Rutgers Law students in the International Human Rights Clinic started 2018 with a huge impact - they drafted an amicus brief for detained immigration activist Ravi Ragbir that was referenced by U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest, before she ruled to release him from detention. The students worked on the brief quickly, under the supervision of Clinic Director Professor Penny Venetis.
Previous students in the clinic have worked on human rights issues that ranged from the repression of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States to the persecution of the LGBT community in Uganda.
“We are using human rights and constitutional law in support of communities organized for social change,” said Clinical Professor Jeena Shah, who is oversaw the clinic for three years while Venetis served as Executive Vice President and Legal Director of Legal Momentum, the Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund,
Shah said students in the clinic learned hands-on skills, including conducting legal research on international human rights law and U.S. constitutional law, drafting briefs and human rights reports, filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, preparing clients and expert witnesses for depositions, and creating public education and advocacy materials.
“I am helping them learn about how to use U.S. law, and beyond the United States, how to use international law, to support the struggles communities are already fighting,” Shah explained. “We use U.S. courts, U.N. human rights bodies, and other legal and policy tools to help communities push their goals forward. As Professor Frank Askin always says, we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to what is, but what could be.”
Among the cases students worked on:
- One team of students prepared members of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and experts on international law, mass atrocities, and minority stress for depositions in SMUG’s landmark litigation against Scott Lively, a U.S. anti-gay extremist, for his role in the widespread and systematic persecution of Uganda’s LGBT community. They also helped craft legal arguments in opposition to Lively’s motion for summary judgment.
- Another team assisted Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, in their collective FOIA requests regarding the U.S.’s use of toxic munitions in Iraq. They also crafted legal arguments and traveled to Richmond, Virginia for a hearing before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Al Shimari v. CACI, brought by former Abu Ghraib detainees against a U.S. military contractor responsible for their torture.
- A third team drafted reports to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf the Baltimore Algebra Project, Dream Defenders, Freedom, Inc., Million Hoodies Movement for Justice,
- Organization for Black Struggle and Power U Center for Social Change, regarding state and private acts of violence against human rights defenders in the Movement for Black Lives. They also helped reverse the termination of a public school teacher and local organizer in the movement for teaching her students about radical black activists during Black History Month.