Human Rights Clinic Participates in Inter-American Commission Hearing
The Law School's International Human Rights Clinic participated in a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights examining the right to education for Afro-descendant and indigenous communities March 12 in Washington, D.C. Human Rights Program Director Deena Hurwitz, who teaches the clinic, testified before the Commission on a report assembled by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights in coordination with the Virginia Law clinic and the Cornell School of Law's International Human Rights Clinic.
The 132-page report, which focused on the rights to education and nondiscrimination in Guatemala, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, was the culmination of three semesters of work by 14 Virginia law students.
"State-provided education is generally constructed through and measured by non-indigenous standards, values and philosophies," Hurwitz told the commission. "When education is used as a means of assimilation, the rights of minority groups are often negatively impacted. For such groups, however, education is an essential means to preserve and strengthen their cultural identities as well as to overcome structural discrimination and poverty."
In most Latin American and Caribbean countries, the report explains, lack of access to education for Afro-descendants and indigenous people is a significant problem. Although their countries' constitutions and membership in the Organization of American States guarantees the right to education, the majority of Afro-descendant and indigenous people have little to no adequate primary or secondary education, and few enjoy access to higher education.
Students who contributed to the report are Lauren Bertini '08, Janet Boysen '08, David Plante '09, Gabriel Walters '09, Sarah Davis '10, Yemi Abayomi '09, Rebecca Freeman '09, Jennifer Jesse '09, Caitlin Stapleton '09, Heather Axford '07, Kate Flatley '08, Kristin Flood '08, and Andrea Niculescu (visiting student 2006-07). The current Human Rights Clinic students, one clinic alumna, and a number of students from Hurwitz's Human Rights Advocacy seminar attended the hearing.
"It was exciting to see our work presented to the commission, and deeply gratifying to see how interested the commissioners were in the issues," said Janet Boysen, who worked on the report this semester and helped finalize it for submission.
Grassroots advocates Angélica Macario Quino of Guatemala and Diego Escobar Cueller of Colombia also testified before the commission, providing examples of how the failure of their governments to fulfill their legal obligations to provide education without discrimination affects the lives of people from indigenous and Afro-descendant communities.