits the same communities that I’m studying. It’s an obligation I take particularly seriously as a non-indigenous person working on indigenous justice,” Painter said. “I hope that my research on the TRC will be a direct and practical addition to an ongoing policy debate of immediate concern to indigenous peoples living in Canada.”