Thursday, November 6, 2014

Small-Town Girl Advocates in a Political World

Her name was Dekha Hassan-Mohamed.

As a Somali fleeing the nation for refusing a marriage proposal from a member of the Al-Shabaab—a violent Islamic sect that doesn't take kindly to subversion—her story sounds more like the beginnings of a dissonant fairy tale rather than the reality she and countless women in her home nation face.

After her brother was brutally murdered by Islamic extremists, Hassan-Mohamed escaped Somalia, making her way through Ethiopia, Brazil, and on to Mexico. She eventually reached the international bridge where she sought peace and safety in the United States, but was detained due to lack of identification.

"The problem is that in a country like Somalia there hasn't been a stable government in so long; and they're not exactly concerned with giving you a birth certificate," said Emily Arthur '15 (pictured), a third-year student in Regent University's School of Law.  Emily is also a graduate assistant, student staff member, and two-time intern with the Center for Global Justice, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law.

That's where the rule of law steps in. In 2014, Arthur spent her summer as a Center for Global Justice, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law intern, working with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center attorneys in El Paso, Texas.

There, Arthur worked with the non-profit alongside the attorneys, working on each of the petitions and motions as they advocated for Hassan-Mohamed's asylum on the grounds of political opinion.

"We told the judge that her refusal of marriage wasn't because she just wasn't interested," explained Arthur. "By saying 'no' she was disagreeing with the Al-Shabaab both ideologically and religiously, and the Somali government was unwilling to intervene."

Hassan-Mohamed's case was eventually won, and Arthur was able to revel in the fact that the work she supported helped not only win three asylum cases, but also confirm a distinct calling on her life.

"It was great because immigration issues are so prominent in the media these days, and I felt like I was just right there in the middle of it all."

Arthur has always loved being "in the middle" of advocacy, and all-things-international, even in the midst of her small-town upbringing in Palestine, West Virginia. Despite the international-tone of the rural town's name, Arthur says that it's made up of less than 5,000 people who grow up there and stay put.

Before attending law school, Arthur had nearly resolved to do the same, and upon graduation from college, was set to take a position at the town's only high school teaching Spanish. But the day before the position closed, a candidate for the job, an out-of-towner with a Ph.D., beat Arthur out.

"It was the strangest thing, because nobody comes into our little town, especially with a doctorate degree," said Arthur. "He was probably the only person in town who had one."

Arthur took that as confirmation she was meant to hone the skills of seeking justice and advocating on behalf of the oppressed, a task that she knows will lead her to a fulfilling career in the future, no matter where in the world she goes.

"This has never been about power or résumé building for me, it's been about doing what I enjoy," said Arthur. "I want to go into work every day and enjoy what I do and get meaning out of it."

Learn more about Regent University School of Law and the Center for Global Justice, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law.

By Brett Wilson

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Center for Global Justice Hosts International Justice Mission

The Center for Global Justice, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law, along with the International Law Society, had the pleasure of hosting Erin Clifford, the internship and fellowship director of International Justice Mission (IJM), on October 6, 2014. IJM is a great friend of the Center. Since 2012, four Regent students have interned with IJM, and beginning in 2014, the Center Student Staff has completed a number of legal projects for IJM involving police abuse of power and human trafficking.

IJM was established in 1997 for the purpose of seeking justice for the poor and oppressed.  Since that time, IJM has gone into the darkest corners of the world to provide hope to victims.  IJM has offices all over the world, including in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. 

Most people are familiar with IJM’s work combatting human trafficking, but this is just one area in which IJM works.  IJM also focuses its efforts on rescuing victims of forced labor, illegal detention, police brutality, violent sexual assault, and land grabbing. 

According to IJM and Erin Clifford, however, these categories of crimes are are not the problem.  The specific crimes mentioned are simply symptoms of a bigger problem—violence against the poor.  Through years of work and study, IJM has noticed a clear link between poverty and violence.  Indeed, despite an increase in international aid in recent years, the number of those living on less than $2 a day has not changed at all.  So where are the poor’s resources going? They are taken through violence.  This is what IJM calls “everyday violence”—the “hidden plague” happening all over the world. This “hidden plague” is documented in a new book, The Locus Effect, co-authored by IJM’s founder, Gary Haugen.

Erin explained that IJM’s casework focuses on different types of violence.  The largest category is gender-based violence. In fact, approximately 1 in 5 women in the developing world will be a victim of rape or attempted rape. The second category is slavery or forced labor.  In Southeast Asia, for example, people are forced to work in brick kilns or rice fields.  At night, Erin explained, these victims are often placed in rooms that are locked from the outside.  If anyone tries to escape, they are forcibly returned and their families are punished. 

The third category of violence IJM fights is police abuse of power.  In developing countries, the police are often detain people indefinitely without any evidence.  Police succumb to the pressure of solving cases and arrest the poor to take the fall. Erin even noted that in some countries, victims of police abuse of power have been detained for up to 17 years without access to the courts.

Finally, IJM works to combat property grabbing, or the violent theft of land.  According to Erin, the poor’s most precious possession is their land.  It is where they grow their crops, raise their family, and receive sanctuary.  Widows tend to be the most vulnerable victims of this crime because the cultures (not the laws) of many countries do not allow women to own property. After their husbands die, criminals force the widows off their property, leaving the widows with nothing.

Erin made clear that in all of the countries where IJM works to protect the poor from violence, the aforementioned categories of violence are illegal.  So why, then, are the poor not receiving justice? If the law prohibits rape and theft of property, why do these things still regularly take place? Erin cited one reason: lack of the rule of law. Erin explained that the primary problem is not the laws on books, but the fact that the laws are not enforced.  Indeed, “the reason violent people oppress the poor is because they can.”

Thus, in addition to rescuing victims, restoring survivors, and bringing criminals to justice, IJM also works to build the rule of law, what IJM calls “justice system transformation.” So how does IJM transform a justice system? It varies depending on the specific country, but justice system transformation often involves things like training law enforcement and political leaders, suggesting legislative changes, identifying honest law enforcement officials, consistently prosecuting cases, and creating additional levels of accountability and oversight for governmental entities.

After all of this, how do you know a justice system has been transformed?  According to Erin, Cebu, Philippines provides the answer.  IJM measured the availability of minors for commercial sex in Cebu before and after IJM began its work. The goal was a 20% reduction in the availability of minors after four years. What actually happened was an 80% reduction. IJM found that in just four years after its work had begun, law enforcement officials were investigating cases on their own, political leaders were more aware of the issues, and aftercare services had risen.  Justice system transformed!

To listen to Erin’s talk, visit the following link:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tina Ramirez: The Struggle to End Religious Oppression

Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 

Matthew 14:15-16

Before leaving for Iraq, Tina Ramirez was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to join the students of Regent Law in a lunch series event hosted by the Center for Global Justice and Journal of Global Justice & Public Policy on the issue of religious oppression. According to Tina Ramirez, founder and Executive Director of Hardwired Global, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting religious freedom, religious oppression is a major contributor to numerous social evils, including human trafficking and child marriages. The antidote for change is religious freedom. Hardwired zealously advocates and promotes for the right of religious freedom by training individuals to bring the fight to their government’s front steps. The name “Hardwired” comes from the notion that everyone “of us [is] hardwired for something bigger” and that we are all made “for something spiritual.” Because of this “hardwiring,” Tina believes that everyone should be given the opportunity to pursue their special purpose, to seek the god of their choosing and to practice their religion without fear of oppression.

Tina introduced us to Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year old Sudanese woman who was arrested last May and charged with adultery and apostasy in Sudan. Meriam was accused of adultery because the Sudanese government refused to recognize her marriage to a Christian man. The government considered Meriam an apostate because she left the Islamic tradition held by her father. After being convicted, she was forced not only to bear the weight of her chains attached to the floor of her jail cell, but also to bear the psychological weight of capital punishment until she agreed to recant her Christian faith. However, Meriam never lost her faith, and through the birth of her son in prison, Meriam has now been delivered from the oppressive country she once called home.

Hardwired focuses not just on rescuing individuals like Meriam, but also on carrying out a two-fold mission designed to affect systemic change: (1) advocating for laws in favor of religious freedom and (2) inspiring oppressive countries to adopt new customs shying away from religious oppression. Tina stands determined to train individuals to accomplish that goal in many areas of the globe, and her hope is that we become a generation of students that not only stay informed on the issues relating to religious oppression, but also diligently seek to compel our government to take action against countries that continue to violate the fundamental right to freedom of religion. Tina calls us to bear our cross, to help dispense religious freedom, and to strive to correct the oppression around the globe. I thank her for her passion and for her faith in letting God take the smallness of her portion and feed a multitude of nations.