New! Right to Counsel section of the Human Rights in the U.S. Handbook for Legal Aid Attorneys

Image of Louisiana trailer park and wheelchair bound residentAbout the Project

The Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law developed the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project to promote human rights at the local level right here in the U.S. The Project is the first of its kind, working to create a cadre of experienced legal aid attorneys and public defenders who will use the human rights framework to advocate for increased civil liberties and expanded protections for the most vulnerable persons in the U.S.–among them, the poor, racial minorities, young people, the elderly and immigrants.  

In response to growing conservatism in U.S. courts, the rollback of civil rights and available remedies, and recent funding cuts, legal aid attorneys and public defenders in the U.S., now more than ever, need to expand their tool boxes and think creatively about their work. As the movement for “bringing human rights home” has evolved with the growth of research tools, coordinated initiatives, trainings and handbooks, and the U.S. Supreme Court has taken small but important steps to acknowledge international norms, it is a natural next step to focus attention on training and educating attorneys to bring human rights arguments in local and state courts. Not only is it important because of their work on behalf of the most vulnerable populations in the United States but also because of the frequent advocacy and legal arguments made by legal aid attorneys and others in courts and before policymakers.

The Project provides training, coaching and resources to legal aid attorneys and public defenders to integrate the human rights framework into their everyday work. The project, funded by the Ford Foundation, encourages attorneys to integrate human rights arguments into advocacy before judges and policy makers, as well as to integrate human rights principles into the client-lawyer relationship and into organizational decision-making systems. An early success of the Project was the Joint Legal Aid Complaint submitted to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in December 2012. The project was also integral in the submission of a Joint Legal Aid Shadow Report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee in 2013, a thematic hearing request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Shadow Report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2014. In April 2014, the Project organized the first-ever civil society consultation with the U.S. Government on access to justice.

The project expands on nearly ten years of work by the Center promoting human rights law in the U.S. Through trainings, workshops, conferences, mentoring and research, the Center seeks to enhance understanding of international law and its applications to domestic social justice work. The Center aims to bridge the disconnect between our nation’s promotion of human rights abroad and its recognition of international law and standards within the U.S. Learn more about the Center's core activities in Human Rights in the U.S.

Photo above top: Human Rights Training for Legal Aid Attorneys in New York City at Columbia Law School in July 2013 with Guest Speaker Michael Posner.

Photo above left: FEMA Trailer Park outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, taken by Local Human Rights Lawyering Project Director Lauren E. Bartlett.

Initial Project Partners

In early 2012, following a competitive selection process, Maryland Legal Aid (MDLAB) and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) were selected as the first partners for the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project. As part of a two-year partnership, both organizations will participate in periodic trainings, consultations, ongoing mentoring and specific litigation support supplied by the Center. Both organizations also receive funding through the project to hire human rights coordinators to serve as “point people” and promoters of the use of human rights in their organizations.

Photo at right: Center Co-Director and UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, WCL Professor Juan Mendez (right) leads a workshop during 4-day human rights training at WCL with the Project Partners.

Handbook

The Center has developed a written handbook, Human Rights in the U.S.: A Handbook for Legal Aid Attorneys, that aims to get practical and useable human rights information into the hands legal aid attorneys interested in integrating human rights into their everyday work. The handbook is updated periodically and the current version available for download was updated as of 7/21/14.

Webinars, In-Person Trainings and Other Resources

The Center holds a series of webinars and in-person trainings for legal aid attorneys and others interested in human rights. In addition, there are a variety of other resources and trainings available. Please visit our Human Rights in the U.S. Resources for Practitioners page to download our webinars, powerpoint presentations and other training materials. The Resources page also contains information on upcoming trainings, past trainings, and international human rights law research tools.

Working Group & Listserv

The Bringing Human Rights Home Lawyers’ Network, in conjunction with the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project, have developed a new working group and listserv for members to share human rights case strategies, potential arguments, success stories and information about upcoming trainings and other human rights opportunities that may be of interest to legal services attorneys.  If you are interested in joining, please email Greta Moseson at greta.moseson@law.columbia.edu.

Advisory Board

The Center has formed an Advisory Board which provides guidance and resources for the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project. The Advisory Board consists of human rights practitioners and legal aid attorneys, many of whom have experience making human rights arguments in U.S. courts and before U.S. policymakers. Meet our current Local Human Rights Lawyering Project Advisory Board members.

Press

The Project has generated excitement within legal aid and human rights communities across the United States. Examples of the Project's press coverage include:

Huffington Post article from December 13, 2012, about the complaint filed by US legal aid organizations with the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights with the assistance of the Center’s Local Human Rights Lawyering Project.

Washington Post article from February 12, 2012, which mentions the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project in the context of a new two-year partnership between American University and Maryland Legal Aid.

More Information

For more information, please contact Lauren E. Bartlett, Local Human Rights Lawyering Project Director. You can reach her by email at bartlett@wcl.american.edu or by telephone at (202) 895-4556.

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Photo at left: Local Human Rights Lawyering Project Director Lauren E. Bartlett speaks during demonstration in New Orleans.