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Clinic News

International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution

Illustration by Francesco Bongiorni

Artwork by Francesco Bongiorni

Artwork for Clinic News on International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution

It’s safe to say that the “global village” envisioned by Marshall McLuhan a half century ago is here—with instantaneous electronic connections between nations, businesses, and individuals readily available at the click of a mouse or touch of a cell phone keypad. As communication between nations has developed, so too has awareness of shared experiences, differences, and human rights. “Human rights as an issue has moved to center stage over the last two decades,” says James L. Cavallaro, professor of law and founding director of the newly launched Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (see “New Faculty” profile on page 36). “Even after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, human rights was not widely incorporated into the academy until much later.” He explains that as the global political scene has evolved, with international organizations, advocacy groups, and the media placing human rights firmly in the spotlight, human rights issues have gained in prominence. Law schools reflect that development in their curriculums and clinics. And students expect more international focus in course offerings, many arriving at law school having met people on the Internet and formed “relationships” worldwide that most of us never even imagined just 10 years ago. They are as likely to follow (on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr) a rock band in Brazil as they are a leader of the Egyptian democracy movement. “We are more interconnected. More people are interested in human rights now because they know people around the globe,” he says. “And today, every top-tier law school has an international human rights clinic of some kind.”

At Stanford Law School, where a clinic addressing international human rights has been offered to students since 2006, the time was right for a recalibration of the focus.

“Not only have we endeavored to develop an extraordinary clinical education program in terms of pedagogy and breadth of course offerings, but we’re also trying to help reshape the model for how lawyers are educated,” says Lawrence C. Marshall, professor of law, associate dean for clinical education and David & Stephanie Mills Director of the Mills Legal Clinic. “Jim’s new clinic will enable us to provide fully supervised client advocacy training in an international legal practice setting.”

Cavallaro, who studied for his JD at Berkeley Law, returned to California to take on the job. With extensive experience, including as a clinical professor of law and executive director of the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program, he has both the practical and classroom expertise to reshape the program and run it. He has dedicated his career to human rights—in both his scholarly research and his legal practice—and brings extensive expertise to the table, derived from active involvement in the defense of rights, in the development of international human rights law and the human rights movement, in work involving human rights issues in Latin America and the developing world, and in international human rights litigation. Cavallaro lives and breathes human rights—it is his life’s work.

“Jim Cavallaro is one of the world’s most respected international human rights lawyers, as well as a prolific scholar and great teacher,” says Larry Kramer, Richard. E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean. “Clinical education is a key part of the Stanford curriculum, and the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic is central to our international program. With Jim at the helm, we can take both clinical and international teaching and research in new directions. There’s simply no one better.”

Working alongside Cavallaro is clinical lecturer Stephan Sonnenberg, who developed an expertise in conflict resolution while a clinical instructor and lecturer of law at the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (and as one of Cavallaro’s first students at Harvard). Sonnenberg, who received his JD from Harvard in 2006, considers negotiation and mediation an integral part of human rights work—as does Cavallaro. The new clinic title reinforces that understanding. “Negotiation and mediation are part of the tool set that we hope our students will develop to better pursue rights, particularly when litigation doesn’t work. They need to be able to build bridges,” Sonnenberg says.

THE CLINIC WILL ADDRESS a range of situations of rights abuse and violent conflict around the world. By providing direct representation to victims and by working with communities that have suffered or face potential abuse, students will be trained as advocates and so advance the cause of human rights and global justice. The first order of business is to structure the program so that students gain practical legal skills while also learning the larger issues, institutions, and processes involved in international human rights work. For this, Cavallaro and Sonnenberg are busy writing instructional manuals for the students and the communities they will serve so that they are ready for their first class in January.

Cavallaro is particularly excited about Stanford Law’s new schedule, which offers clinics as a full-time quarter commitment.

“Having the students fully focused on their clients and the issues, without having to balance other coursework, is huge,” he says. “It will also make scheduling on-site visits to communities that we represent and locales in which a rights abuse has occurred or is threatened much easier—they’re often impossible to arrange when students are juggling other class schedules and requirements.”

Choosing the right projects to reinforce pedagogical goals is a priority. Cavallaro and Sonnenberg have worked on civil conflict, indigenous rights, summary executions, torture, and transitional justice in more than 20 countries in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, France, Nigeria, Panama, Russia, South Africa, and the United States, and they bring to Stanford Law their relationships with individuals and organizations in the field. And while these relationships offer an array of potential cases for the new clinic, here Cavallaro and Sonnenberg hope to involve the students. “The class begins in January, but we’re hoping to meet our students early so that we can understand their experiences and interests,” says Sonnenberg.

Students will divide their time between an intensive clinical seminar and ongoing clinical advocacy projects, exposing them to a range of tools and strategies to promote respect for rights and dignity, including factual documentation, elaboration and distribution of reports on rights abuse, traditional litigation before national and international institutions, community empowerment strategies, and conflict transformation techniques. The clinic will also focus on cultural awareness that must come with this field of law.

“Because projects will take them outside of the U.S. to different countries with different cultures, sometimes in difficult situations, students may find themselves in challenging environments,” says Cavallaro. “Even something seemingly straightforward like working with a translator can present challenges, and they’ll need to learn to understand cues and innuendoes. We will spend a lot of time with them working on those special skills required for this kind of work.” SL

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One Response to “International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution”

  1. mmarkham@stanford.edu says:

    In an increasingly globalised world, American institutions cannot afford to be lagging in the availability of international career paths, especially with regard to human rights legislation. The human rights program at Stanford Law School is an excellent opportunity for students to gain real hands-on experience in international clinics. It’s a forward-thinking program; the full-quarter commitment schedule is a great showcase of the versatility offered by Stanford Law School in a range of different legal subjects and is an important step towards a renewed commitment to human rights by American institutions, something that is lacking in example in American policy. The clinic will come as an especially important recognition of 2011 as a year of uprising and change and hopefully continue a legal precedent of supporting and defending international human rights.
    Max Markham
    Stanford, CA

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