||:Feb 21, 2007;
Program teaches human rights law
Interns travel the world for unique experiences.
By Rebecca Berfanger
Since Professor George Edwards started the Program in International Human Rights Law at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis in 1997, he has helped place participants in internships at every corner of the map, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, something he plans to continue.
Even though he’s on sabbatical, Edwards is still hard at work, examining the effects of logging in various countries and how that affects human rights. While he said it’s not an obvious connection, his concerns include indigenous people who are displaced when forests are cut down, how workers are treated in the saw mills, including what kind of healthcare they receive, and how the logging affects the environment by contributing to pollution and global warming.
“The term ‘human rights’ rarely comes up unless someone raises the issue,” Edwards said.
It’s this kind of thinking that Edwards teaches students in the program, which Edwards said is unique to the law school, mainly because of the extent in which students are involved and how they are involved.
There are four components to the program – teaching, writing and publishing, assisting human rights groups, and internships.
For the teaching component, stu-HUMAN
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dents take classes about international human rights law, either taught by Edwards or other professors.
For the writing/publishing component, students write papers based on their own research or assist Edwards with his research. In some cases, the students come up with their own research projects, such as an upcoming trip to the United Nations in New York; in many other cases, Edwards assigns the topics or has students assist him with research and report about topics on which he’s already working.
Other papers students have assisted with include one about people who are still held at Guantanamo Bay and a paper in defense of Slobodan Milosevic.
Last summer, interns from the program presented at The Hague in Switzerland a 38-page paper titled “The USA’s Breach of its Obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to Protect the Rights of Sexual Minorities, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People.”
Edwards also presented a paper last July, “International Human Rights Law & Hurricane Katrina: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Violations by the United States Government.”
In March, another group of students will travel to the United Nations in New York to present a paper they initiated themselves, “Chile’s Breach of its Obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to Protect the Rights of Sexual Minorities, Including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People.”
The writing and publishing component is also one of the ways the students participate in the third component of providing services. Government agencies have asked Edwards “out of the blue” to have his students participate in pro bono projects by conducting research and writing briefs, memos, or affidavits.
The fourth component, the internships, is likely why most students want to participate in the program.
One of the former interns, Justin Glon, graduated from law school in 2005.
“Through (Edwards) I was able to be placed in an organization that provided support to both HIV/AIDS patients and lobbied against d i s c r i m i n a t i o n based on those ch a r a c ter i s t i c s ,” Glon said. “In the end, what really attracted me to the program was the chance to aid those who most needed it, the feeling of actually making a difference (which is often absent in law school), the ability to travel to South Africa and England and see new cultures and people, and the chance to make new friends. All of these things came true for me and I will never forget them.”
Another former intern, Tom Benner, started law school following a 30-year career as a life insurance company actuary and graduated in 2006. In the summer of 2004, he worked for the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM) in Belfast.
“My decision to leave what was a satisfying and lucrative career and attend law school grew out of my membership in Amnesty International, and a desire to spend my working hours doing something in the human rights field,” Benner said. “I had known George Edwards as a friend for several years before making that decision and was already well aware of his program, having attended several of the receptions he has in the spring for each year’s crop of interns. It was actually his suggestion that I consider attending law school, and I planned to apply for an internship from the beginning.
“I should add that taking his advice was one of the best decisions that I have ever made, and that I will always be extremely grateful to him,” said Benner.
To make sure the students don’t forget what they learn or do on the internships, and to share that knowledge with future interns, Edwards has the interns submit time logs every Friday.
Edwards also takes great care in placing interns. For instance, if a student has an interest and personal background in Latin American culture, he would likely send the student somewhere else. His reason?
“Whether they do an internship there or not, they’d go there anyway,” he said.
Instead of the student “missing out on experiencing another part of the world,” Edwards will help them try something different but would also want the student “to take a slice of Latin American sensibility to Hong Kong or Paris” or bring back what he learns in another country to Latin America after the internship.
“There’s no way to know how many people we’ve touched all over the world,” Edwards said. Even when he attends conferences in just about any country someone will mention the program to him, whether he’s in “Cape Town, New Delhi, New York, Paris, or even Indianapolis,” he said.
In fact, Edwards said, it’s unlikely they will ever not have enough internship opportunities for students. But the number of participants also depends on funding because the program does not rely on grants or funding from outside of the law school.
However, he said, “The law school has been very supportive with financial resources, physical resources, other support, and other expenses.”
While the program is unique, Edwards has received requests from other schools as to how they can start similar programs.
The program’s reputation has also spread to students who already have experience with law on an international level, such as Jhon Sanchez, who practiced law in Colombia before participating in the program. Sanchez traveled to The Hague in July 2006 and will also travel with the IU delegation to the U.N. in March.
“I would like to thank professor Edwards,” Sanchez said. “He has been not only a supportive person but also an inspirational force. Edwards taught us how to write the alternative report to present during the summer, but he did something else. He engaged in the process to organize a community of students with that purpose. He allowed us to do it by self-organization. In each step taken he was aware that we were a team, and he made (sure) that each one was a participant.”
Sanchez added that the experience was beyond what could be learned in law classes.
“It comes from a deep conviction that change is possible,” he said.
The main thing that Edwards finds rewarding as director of the program is “knowing how lives are changed by our students and their experiences – the lives of the students, the lives of the people in the outside groups, the lives of the clients, workers, staff, and colleagues of those in the field, all over the world.”