St. Thomas Goes Global

first_imgFlags fly for intercultural human rights Jan Pudlow Senior Editor Worldwide wisdom converges at close-knit St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami, where a unique graduate program in Intercultural Human Rights features international experts teaching students who come from Azerbaijan, Botswana, Chile, and beyond.Taking a break from their regular jobs at the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the European Court of Human Rights, as well as universities from around the world, visiting faculty members teach students how to be effective advocates for justice, equality, and human dignity in our global society.The plight of refugees, the modern-day slavery of human trafficking, the rights of indigenous people, and the treatment of prisoners held at the U.S. naval station at Guantanomo are among the thorny issues they tackle.“The idea is to bring the best minds of the world to come and tell their insider views of human rights,” said Siegfried Wiessner, professor of law and director of the Graduate Program in Intercultural Human Rights at St. Thomas.Last year, St. Thomas became the youngest law school in the country to offer a Doctor of Science of Law (J.S.D) degree program in Intercultural Human Rights, sharing the distinction with Notre Dame as the only two law schools in the country offering this capstone degree in the field of human rights law. Candidates have to be honors graduates of St. Thomas’ LL.M. program.Already, 118 graduates of St. Thomas’ master of laws in intercultural human rights have come from more than 45 countries and now serve as “ambassadors in the struggle for protection of human dignity” working with the U.N. Volunteers, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, World Bank, and International Organization for Migration, litigating cases in courts, working for governments and in academia, and running their own foundations.One student earning her LL.M. is Julia Shilunga, who worked in the High Court of Namibia on inheritance rights of women and children.“The course exposes me to different cultures, with tears in my eyes, through other international student classmates,” she said. “This rich experience makes me respect human dignity and helps me be a strong lawyer against any human rights violations in Namibia, Africa, and the entire world.”The program’s founder, Wiessner, is originally from Germany, and speaks English, French, German, and Spanish. What he calls his “intellectual liberation” occurred at law school, when he received his LL.M. at Yale and his Doctor of Law at the University of Tubingen in Germany.Wiessner co-authored the casebook International Law in Contemporary Perspective and has lectured in the UN/UNITAR International Law Fellowship Programs at The Hague and Tehran.Recently, at St. Thomas, he moderated a panel discussion at the Seventh Tribal Sovereignty Symposium, focusing on the critical problem and economic survival and development of Indian tribes. Last year, the St. Thomas symposium focused on human trafficking.“If you effectuate real lasting change, you persuade people. You don’t compel, you convince them. The way to do that is analyze a problem carefully,” Wiessner said.Answers to problems, Wiessner said, are developed in a global perspective.“The law should serve human beings and needs and also have higher aspirations,” he said. “It sounds very theoretical, but it’s very practical. It’s not something abstract, but something that is acting in everyone’s life. That is the purpose of law, I think, to serve human beings and their needs.”Prospective scholars in the J.S.D. program are asked to write a personal statement on why they want to embark on the advanced legal study.“We weed out those who just want a degree,” Wiessner said. “They must have a genuine desire to help others who can’t help themselves.”Alexandra Rengel, valedictorian of the LL.M. Class of 2004 and a Miami criminal and immigration law attorney, made the cut for the program. She is one of six researching and seeking solutions in the fields of international criminal law, corporations’ social responsibility, indigenous peoples’ rights, the governance of the Internet, human trafficking, and the right to privacy.Originally from Barcelona, Rengel received her law degree from Boston University and moved to Miami, where she had a daughter and eventually wanted to go back to law school.“What attracted me about the [program] was really the faculty,” Rengel said. “The idea I would have these professors from all over the world and experts in their area, people who worked at the United Nations or might still be working at the United Nations. I thought, ‘Oh, my God! I have to do it!’”After completing what she called “a very intense” LL.M. program, she is now working on her J.S.D. requirement of publishing a book, and her research involves poring over case law, public policy, and philosophy. The degree will likely take her five years, she said, while also working as a lawyer with her husband, Ivan Mercado.“I am working on determining whether there is an international right to privacy,” Rengel said. “All these controversial issues go to the right of privacy: Abortion rights, identity theft, what’s going on with President Bush and wiretapping. It’s all about privacy. I started thinking: ‘Do we have the right to privacy we are born with or is it a right to privacy the government gives us?’ My take so far is we are born with it.”She has the highest praise for Professor Wiessner: “I never met anyone so dedicated to human rights than Professor Wiessner.” Human rights discussions thrive at St. Thomas.“We need to be influencing systems. Whether we want to or not, we influence society,” Wiessner said. “We have objectivity and neutrality and common interest at the university that private attorneys or counsel at corporations don’t necessarily have. We have the time and pleasure of a tenure system, and we are insulated from the pressures. We should focus on the public order of human dignity. In any small or large problems we are facing, all we are doing is suggesting the best solution. I feel the law serves human beings and not the other way around.” That guides our human rights at St. Thomas.” March 15, 2006 Regular News St. Thomas Goes Globalcenter_img St. Thomas Goes Globallast_img

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