The International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at the USC Gould School of Law is adding a variety of domestic work to its legal docket, including the representation of human trafficking survivors, working with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and providing legal analysis for a Supreme Court case. The clinic is also expanding its global reach through a new partnership with an international tribunal in The Hague.
“Our efforts are now truly global,” said Hannah Garry, director of the IHRC and USC Gould professor. “We believe it’s important to fight serious human rights abuses not only abroad but also here at home in Los Angeles and across the United States.”
In recent months, several IHRC students, including Christine Parkins, Lisa Foutch, Jennifer Ehrlich and Rosemary DiPietrantonio, have taken on human trafficking and domestic violence cases in Los Angeles. One has been undertaken in partnership with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST).
Under the direction of Garry and CAST attorneys, DiPietrantonio is representing a woman who was trafficked into the United States under forced labor and later became a victim of domestic violence. The clinic is working to help her secure legal residency by completing a Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, which would entitle her to live legally in the United States. The clinic is accepting two more human trafficking cases this fall.
“It has been a steep learning curve,” DiPietrantonio said. “I’ve learned how to talk to a client who has experienced very traumatic situations about important legal issues and build a relationship of trust.
“It’s extremely important to be clear and direct but also make the client feel comfortable,” she added. “Her life is literally in our hands. It’s a big responsibility.”
In another domestic move, the clinic is establishing a presence in Washington, D.C. For the first time, an IHRC student has secured a competitive externship at the DOJ’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section. Working with its director, Eli Rosenbaum, Ehrlich will help this fall in the prosecution of modern-day war criminals now living in the United States.
“My work with the clinic taught me so much about international human rights law,” Ehrlich said. “I am really looking forward to continuing my education by learning about domestic human rights law through my DOJ internship.”
IHRC students have also provided critical legal analysis and research in support of a petition for certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Movsesian v. Versicherung AG, which was filed in June.
The case involves thousands of heirs of survivors of the Armenian Genocide seeking payment on life insurance policies under a California statute. The statute was struck down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as preempted by the federal government’s foreign affairs power under the U.S. Constitution. Dorna Moini JD ’12, Alisa Randell and Johnston Chen worked on the case.
Since the clinic launched in 2011, 14 USC Gould students have worked remotely with judges on cases prosecuting genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity before international criminal tribunals in Cambodia and Tanzania. Six students also worked onsite at the tribunals in 2011, and another four are currently interning in Cambodia and The Hague.
This year, the clinic is expanding its international reach to include a new partnership providing assistance to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague. This tribunal is the first international court to adjudicate terrorism as a distinct international crime, and it is the first to operate in the Middle East.
The clinic will also begin representing refugees abroad in partnership with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, a USC student organization.
“The idea is to work with survivors of some of the most serious human rights abuses in tandem with prosecuting perpetrators of those crimes before international tribunals,” Garry said.