WCL grant enables human rights work abroad

The Washington College of Law launched its Freedom of Expression Program Wednesday night, officially announcing the acceptance of a $77,000 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy to fund a program focusing on "freedom of expression" cases in North and South America.

The Freedom of Expression Program will give two WCL students a chance to work on human rights cases dealing with freedom of expression issues, said project attorney Augustina Del Campo. The students were chosen based on a wide range of criteria, including their knowledge of international law, interest in human rights issues and familiarity with Latin America, Del Campo said.

The students who will be participating are Elisa Reyes and Ernesto Gonzalez, according to Del Campo.

"Freedom of expression" cases may revolve around issues such as murders of journalists or lack of access to public information, but the exact content of the cases cannot be disclosed at this time, Del Campo said.

The case research will be conducted in conjunction with students from Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile, Del Campo said. The students will accept two cases to work on during the one-year grant period. The WCL students will focus mainly on one case and the students in Chile will take the lead on the other, she said.

"The groups will share resources and drafts and take advantage of each others' legal experience," Del Campo said.

While attorneys will be leading the case research, students will not be watching from the sidelines, she said.

"They'll take part in litigation, prepare drafts, interview with clients and argue before the commission," she said. "They'll eventually accompany the lawyers ... to the trial."

The students will also take part in presenting their cases to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said supervising attorney Jennifer de Laurentiis. The commission has processed thousands of human rights cases filed by individuals and groups in the Americas, according to the commission's Web site.

Though the one-year grant period officially began in July, Wednesday's program launch was seen as an opportunity to better explain the goals of the program to the AU community, de Laurentiis said.

"We wanted to make people aware that we are crating a network," she said. "[A network] of universities, people and organizations that are interested in [human rights] cases."

De Laurentiis said the Universidad Diego Portales is the only partner WCL has had in any program so far, though she hopes that more partnerships will be formed in the future.

"We have extensive contacts throughout the world and region," she said. "Other universities have demonstrated interest [in working with us]."

De Laurentiis said it's likely the cases may take longer than the one-year grant period to be fully processed, but she believes the case will go before the commission by the time the year is over.

"There might not be definitive results in the first year," she said. "That takes awhile."

The Freedom of Expression Program is a part of WCL's Impact Litigation Project, which was started in January to give students opportunities to examine human rights cases within North and South America. The Impact Litigation Project is intended to "strengthen inter-American jurisprudence," Del Campo said.

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