American University to offer first-ever human rights LL.M. in Spanish

American University Washington College of Law’s LL.M. in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law will get a Spanish counterpart next spring. The new program, LL.M. en Derechos Humanos y Derecho Humanitario, will follow the same hybrid-learning format and curriculum as the English LL.M., but it will be taught entirely in Spanish. It is the first Spanish LL.M. in the subject to be taught in a hybrid format.

“The law school was founded in a very powerful narrative of engagement with access to justice,” said Claudio Grossman, dean of the Washington College of Law, and a native of Chile. “There are people that can not access [education] due to distance, lack of knowledge of English and other separations, such as the cost of living in Washington D.C.”

The LL.M. en Derechos Humanos y Derecho Humanitario eliminates those boundaries through combined online and residential learning. Students will rotate between taking up to two classes online during the spring and fall semesters, and traveling to Washington D.C. to take six to eight credits residentially during two three-week summer sessions.

“The interaction between the U.S. and Latin America has brought many people back to study in the U.S.,” said Professor Claudia Martin, one of the program’s co-directors. “We hope people will come because they will be able to get that additional methodology and information they do not necessarily have at home.”

Martin and fellow co-director Professor Diego Rodríguez-Pinzón said legal education abroad, particularly in Latin American countries, is focused on document books or legal writing, rather than casebook studies.

“If you mirror the Spanish courses to English courses, you’re taking advantage of a longstanding tradition of casebooks,” Rodríguez-Pinzón said. “In the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen it develop, but this kind of analysis is sometimes lacking in Latin American legal education. We strongly believe this is an important tradition. They will be working very much as they would be in a U.S. law school.”

The desire to connect top U.S. academics with top Latin American academics has always been strong, but language barriers have prevented such interaction in the past.

“In Latin America, there is no need to speak French or English,” Rodríguez-Pinzón said. “Spanish is really the only language they use. It has always been an obstacle so we created a program that precisely tries to open some spaces for students.”

The program is designed for practitioners and other human rights professionals who wish to pursue advanced studies alongside their existing work responsibilities.

“We expect they will already be working as judges, prosecutors and human rights defenders who want to strengthen their positions in the human rights community and move them further and deeper into their careers,” Rodríguez-Pinzón said. “There may be young applicants looking for a platform to direct their careers into the field of human rights, and it will serve that purpose as well.”

Although the Spanish LL.M. is geared primarily toward native speakers who would otherwise lack access to an American legal education, students of both the Spanish and English programs may take courses in either program.

Rodriguez-Pinzon and Martin expect a starting class of five to ten students from Latin American countries, with the number likely to grow.

“When I started the International Law LL.M. I had one student,” Grossman said. “Now we have around 130 per year and over 4,000 graduates all over the world.”

The Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law has a offered an array of bilingual courses for the last 15 years due to the law school’s many bilingual professors.

“We have numerous faculty members who speak Spanish and we are recognized as one of the top schools in the nation for Hispanics,” Grossman said. “Someone once told me ‘There is a reason why IBM doesn’t sell hamburgers.’ We do things where we have an expertise.”

The deadline to apply for the inaugural Spring 2016 semester is Dec. 1, 2015.