UNROW Clinic Students Travel to Costa Rica for Brewer Carias v. Venezuela

Dean Claudio Grossman, Professor Juan Mendez Present the Case before Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Pictured: UNROW Clinic Director Ali Beydoun, students Michaela Spero, Sydney Pomykata, and Marie Soueid, and Dean Claudio Grossman.

Recently, American University Washington College of Law’s UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic students and director traveled to Costa Rica to observe a trial before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

The group, consisting of law students Marie Soueid, Sydney Pomykata, and Michaela Spero, and Clinic Director Ali Beydoun, joined Dean Claudio Grossman and Professor Juan Mendez as they presented the case Brewer Carías v. Venezuela. The UNROW Clinic provided research support to Grossman, Mendez, and the other attorneys for the case.

After Hugo Chávez returned to power after the coup d’état in April 2002, he began an investigation into the participants of the coup that briefly unseated him. The investigations led to several arrests and subsequent trials of the alleged coup perpetrators. Political dissident and constitutional law professor Allan R. Brewer Carías was accused of writing the “Carmona Decree,” the proposed governing document of the leaders of the coup. A subsequent amnesty law pardoned many of the participants. Brewer Carías was not, however, in Venezuela when the amnesty was promulgated and therefore was not covered by the amnesty. He is now essentially an asylee, and cannot return to Venezuela.

"Working on this case is a tremendous opportunity for the students to participate in important and relevant issues of international law and human rights," said UNROW Clinic Director Ali Beydoun. "When I was asked to work on this issue I knew it was a great case for my students. The chance to work with leaders in the field, participate in case planning and strategy on crucial cutting edge matters such as amnesty laws and the independence of judicial systems is an opportunity that few law schools can offer its students. AUWCL is unique in this respect. I know that my students are motivated and prepared to join the effort to confront governments from countries where these abuses typical are unchallenged. I am proud of their work on this case."

Michaela Spero, a second-year dual-degree student, first got involved in the case when she answered the UNROW Clinic’s call for volunteers to translate the petitioner’s brief to the Inter-American Court.

“That’s also what got me interested in the UNROW Clinic,” said Spero. “As I was reading this fascinating case I thought it was so cool that the Clinic was working on it.”

While in Costa Rica, the students attended the trial, tweeted, and posted pictures on the web. The students authored three articles for the Human Rights Brief special coverage section, and continued to provide a backup role to the attorneys by conducting research about the case and presenting their findings to the team.

“Dean Grossman and Professor Mendez are incredible litigators,” said Spero. “Seeing Dean Grossman question an expert witness for the state was incredible. He was just so calm and so collected. Watching him reminded me why I am so interested in litigation.”

The trial, conducted entirely in Spanish, was one of two public hearings in the session. It garnered a large amount of attention within the country, with several of the attendees being young students from Venezuela. During the trial, AUWCL students had the opportunity to meet human rights activists and several AUWCL alums.

“I think that it was a very valuable experience,” said Spero. “We were observing, but we were also getting to meet many of the players, and I hope to become even more involved in the future.”