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WCL Alumnus Works Around the World for Human Rights

by Nicole Grimm

Françoise Roth, who received her LL.M. from WCL in 1993, has been working as a Legal Advisor for MINUGUA, the UN Human Rights Verification Mission in Guatemala, since 1995. MINUGUA was created in March 1994 by the Global Human Rights Agreement between the Guatemalan government and Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) rebels and began work in November 1994. Its mandate is to verify the parties compliance with the Agreement.

Before coming to Guatemala, Roth studied in her native France and interned with the UN Human Rights Centre in Geneva. She came to WCL in 1993 to pursue her LL.M. While at WCL, she co-founded and wrote for The Human Rights Brief, organized teams of student participants in the Rene Cassin Moot Court competition in Strasbourg, France, and interned for the International Human Rights Law Group. Her studies at WCL gave her the opportunity to meet members of the international human rights community, including other LL.M. students, and WCL professors, who she felt were attentive, open to student initiatives, and willing to serve as professional contacts for students trying to enter the human rights field.

After completing her LL.M. degree, Roth accepted a full-time position with the Law Group. During her two years there, she helped to develop the Law Group's In-Country Empowerment Project in Kivu, Zaire. This unique program assists human rights organizations in the eastern part of Zaire by helping them to develop strategies for lobbying, defining their mandates, and develop projects. While working on the Empowerment Project, Roth coordinated the Project's Zaire activities with the Law Group's D.C. office. On an international level, she assisted in strategies for human rights lobbying by examining national governments and international organizations. She also collected information about human rights violations in Zaire for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and disseminated it to the UN, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Congress, and members of the press. Finally, she spent a month monitoring human rights conditions in a Kivu refugee camp, which she describes as one of the most difficult but important experiences of her life.

Roth's current position with MINUGUA represents her first field experience in Latin America. In her position as Legal Advisor, one of her primary duties is to receive and verify complaints about human rights violations. She does this by speaking to Guatemalan citizens and traveling throughout her assigned region of Peten to visit the sites of alleged violations. She also monitors the response of the administration of justice to human rights complaints by speaking to the officials in charge of human rights investigations. Roth believes that the Guatemalan government and military are beginning to show more respect for human rights, but problems of impunity, arbitrary detentions, and the inadequate administration of justice still remain. MINUGUA's most recent report reflects this view and comments specifically that members of the military no longer perpetrate the massive human rights violations that were once widespread. Roth feels that MINUGUA has played an important role in Guatemala by breaking the wall of silence that once surrounded human rights violations. By accepting and monitoring complaints, MINUGUA allows people to come forward and report abuses that would previously have remained invisible. Roth is enthusiastic about working in Guatemala and enjoys its excitement and diversity. She plans to remain in Latin America for the foreseeable future.

© Copyright 1997 The Human Rights Brief

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