LAW 793

Human Rights in Action: Collaborative Grassroots Lawyering

Human Rights

The Human Rights in Action Clinic (HRAC) provides students with a critical understanding of human rights as a dynamic and contested field of law and social action.  The HRAC has both a local and international expression. 

The international dimension focuses on collaborative partnerships with grassroots organizations and human rights activists in Honduras.  There the clinic prioritizes work with Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, building on sustained relationships with the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), the Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH).  the Movimiento Amplio de Dignidad y Justicia (MADJ) and the human rights division of the Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC).  The international dimension links with the J-Term International Human Rights Field Experience in Honduras, summer internship opportunities for students in the region, advanced human rights coursework in support of our partners in subsequent semesters, and other projects of the Promise Institute for Human Rights focusing on the region and the Inter-American system for human rights.   

The domestic expression of the HRAC clinic will build on collaborations with local grassroots organizations and social movements, with a preference for work with California Native Nations and Indigenous organizations of greater Los Angeles.  Projects will emerge from community outreach to potential partners such as the Sacred Places Institute, the LA City and County Native American Indian Commission, representatives of California Native Nations, the Frente Indígena Oaxaqueña Binacional (FIOB), and Mayan organizations in Los Angeles.  Clinic projects will be designed in dialog with local partners to creatively apply the human rights frame in support of their struggles and priorities.

The Fall 2019 HRAC will include some carryover from our work in Honduras, but our primary focus will be developing work with local partners.  If offered in the Spring, the primary focus of the HRAC will be the international dimension, with some carryover from the domestic projects. 

The clinic will offer to students the opportunity to practice on the leading edge of international human rights in action: alignment with marginalized communities seeking to define, gain recognition for, and enforce their human rights as a tool for social change and justice.  Through dialog with our partners, the clinic will foster a critical approach to human rights practice.  Locally, we will engage with our partners’ struggles and human rights practices in areas such as Native recognition, the assertion of sovereignty, and the decolonization of physical, social and legal spaces in the domestic context.  In the international context, we support our partners struggles in the areas of local autonomy for Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, legal pluralism, resistance to extractivist industries, and resistance to emerging forms of the criminal and authoritarian state.   In both contexts we will support efforts to hold state institutions and actors accountable for human rights violations. 

The legal work of the clinic will support our partners’ efforts to advocate for their rights, define and directly enforce human rights instruments in governmental spaces and domestic courts, and bring litigation in the Inter-American system for human rights.  
The clinic will meet once a week in a regularly scheduled time period of three hours.  The first two hours will be dedicated to the seminar portion of the clinic and will include substantive law training in international human rights, with a particular focus on the Inter-American system and the emerging framework on the rights of Indigenous people.  A significant portion of the seminar will be dedicated to skills training in activist lawyering and human rights practice and methodologies, and reflection on the ethical concerns and practical dilemmas involved in this practice.  The seminar will integrate critical reflection on the human rights project writ large, social science analysis, and U.S. policy and history as it relates to the human rights challenges experienced by our partners. 

The remaining hour will be set aside for team meetings.  Student teams will have the option of scheduling an hour outside of this dedicated third hour of the class meeting time for their team meeting, in which case the third hour of class meeting time will be waived.  Students will also meet as needed for client conferences or specialized clinic activities.  Fridays will be the preferred day to schedule these client conferences or activities.  Students will be expected to spend 12 hours per week on clinic projects and fieldwork in addition to class preparation.

The collaborative model involves playing a supportive role with diverse actors in a broad social struggle.  Prior experience with grassroots organizations or social movements will be among the criteria factored into the consideration of applications, but all interested students are encouraged to apply. No Spanish language proficiency is required, and while a positive asset, the skill is less of a factor in the Fall 2019 version of the HRAC.  Enrollment for the Human Rights in Action Clinic is capped at eight students.  Please contact Professor Berra if you have any questions.

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