Law School Program Will Have Special Consultative Status at the United Nations
The United Nations recommended the Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis for UN “Special Consultative Status.” After a 5-year application process, the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations rendered its referral on May 18, 2011 during an open hearing at which PIHRL program manager Perfecto “Boyet” Caparas, LL.M. ’05, answered a series of questions by official governmental representatives of several countries.
The PIHRL is joining a select group of approximately 2,000 organizations from 200 countries that have this status (an average of only 10 organizations per country). This new permanent status cements the informal relationship the PIHRL has had with the UN since the program’s founding in 1997. This status reflects the UN confidence in the PIHRL as an organization that will provide reliable information to the UN on a consultative basis.
The extensive and lengthy accreditation process began in 2006. Over the past five years, government representatives of over 50 countries have had the opportunity to review the PIHRL submission, which included membership information, financial records, the program’s many projects, staff and student credentials, goals and mission, structure and organization. It also contained documents that traced the law school’s history and its relationship with Indiana University.
Professor George E. Edwards, founding director of the PIHRL says, “This is the equivalent of the UN telling the PIHRL, ‘We have vetted your organization extensively and have determined that you and your members possess special expertise. We trust you and your expertise.’ The UN is telling us we can freely provide them with research, position papers, reports, and briefs in written form. We can also participate by making speeches or ‘interventions’ on the floor at UN proceedings.”
The accreditation process was spearheaded by Mr. Caparas, the PIHRL program manager. Professor Edwards says, “Mr. Caparas led the charge in preparing the application, including gathering all of the information for it, submitting it, following up, tracking the NGO Committee proceedings through the years, overseeing our replies to Committee queries, and appearing at the Committee several times, lobbying behind the scenes, and most significantly, appearing before the Committee in May of this year where he handled the Committee’s questions expertly in open session.”
The PIHRL’s many projects, including numerous “shadow reports” to the UN, were part of the extremely detailed dossier submitted to the Committee. “Shadow reports” are detailed, carefully researched and documented descriptions of human rights violations in different countries or related to a specific subject matter. Edwards, Caparas, and many Indiana University-Indianapolis law students have prepared shadow reports and submitted them to different UN bodies. The students have also traveled to the UN in Geneva and New York, disseminated the shadow reports within the UN system, and made oral presentations on the reports on the floor of official UN proceedings. On several occasions, the students have hosted luncheons in Geneva and New York for UN committee members at which students were able to engage the members in dialogue about the human rights situation in the countries that were the subjects of the shadow reports. The shadow reports submitted by the law school’s team have tackled a variety of issues including sexual orientation discrimination in the U.S. and Chile, freedom of expression in Zambia, discrimination based on caste in Nepal, discrimination against women in Chad and Australia, indigenous rights in Panama, and many other issues. A link to the PIHRL shadow reports is on the program’s web site: http://indylaw.indiana.edu/humanrights/UNshadow.html
Of the special status, Caparas says, it “will enhance the prestige in the international community not only of Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis, but of the entire IU system, with its nine campuses, as well.” Caparas says, “With this, we hope to see more aspiring lawyers and human rights defenders trailblazing, assuming leadership roles, and making a real life impact and difference in the field of international human rights law and its broad cross-section of various other important disciplines, notably environmental protection and climate change.”
Special Consultative Status will open many doors for Edwards, Caparas and the students working with them. According to the UN press release, IU’s PIHRL was recommended for UN Special Consultative Status along with 38 other organizations on May 18 at UN headquarters in New York City. Those groups will have official, permanent UN status that permits them great access to the UN human rights system to which they only had ad hoc access before. Edwards explains, “Groups without permanent status have to request ad hoc permission to participate, have their people stand in a queue for special passes, or ask another group that has status if it will let them enter under the other group’s name.” Faculty and students working with the PIHRL will have more open access to the UN facilities, as well as standing to participate as NGO representatives in treaty negotiation sessions, Human Rights Council sessions, and other activities within the UN system. Edwards and Caparas will possess permanent UN NGO badges, which will permit them entry to UN facilities around the world, ensuring easier access to the UN diplomats and staff they need to encounter as they advocate for human rights.
Many of the PIHRL students who have participated in UN advocacy work have been overseas students enrolled in the Master of Laws (LL.M.) program at IU-Indianapolis. Professor Edwards’ new book, titled LL.M. Roadmap: An International Student’s Guide to U.S. Law School Programs (Aspen / Wolters Kluwer Law Publishers, 2011) (www.LLMRoadMap.com) provides information about law schools supporting their LL.M. students in getting involved in UN and other experiential work that not only supplements the students’ education, but also promotes human rights.
The PIHRL began sending student interns to work at the UN in 1997, the year that the PIHRL was founded. During the 2010-11 academic year, a record number of seven current and former interns were working at the UN in various sites around the world:
1. Sean Monkhouse (J.D. , ‘06) (UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), The Hague)
2. Tuinese Amuzu (LL.M., ‘06) (UN Commission, Nigerian/Cameroon border)
3. Shalva Tskhakaya (LL.M., ‘08) (UN Electoral Officer, Monrovia, Liberia)
4. Jonathan Bashi (LL.M., student) (UN Intern, UN Headquarters New York)
5. Ntsika Fakudze (LL.M., student) (UN Intern, UN Headquarters New York)
6. Samantha Sledd (J.D., student) (UN Intern, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Arusha, Tanzania)
7. Kristen Hunsberger (J.D., student) (UN Intern, UN Headquarters Geneva, Switzerland)
More information about the PIHRL is available on the law school’s web site: http://indylaw.indiana.edu/humanrights/