Students Advance Human Rights in Lebanon

Lebanese law students participating in the Human Rights Clinical Program exhibited materials from their projects at a year-end forum in Beirut.

Lebanese law students participating in the Human Rights Clinical Program exhibited materials from their projects at a year-end forum in Beirut.

August 2008 

After a successful inaugural year, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative and La Sagesse University in Beirut recently celebrated their jointly administered Human Rights Clinical Program by hosting a public forum for students to showcase their work. The event attracted more than 200 guests, including stakeholders from across Lebanon, among them parliamentarians, embassy officials, judges, lawyers, law school faculty, students and their parents and representatives from international and Lebanese organizations. The forum celebrated the innovative program, which connects law students with governmental and non-governmental organizations working on human rights issues. The forum featured presentations by students, who shared their experiences working on various projects. Each presenter shared a similar belief that their work had taught them to be more effective and compassionate legal practitioners.

The students' projects covered a wide range of human rights issues, from working with incarcerated women in Barbar Khazen Prison alongside lawyers from Mouvement Social lawyers to providing legal aid to refugees and migrant workers under the supervision of lawyers at Caritas Migrants Center. Each of the students who worked on those projects expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the program, which opened their eyes to the critical need for human rights legal assistance in Lebanon. Stunned by the prisoners’ living conditions, one student promised that she would continue helping women in need as a professional lawyer. Another was so impassioned about her work with migrants that she routinely worked more than twice as long as the project required of its students.

Another student participated in human rights training at United Nation Relief and Works Agency schools in Palestine, a project led by the Arab Institute for Human Rights. During his presentation, he spoke of his shock at learning of the refugees’ living conditions. He also cited an increased understanding of fundamental human rights issues as a result of his exposure to people and situations that he otherwise would not have encountered.  Some projects were more academic in nature, such as one student’s report addressing the problem of statelessness in Lebanon. The report, which was drafted in concert with La Sagesse’s law school faculty and the Lebanese non-governmental organization Beitouna, was sent to concerned parties in the country.

Addressing the audience on behalf of the project supervisors was a lawyer with the Father Afif Osseirane Foundation that also served as manager of several juvenile defense projects. During her remarks, she noted that the need for pro bono assistance far exceeds capacity in Lebanon. She praised the program’s efforts to teach law students the practical elements of field work and expressed hope that many of the students might be encouraged to take up the cause of defending human rights. She also commended the students’ enthusiasm and professionalism, noting that their passion and conviction was evident. She concluded by describing the evolution of some students, who were at first reluctant to visit the prisons but later were among the most ardent champions of human rights. She maintained that this was the best evidence of the program’s success. All 11 institutions who supervised students in their projects took part in the event, displaying materials about their work during an exhibition that followed the ceremony.

The President of La Sagesse University noted that the Human Rights Clinical Program was in keeping with the values that the University continues to cultivate, emphasizing the role of universities as the ideal venue for promoting cultural tolerance and exchange.  He also remarked that such programs enrich the mind and enhance values by enabling students to fight for human rights, human dignity and humanity in general.

During her remarks, the U.S. Chargés d’Affaires praised the initiative, saying, “[t]he importance of human rights law for those who cannot speak for themselves, those who do not have the power, cannot be underestimated. Rule of Law means that we all have access to the legal system.”

To learn more about the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s work in Lebanon, contact Josh Gardner at gardnerj@staff.abanet.org.

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