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Penn Law students engage DC policy makers on rule of law, human rights

May 07, 2014

This spring semester Penn Law’s Rule of Law Policy and Practice class, taught by Associate Dean Dr. Amy Gadsden, traveled to Washington, D.C. for meetings with key stakeholders in the arenas of rule of law and international human rights.

The day-long program April 11 began with a Gender and Rule of Law forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where Penn Law students met privately with Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Center’s Middle East Program, Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani, Public Policy Scholar at the Wilson Center and former member of the Pakistani Parliament, Dr. Akiko Ito, Chief, Secretariat for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and Dr. Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director of the Center’s Global Women’s Leadership Initiative. Students posed thoughtful, challenging questions about the many approaches to international gender equality and received inspiring, candid reflections from the panelists.

“Rule of law is a key policy focus, whether the interests are political and human rights or investment and trade-related,” said Gadsden. “Law students should have the chance to explore these programs in-depth while in law school, both to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and to prepare themselves for careers in the field – careers which are often very fulfilling.”

The group then traveled to the Institute for International Education, where they met with Andrew Solomon, who is the Fellow for Human Rights and Transitional Justice at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Mr. Solomon facilitated a highly detailed presentation about the triumphs and pitfalls of transitional justice; a topic of great interest to all of the students in the class. This presentation was followed by a trip to the American Bar Association to meet with a number of Rule of Law practitioners. Program officers and managers working with projects in various geographic locations and contexts spoke to the students about the practical and theoretical implications of the ABA’s multi-faceted approach to monitoring and evaluation.

The day’s formal programming concluded with a session at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace during which Rachel Kleinfeld, Senior Associate for Democracy and Rule of Law Programs, spoke at length about her experiences in Honduras. The group then enjoyed a networking reception at Lincoln Restaurant in which current students had the opportunity to engage with recent, internationally-focused alumni.

Jenn Cilingin L’15 noted, “I really appreciated the opportunity to speak with such a wide and diverse array of practitioners. Most law school courses typically focus heavily on theory and sometimes lose sight of the more practical application of the material we learn. Visiting the various organizations in D.C. and speaking with attorneys who have dedicated their careers to advancing the rule of law abroad gave us a unique opportunity to understand how the theoretical concepts we learned in classes are applied in the real world.”

Cilingin added: “I especially enjoyed speaking with the women at the Woodrow Wilson Center, who took their personal experiences in countries where the rule of law is not very strong, and used those experiences to help build their narratives and guide their reform efforts.”

Verna Krishnamurthy L’15 said that the trip “provided real, practical perspectives on the topics we learned about in class each week. Our discussions with prominent members of a diverse group of organizations supplemented our education in the classroom by teaching us how to put rule of law into practice. It was exciting to see how practitioners in the rule of law field have used their education and experience to contribute to an increasingly relevant area of legal work.” 

The Rule of Law Policy and Practice Class was created to expose law students to the field of rule of law and development, helping them understand the analytical and practical issues that shape efforts to promote legal reform abroad. It is part of Penn Law’s rich set of offerings for students interested in developing careers in international human rights and rule of law, which includes the Transnational Human Rights Clinic, and post-graduate fellowships for both JDs and LLMs dedicated to going in to the field.