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Women, Human Rights, and the Inter-American System: An Agenda for Action

On March 29, 1996, WCL co-sponsored with the Inter-American Commission of Women, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Pan American Health Organization, and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights a conference on Women, Human Rights, and the Inter-American System: An Agenda for Action. Panelists at the conference convened to discuss the recognition, protection, and promotion of women's rights in the Americas. Representative Connie Morella, presented the keynote address, which focused on the right of women to political participation. Morella stated For historical and cultural reasons, women are still not ensured the full range of their reproductive rights, their protection from domestic violence, their freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace, and their equal economic opportunities.

The Conference sought to promote an exchange of ideas about the evolving role of the Inter- American System in the area of women's rights. Member states in the Inter-American System established the world's first inter-governmental body dedicated to the rights of women in 1928 and adopted the first treaty concerning women right's in 1933. The conference examined strategies for the governments and agencies of the system to respond effectively to the barriers which deprive women of the full enjoyment of their human rights. Participants included Dean Lindo, Carmen Moreno del Cueto, and Beatrice Ramaciotti, Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of Belize, Mexico, and Peru to the OAS respectively.

Gaviria Discusses Future of Human Rights and the Inter- American System

On Tuesday, April 9, 1996, César Gaviria, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) and former President of Colombia, spoke at a luncheon held in his honor at WCL. The event was part of a series of programs commemorating WCL's Centennial. Gaviria spoke of strengthening democracy in Latin America as the first step in securing human rights for all persons. According to Gaviria, the return of democracy means that "violations of rights are more readily denounced. Many governments are taking measures to improve their judicial systems and to establish offices charged with monitoring human rights. Governments are more amenable to visits by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. There are increased opportunities for cooperation among governments, petitioners, and representatives of non- governmental human rights organizations."

Gaviria also urged the Commission to investigate or resolve individual cases and to offer recommendations to OAS member-States about how to improve their human rights protections. He advocated strengthening the ability of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to handle contentious cases and thereby develop a body of case law for national and international legal bodies' use. Finally, Gaviria called on human rights advocates to aid OAS member governments in "reshaping the social, political and cultural context within which all of the people [of the hemisphere] will at last be able to purse their dreams and improve the standard of well-being for generations to come."

Centennial Panel Discusses Future of International Protection of Human Rights

As part of WCL's Centennial celebration, scholars and experts convened at the law school to explore the future of international human rights law. Participants included Thomas Buergenthal of George Washington University National Law Center, who commented on the current state of the UN human rights enforcement mechanisms. Buergenthal urged the consolidation of the UN's human rights functions in order to use the scarce resources allotted to it more efficiently.

Diane Orentlicher, Professor of Law at WCL, asserted that the human rights debate should focus more on the role of trade policy and multinational corporations in the promotion of international human rights norms.

Aryeh Neier, Director of the Soros Foundation, highlighted what he believes are the three main challenges facing human rights activists today: integration of international humanitarian law into human rights documents; response to non-politically motivated human rights violations, such as prison conditions and treatment of the mentally disabled; and promotion of women's rights.

Professor Henry Steiner of Harvard discussed the relationship between international and local NGOs. He urged international NGOs to rethink their roles and give greater priority to stimulating, supporting, and helping institutionalize their local partners.

WCL Professor Robert Goldman discussed the impact of the recent decision by the War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Tadic case. He argued that the decision reinforced concepts of individual criminal responsibility for human rights violations and promoted the duty of States to prosecute violators, wherever they may be found. WCL Dean Claudio Grossman commented on the great strides toward democracy being made over the last several years but warned that reliance on civil and political guarantees alone will not ensure democracy.

Legal and Health Experts Join Forces to Combat Violence Against Women

On April 15 and 16, 1996, WCL hosted a conference which brought together dozens of legal and health experts on gender violence. The event was co-sponsored by WCL's Women and International Law Program, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Heath and Development Policy Project. Panels explored the role of forensic examiners in cases of domestic violence and rape and discussed how this initial experience with a health care practitioner may affect women's ability to seek assistance through the legal system in the United States and throuhgout Central and Latin America. Attendees further shared experiences from their respective countries about the impact of certain legal provisions, such as spousal consent laws and reporting requirements, on the care women receive from reproductive health care providers. They also discussed how such provisions affect what information about domestic violence makes it into the judicial record. A central topic was the role of law schools and other academic institutions in addressing the causes and results of gender violence. Follow-up meetings are planned with the aim of investigating and overcoming current structural impediments to adequate care, to furthering international communication on the subject, and to developing a training module for forensic examiners in the hopes of increasing their awareness about the signs of domestic violence and the needs of the victims. For further information, please contact Lauren Gilbert, director of WCL's Women and International Law Program at (202) 274-4183.

Team Represents WCL at European Moot Court Competition

For the third consecutive year, WCL sent a team to Strasbourg, France to compete in the Concours René Cassin Human Rights Competition in April 1996. WCL students Amy Carroll and Peter Hansen competed, with LL.M. alumnus Claudia Martin serving as accompaneur and fellow student Rupal Kothari serving as legal and linguistic counsellor.

Named after the French recipient of the 1968 Nobel Peace Prize, the Concours René Cassin was created in 1984 and continues to be the only moot court competition in which competitors' pleadings and oral arguments are entirely in French. The focus of the competition is the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This year's competition centered around a hypothetical case of alleged discrimination based on gender in violation of Article 14 of the Convention. During the first round, the WCL team plead the case on behalf of the applicant against a team from Bucharest which eventually went on to win the competition. In the second round, they competed against a team from Würzburg, Germany.

WCL was once again the only law school in North America to send a team to the Concours.

Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Competition

The Center is preparing to host the first annual Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Competition at the end of May. Currently, more than twenty-five teams representing universities from Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, the U.S., and Venezuela have confirmed their participation. The Secretary- General of the OAS, César Gaviria, in his April 9 address at WCL's Centennial Celebration, called this competition "an important initiative for educating young legal professionals in the jurisprudence of the Inter-American system."

Each team is comprised of two students and a legal advisor. Based on a hypothetical case, each team will write a memorandum and present oral pleadings using the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court.

According to Dean Claudio Grossman, "The competition will greatly improve lawyering skills essential to the practice of human rights law." He also expressed satisfaction that the international response has far exceeded the expectations of the organizers.

The public is invited to attend the oral arguments which will be held on Tuesday, May 28 and Wednesday, May 29. The final round is scheduled for Saturday, June 1, from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm, with the closing award luncheon scheduled for 1:00 pm. In addition, on Friday, May 31, the public is invited to participate in two roundtable discussions on the Inter-American System. Panel I will provide an overview of the system and Panel II will address some of the new challenges to the system including women's rights, indigenous rights and children's rights. Please call the Center to make reservations for the seminar and award luncheon.

© Copyright 1996 The Human Rights Brief

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