Students in this clinic review basic human rights law concepts and refine lawyering skills in the context of human rights law practice. The fall semester of the clinic involves a review of substantive law and lawyering practice through case simulations, as well as an introduction to the actual cases and projects students will work on during the course of the year. With a grounding in human rights legal practice, and a case plan developed during the fall semester, in the spring semester, students will focus more on their actual advocacy projects, which may include overseas travel and drafting complaints. Through representation of clients in the context of litigation and other forms of advocacy, students will grapple with dilemmas facing international human rights practitioners in the contemporary context. Students have the opportunity to work on a range of human rights matters, integrating elements of transitional justice, business and human rights, and the link between human rights and constitutional rights.
Students work in teams, with each team assigned to a specific human rights matter, often in conjunction with human rights NGOs. Team projects may include challenges in international and regional fora, on behalf of clients ranging from workers in Mexico (especially women), to Haitians expelled from the Dominican Republic. In an effort to "bring human rights home" another possible project is a challenge in the criminal justice area, for example, involving police misconduct.
Finally, the clinic may be involved in a variety of advocacy efforts through the United Nations, international tribunals and bodies, and domestic courts to challenge human rights violations in transitional societies, such as in East Timor, Bosnia, Chile, Colombia, and Rwanda. Language skills (particularly Spanish) will be a criteria in the assignment of student projects. In addition to exploring non-litigation advocacy options, the clinic is also involved in preparing, filing, and litigating cases in domestic, regional, and international fora, with international human rights law as a basis for the claims. For example, students have been involved in drafting petitions for submission in the Inter-American Commission and under the labor side agreements to NAFTA, as well as litigating cases in U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act in matters concerning human rights violations overseas. Transitional justice, business practices and constitutionalism have been selected as theme areas because they highlight priorities and needs of the human rights community (as human rights have advanced to respond to developments posed by post-Cold War realities), and because these areas combine a range of skills-building opportunities for students.
Participation in the clinic includes actual practice as well as a variety of pedagogical exercises (via weekly seminars, weekly team meetings with the professor, readings, and simulated exercises). All students should plan to devote 20 hours a week to clinic work. The clinic emphasizes problem solving in the international law context, core concepts in human rights law, as well as basic lawyering skills that are transferable and are designed to equip students for a variety of career paths.