Harvard Student Group Fosters Advocacy

by and | Nov 29, 2003

Over the course of the 2002-2003 academic year, a group of Harvard Law Students concerned about human rights in Latin America organized through regular meetings at the Human Rights Program. Since September 2002, the group has worked on a number of projects involving rights defense in the Americas. These include the drafting of model legislation to create a national human rights commission in Brazil, and petitions on behalf of El Salvadoran victims of human rights abuses filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

After completing an intensive training session in Cambridge and traveling to Washington to observe sessions of the Inter-American Commission, the group decided to undertake the challenge of drafting an amicus curiae (friend of the court) legal submission to the Inter-American Court. Based on three months of research by twenty students and lawyers, the student group filed its brief jointly with the Centro de Justiça Global (Global Justice Center) of Brazil and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic. The brief surveyed the law and practice of six nations in the Americas, concluding that law and practice in the Americas systematically discriminate against migrant laborers in violation of international human rights standards. The brief called on the Inter-American Court to issue a strongly worded, broad statement in defense of migrant laborers’ rights.

On June 4, having been granted leave by the Court, representatives of the Harvard coalition argued the brief to the Court in a special session in Santiago, Chile. James Cavallaro, associate director of the Human Rights Program and lecturer on law at HLS, David Flechner, student coordinator of the Latin American group of HLS Advocates and Andressa Caldas, legal coordinator of the Global Justice Center presented arguments before the Court.

“The chance to argue before the Court is tremendously exciting,” said Daniel Schlanger, a third-year law student and the president of Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights. “It has been phenomenal to watch student interest grow. Our original Latin American-focused work served as a model for initiatives on Russia, Africa, Roma Rights and Islamic Law and led to the formation of HLS Advocates to coordinate and promote their activities.” This fall, more than one hundred students signed up to participate on HLS Advocates projects. More than half chose to focus on Latin America.

Fall 2003Volume III, Number 1

James L. Cavallaro, Harvard College ’84, is the Associate Director of the Human Rights Program and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, as well as a Member of the Policy Committee of the David Rockefeller Center for Human Rights.

Daniel A. Schlanger, HLS, ’04, is the President of Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights.

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