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International Human Rights Advocates joins Justice Ventures International

March 08, 2013

Penn Law International Human Rights Advocates (IHRA) is a Toll Public Interest Center student pro bono project. This year Students in IHRA’s Human Trafficking Group worked for an international non-profit corporation called Justice Ventures International (JVI). JVI aims to support different local justice ventures member organizations around the world that are protecting human rights and promoting development. JVI provides pro bono professional services, funding, and research for organizations that are striving to achieve justice and freedom in certain impoverished parts of the world.

As part of JVI’s anti-trafficking initiatives in India, JVI has been working with lawyers in India to provide rescue and rehabilitation for victims of human trafficking and secure the arrests and convictions of perpetrators.  Mr. Ed Sohn, L’06, facilitated a unique partnership between JVI, attorneys from the law firm King & Spalding, and Penn law students to help JVI in its projects. 

JVI is part of a consortium of organizations participating in a Google sponsored advocacy initiative, and is responsible for proposing amendments to the Indian Bonded Labor System Abolition Act, 1976 (BLA). The BLA is filled with outdated provisions that don’t encompass the full forms of bonded labor and consist of weak remedies/punishments. The first team of Penn Law IHRA volunteers drafted a memo comparing the Indian Bonded Labor System Abolition Act of 1976 (BLA) to parallel legislation in other countries. Through this comparative legal research, this evaluative memo presented comparisons to the existing Indian BLA, noting areas for improvement as well as areas of strength.

Additionally,Chapter V of the BLA creates the ability for any state government to set up a number of vigilance committees for that state’s districts. After submitting Right to Information applications to states all over India requesting information relating to Vigilance Committees, JVI found that they are almost entirely absent. The second team of Penn Law IHRA volunteers wrote a report detailing an understanding of vigilance committees under their legal definition in the BLA, a comparison to other types of similar committees under Indian law that operate effectively, and an analysis of the RTI responses (similar to FOIA applications in the U.S) from the Indian states received by JVI. This allowed some creativity on students’ parts as they compared the effectiveness of the VC’s to other “statutory committees” in India, which don’t typically exist in a formal way but are more so empowered bodies that help vulnerable groups.

Future plans for the Spring 2013 semester include some new and exciting projects. One project will focus on providing business and legal support for creating businesses that train and employ rescued women to sell products in the global marketplace. The second project will focus on improving the Lok Adalat (people’s court) system to better prosecute perpetrators under the BLA.

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Notes from Student Project Supervisor: Vindhya Adapa, L’14

This year, I had the privilege of leading a student project under IHRA. My project was based on combatting human trafficking and bonded labor in India. My volunteers worked under the supervision of lawyers from King & Spalding and Justice Ventures International (JVI), an international non-profit corporation, in providing legal research, memos, and informative briefs on various legislative initiatives. My main duties consisted of overseeing the students on my team, facilitating staffing and communication between my students and our main attorney supervisor, monitoring and checking in on their progress, making sure operations ran smoothly, interacting with TPIC by providing key updates, and communicating actively with my board members about my progress and IHRA’s general activities.

I want to combine my legal background and passion for human rights into a long term career, broadly working in either economic development, legislative affairs, or litigation. My leadership experience has taught me how to manage people effectively, communicate with several international entities at once, handle several individual preferences, and multi-task as a project supervisor and general IHRA board member. These skills will undoubtedly help me play larger leadership roles throughout my career, allowing me to not only engage in more hands on work, but also handle and manage communications with volunteers, lawyers, and NGOs effectively. My leadership role has also helped me gain a much higher and broader understanding of human trafficking and bonded labor in India. Given my passion for human rights and public service in India, I look forward to maintaining the meaningful relationship I cultivated with our attorney mentor and JVI so I can continue doing this type of work in the future.

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