By Susan Gluss
In areas across India, scars remain after decades of internal armed conflict. Civilians—especially children, women, and minorities—have suffered ongoing human rights violations without redress. Now, a group of Berkeley Law students is working to address that long-term trauma. They’re studying the basic principles of a “right to remedy” and how those rights might be enforced. These principles, based on United Nations guidelines, include equal access to justice, prompt reparations for harms suffered, and much more.
The team met in Nepal last month with scholars and lawyers to discuss how international and state laws might intersect to protect civilians. The students are working under the guidance of the International Human Rights Law Clinic for the Armed Conflict Resolution and People’s Rights Project at the HAAS School of Business.
The Haas project seeks to safeguard rights of ordinary civilians caught in the midst of armed unrest. Clinic alumna Mallika Kaur ’09 is its director of programs. “The project brings together diverse stakeholders and experts interested in learning from communities about responsible engagement with protracted issues,” she wrote in an email.
Laurel Fletcher, professor and clinic director, called the work with Kaur’s group “wonderfully ecological” since the clinic “prides itself on incubating students and then supporting their work in the world of international human rights.”
Three students—Katie Lynn Anderson ’15, Guneet Kaur ’14, and Ingrid Perez ’15—presented their preliminary research to lead litigators and activists. They prepared comparative legal analyses on the right to compensation for harms endured.
“Our students were laying the groundwork concerning reparations that fall within international law, such as monetary compensation and restoration of property, as well as memorialization—all of these can be forms of reparation,” Fletcher said.
A comparative approach
Perez studied countries that faced similar issues of civil unrest and riots, including Guatemala, Brazil, and Chile and presented her analysis at the meeting. The trip itself, she said, taught her that advocates touting international human rights standards must do so in the context of a country’s unique culture.
“It not only helps a human rights advocate engage in culturally-specific issues, but it also diminishes the chance that local populations will resist foreign solutions because they don’t adhere to their long established religious or cultural norms,” Perez said.
From an academic point-of-view, Anderson said the students learned “a great amount of substantive law,” while researching, writing, and revising documents. They also learned to trust and learn from each other, she said.
The students’ involvement required “sophisticated communications skills and strategy in an international context,” Fletcher added.
“This project gave students the opportunity to tease apart a complex problem and to identify it from multiple angles of law,” she said. They also learned to communicate and advise a client across cultural boundaries in a global legal practice.
A key take-away for Anderson was the distinction between human rights law in theory—and practice on the ground.
“There are many gaps in international human rights law, overlaid with weaknesses in domestic implementation, which can make ‘rights’ and ‘laws’ largely nonoperational,” Anderson said. “I think a parallel discussion exists for domestic law, even in the U.S., but is perhaps less obvious.”
Guneet Kuar, an LL.M. student from India who will return there after graduation, said “the whole process before and during the trip was very enlightening and a very important learning experience” that gave her “insight into challenges that lie ahead” for her country.
The students’ final research papers will be folded into policy proposals and protocols for communities eager to pursue reparations for victims and protect human rights.