Friday, July 18, 2014

Center for Global Justice Intern - Paul Shakeshaft

Paul Shakeshaft, 3L
Advocates Europe, Bulgaria

Background to Bulgaria
‘‘The bent neck escapes the sword’’.
All cultures develop pithy phrases over time, distilling wisdom accumulated through the ages.  ‘‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise’’ is a famous American one. Despite its inexact description of all successful people, and its unfortunately gimcrack rhyme, Dr Franklin’s maxim expresses an enthusiasm emblematic of the American outlook.

Bulgaria’s history is different, and wisdom focused on survival emerged with the years.

In order to explain my work here in Bulgaria, perhaps the country deserves a bit of description. Not many Americans (including myself) know much about Bulgaria until they come here.

Leaving the impressive ancient history of Bulgaria aside (Emperor Constantine referred to the capitol as ‘‘my Rome’’), the country’s modern history includes invasion by the Ottoman Empire in 1396, an occupation which lasted ostensibly until 1878.  A nearly 500 year-long period popularised by the title of his novel, ‘‘Under the Yoke’’, Ivan Vazov notes the oppression of Bulgarian cultural identity, including Bulgarian Orthodox identity, during Ottoman rule.  Sadly, the pluralism notable of the late Ottoman Empire only began as Bulgaria finally achieved its desired independence.

Independence did I say?  Many Bulgarians describe this part of their history with dismay.  For, even as the Ottomans left, the Great Powers decided (in their characteristic humility and respect for sovereignty) to divide Bulgaria into fragments even as it achieved autonomy.  Wars ensued, alliances formed. And Bulgaria, like all small European countries during the Great Wars of the 20th century, threw her destiny behind one of the major alliances it thought had the best success of weathering a continent in convulsion.  Regrettably, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in the Great War, and the Axis powers during WWII.  In 1944, a left-wing uprising abolished the monarchy, and in 1946 Bulgaria entered the Soviet sphere of influence. 

Communism wrought effects still evident in the capitol of Sofia.  Interrupting beautiful neoclassical architecture inspired by Austrian and French styles of the 19th century, cement block buildings yawn intentional gloom, producing their architects’ desired effect.  Surely mothers taught their children ‘‘the bent head evades the secret police.’’

But in 1989 communism fell. Since then, Bulgaria has been on an uncertain road to recovery.

Bulgaria Today
Out of these historical circumstances come significant challenges. For example, an Anti-Corruption Report by the European Commission in March of this year reported that 84% of Bulgarian respondents say that corruption is widespread in Bulgaria.[1] 

And corruption does not cease at courthouse gates.  ‘‘In modern Bulgaria corruption is one of the significant concerns plaguing the current legal system. With historical roots in the Ottoman Empire and the Communist regime, Bulgaria faces challenges in sustaining a strong judicial system that holds its members accountable. Since the transition from communism to democracy in 1989, Bulgaria’s biggest challenge has been reforming its judicial system to combat corruption.’’[2] 

Restoring Stability
Advocates Europe was registered in the UK in 2001 and re-registered in Bulgaria in 2009. It has over 400 members with contacts in 35 countries around Europe. AE focuses mainly on combating corruption and human trafficking, but also promotes human rights and equal justice for the poor, the sanctity of human life, religious freedom, the rule of law, peace and reconciliation, the family & community.

My internship is with the President of Advocates Europe, Latchezar Popov. As President of AE he is the administrator of the network of attorneys involved with AE across Europe. As an attorney, he is dedicated to helping rebuild Bulgaria through the rule of law. He is also the founder of the Rule of Law Institute which concentrates on issues particular to Bulgaria. 

During my internship here I have drafted an application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The case involves a church which has been denied registration as a legal institution. Of course, the case is more complicated than what can be summarised here. In essence, the church has climbed the appeals process in Bulgaria and at every level been denied due process. Besides facing the corruption of the courts, we’re concerned that the courts may be adopting an antagonistic disposition to religious plurality in Bulgaria. Religious freedom, including the freedom of institutional association, is protected by the Constitution; however, the courts have found illegitimate ways around this protection.  In April of 2014, the Supreme Cassational Court rejected the church’s final appeal.

If the level of appeal ended in Bulgaria this would, obviously, be the end of the road. However, Bulgaria is a member of the European Convention of Human Rights. As a result, we are appealing the case to the European Court. Legally speaking, the case is evidently strong. And yet the applicants (the members of the church) aren't holding their breath, even though AE has a strong track record with the Court. They are demoralised by the corruption experienced in the Bulgarian court system. It is our hope that a correction from the Court will not only secure the applicants’ rights but will send a message to the courts that Bulgaria must continue to reduce corruption.

I've also helped draft a supplemental memorandum to the European Court involving a case that has sat in its dock for five years (there’s some explanation for this I won’t get into here). The applicant in this case is a radio broadcaster who has tried to secure a frequency to produce a Christian radio program. To date, Bulgaria has never granted a radio frequency to a Christian radio program. In 2001, the State granted this applicant a license, but has consistently prevented the applicant from attaining a frequency. This month, a branch of the Alliance Defending Freedom in Vienna joined the litigation. Again, it is hoped the European Court will strike a balance.

Applying to the European Court is an interesting experience for me. As a conservative, I am skeptical of para-national courts’ abilities to support inter-national stability, rather than usurp inter-national sovereignty. But perhaps this comes from my perspective as an American steeped in the common law of America and Britain, with its 1,000 year history. For post-communist countries in the East, the tremendous flux of government and law leaves them without long, accumulated legal history. At least in the short term, I see the direct net benefit of the European Court providing justice to those who without it might never see justice. ‘‘I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.’’ (Psalm 27:13).

Smaller projects here include drafting contracts between the Rule of Law Institute and the government of Ukraine and various NGOs working within that precarious country.

Pray for the work of AE and the RLI, that attorneys in Bulgaria and Europe would continue to integrate Christian ethics into their legal practise, and have the wisdom and prudence needed to represent those without money or power in the interests of ordered freedom.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Center for Global Justice Intern - Emily Arthur

Emily Arthur, 2L
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Texas

I thought I’d take some time to update you on the first half of my summer.  I spent the past six weeks interning at a small nonprofit in El Paso, TX.  It was called Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and I couldn’t be happier with my experience there!

The first week was an orientation to immigration law and El Paso/Juarez in general.  Having already taken immigration law and participated in the practicum, I was ready to jump right in.  But I was interested to see the nuances of living on a border town and how that affects the immigration process.  We spent the first few days learning about the main types of services Las Americas provides.  We had sessions on the Violence Against Women Act, Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals, U-Visas, and Asylum.  We also had sessions on how the case system was managed and other office research systems.  On Friday of the first week, we went on a tour of the border.  We started out by driving up on the mountain and looking out over the cities.  It was so interesting because, unless you look really closely, it appears to be one big city.  We then drove to a part of New Mexico where the border is lined with a chain link fence.  Down closer to where Texas and Mexico meet New Mexico, there is no fence at all.  Customs and Border Patrol watch as people from both countries walk up to a white monument.  I literally had one foot in Mexico and one foot in the United States.  It was very interesting.  Finally, we ended the tour by seeing the massive fence that runs along the border through the downtown areas and by driving past the bridges that connect the two countries.

I was assigned to work under the managing attorney at Las Americas.  She mainly did asylum work and so that’s how I spent my six weeks there.  I filled out applications, researched country conditions, drafted motions, wrote letters to congressmen, and so many other things.  I also got to write an appellate brief for a Convention Against Torture claim for a client from El Salvador.  I had clients from Mexico, Nigeria, and Somalia as well.  I helped to develop strategies for the asylum cases that were heading to court and compiled exhibits.  In addition to the office work, I often got to go to immigration court and the detainment center.  Nearly all of my clients were detained and so the court is right inside the detainment center.  I also got to help interview clients.  One week, I even got to attend a meeting at the Mexican Consulate.  I thoroughly enjoyed everything I did there.  The staff was so nice and I loved the environment.  It was a very close, energetic place.  It really solidified for me that this is the type of law I want to pursue.

About two weeks into my internship, something interesting began to happen in El Paso.  South Texas has been completely overwhelmed with the amount of immigrants crossing over the border.  They began to send plane loads of people to El Paso.  Our first week, we got a plane of 270 people.  Annunciation House, a local nonprofit that serves the homeless immigrants, decided that the community needed to help.  The planes would arrive, ICE would process the immigrants, and then release them on their own recognizance.  This meant that they would be able to await their court dates from outside the detainment center.  After that, ICE would drive the immigrants to wherever we were located.  Annunciation House rallied together all sorts of nonprofits, churches, and everyday citizens in an effort to keep these immigrants off the streets.  I volunteered there often after work. 

When the immigrants were dropped off, we would take them in and register them.  We would provide them with clothing and food and a place to sleep and shower.  Volunteers would sit down with them and find out where they were heading.  They would call family members to let them know they were alright and waiting in El Paso.  The family members would then purchase tickets for their family to come join them.  The immigrants would then be moved to a different room where other volunteers would call local El Pasoans to help drive them to the bus stations or airport.  I spent my first few days volunteering by arranging transport to the stations. 

After that, I began translating for the medical team.  We had a doctor, nurse, or medical student on site nearly all the time.  I would get the story from the immigrants, inform the doctors, and tell the patients what was happening.  I would help take temperatures and give medicine.  It was so sad to see how sick everyone was after walking for days through the desert and then spending time in cold concrete cells in the detainment center. 

All in all, in my time there we probably took in close to 1,000 immigrants!  The volunteer experience was amazing and I can’t believe I got to be a part of something so current and relevant to the type of law I want to pursue.

In my free time, I traveled to Juarez several times, went hiking in New Mexico, and hung out with new friends that I made.  El Paso was amazing and I totally recommend this internship in the future. 

Thanks, friends!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Center for Global Justice Intern - Michael Aiello

Michael Aiello, 2L 
International Justice Mission, Thailand

Another couple of weeks have come and gone. I have done some pretty crazy things (riding an ostrich for one), and I can't believe my time here is already halfway over.

A couple weekends ago the other interns and I went to a full day cooking class! It is really popular among foreigners and I can see why. The organization, Asia Scenic, picked us up and brought us to their city location where we chose our menu. I chose to cook pad thai, spring rolls, khao soi, tom yam, and mango sticky rice (I posted the recipe on the previous blog). They then brought us to a traditional market in Mae Rim to purchase some of the ingredients. I never knew there were so many different kinds of rice! Afterwards we drove to their organic farm. Situated in the front part of their property was the outdoor cooking pavilion. There were a couple of large dining tables, food prepping tables, and two cooking stations with seven stoves each. Everything was well organized and very clean. At the end of the day we all received a cook book in addition to some pretty good food. If anyone wants a recipe let me know!

Church life! Although less than 1% of Thailand's population is Christian (the vast majority, 95ish%, is Buddhist), Northern Thailand has a vibrant church life. I've only been to two different churches, but the first one, the local Acts Church, left such a good impression on me that I'm calling it my church home for the summer. The congregation is predominately Thai, but there are enough ex-pats to warrant a simultaneous English broadcast. It is actually pretty cool. During the service, a guy sits in the back of the church and translates the sermon which is then broadcasted via a small radio transmitter. They hand out radios and headphones for people to tune in. Worship is sung in Thai and the lyrics are projected in both Thai and English. The service is two hours. The first 45 minutes is a western-style worship. Next comes announcements & testimonies. Then all the children go up front for a blessing before being dismissed for Sunday school. The pastor then leads us in Bible reading and delivers his sermon. So far he has been spot on. I really feel the spirit moving there. People sing with their arms raised and some of the children even dance in the aisles!

One of my side missions this summer is to discover the best coffee in town. My rules are simple. Drink it black and form an opinion. The best tasting coffee does not need to be masked behind sugar, cream, or artificial flavors. Its attributes must stand out on their own and be a pleasure to drink. So far I have been amazed by the coffee here.

Coffee is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Thailand, but it is the life blood of the north. I am not exaggerating when I say there is a cafe on almost every block. They are almost always privately owned and have a unique flare. One of my favorite coffee atmospheres is a cafe called Into the Woods. Any musical fan will absolutely love it. The entire place is based off the Stephen Sondheim's production that mashed together all the classic western fairy tales.

If you are looking for the best tasting coffee, may I recommend either Hillkoff or Akah Ama. Both are produced by hill tribes and are completely organic. If you find yourself at Hillkoff, I recommend the Homlamai and Black Thai. Homlamai is a bold and complex yet surprisingly smooth peaberry. Black Thai is an expert balance of sweet, acidic, and bitter tastes with an initial subtle sour kiss. Akah Ama offers a wide variety of roasts and you cannot go wrong with any of them. That being said, my favorite thus far is grown by one of my coworkers! His family grows about 1,300 kilos of organic Arabica beans. Nothing complements doing law research quite as nicely as a fresh and great tasting cup of coffee.

Speaking of research I'm about neck deep in it now. I'm currently summarizing the Thai Penal Code on child sexual assault and hill tribe citizenship rights. I also got to attend a NGO meeting hosted by the US. Consulate Office that focused on the Trafficking in Persons Report. Some of you may know that Thailand was just downgraded to tier three—the lowest grade—by the U.S. State Department. That being said, I have to say the NGO community here is very professional and works well together.

Completely changing the topic and foregoing an elegant transitional sentence...I rode an ostrich last weekend. Yep! No joke. Don't believe me, take a look at the picture. Try to photoshop that. There is an ostrich farm in Chiang Rai. They have a variety of animals and attractions, but the main event are the ostriches. For 150 Baht you can hop on an ostrich for about 5 minutes. In order to stay on you have to squeeze with your legs and hold on to its wings. My ostrich, KC, was a wee bit on the crazy side. She liked to run around in a circle and then come to an abrupt halt in front of the on lookers. Either she was trying to get me to fall flat on my 

face or just liked to be photographed. I think it was a little bit of both.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Center for Global Justice Intern - Cassandra Carsrud

Cassandra Carsrud, 2L
Christian Legal Aid, Los Angeles

Have you ever had an eye-opening experience? One where you didn’t realize that your eyes were closed until you learned something new about the world around you? I have.

This summer, my eyes have been opened to the practical needs of the poor. In west LA, only miles away from homes that sell for millions of dollars, an impoverished community struggles with simple challenges every single day. Justice is practically inaccessible for impoverished people who have civil cases in California. The state will provide a public defender in criminal cases, but what about the civil cases?

Too often, the widow and the orphan are rejected because of improperly filed paperwork. The mentally ill are turned away because they lack understanding of how to file their case. The elderly don’t know how to make their case when they are taken advantage of by creditors or when Social Security tells them they have been overpaid by error and must give thousands of dollars back. Justice is frustrated when people lack an advocate.

One day, “Hannah”, came into our office after going to court by herself to try and change a previous custody order denying her visitation with two of her children. Another relative had full custody of the children because the court found that it was not in the children’s best interest to visit with either parent. In reaction to suffering abuse at home, she had struggled with drug addictions and depression. However, between the previous court order and her recent hearing, Hannah’s life had changed. The judge had previously denied her custody and visitation with her children until she could pull herself together by participating in therapy and parenting classes. Since then, she had completed dozens of parenting classes, support groups, and therapy sessions…much more than the court had ordered. She had gone to a Christian church, and her life had been changed. 

When Hannah went to court to check in and present this information to the judge, she thought it would be easier to explain to the judge than it was. When she began to speak to the judge, she was so overcome with emotion that she could not clearly articulate her case and the judge did not change his previous order. Out of concern, he also called Child Protective Services (CPS), who investigated whether she was a fit mother to care for the baby girl, “Ruth”, she currently had custody of. CPS found her fully capable of parenting Ruth and returned Ruth to her. Hannah came to our office shaken and burdened by the situation. At CLA-LA we helped her file a request to change court order based on a change in circumstances. As she told us her story, we wrote a clear, articulate declaration to the court, explaining all of the ways her life has changed since the judge’s previous order.  This time, when Hannah goes to court, she will not have to do it alone.

Stories like this all summer long have revealed the needs all around me. Yet even more importantly, I have begun to learn how much can be done about it. Before this summer, I had never seen tears coming down a woman’s face after praying with her, asking God to take care of her, give her strength, and fight on her behalf. I had never seen gratitude on a man’s face after I had helped him prepare a simple declaration to the court. Before this summer, I used to take my computer for granted…when I didn’t realize that hundreds of people don’t have access to the internet, a word processor, and a printer.   

Law is not just a battle of the forms. It is a spiritual and emotional battle against fear, depression, and isolation. CLA-LA’s legal aid model has allowed me to act as an encourager, advocate, and prayer warrior, enabling people to go forward and access justice that they were unable to achieve alone. I am so grateful to be a part of the difference CLA-LA is making in Los Angeles, California. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Center for Global Justice Intern - Stockton Brown

Stockton Brown, 3L
Incredible India. Such colors, sari patterns, differing languages for each of the 29 states, intricate dances, music, and delicious food!  And here a few examples of where I have seen such beauty:

In the elderly man's offer of moon dal (a dried corn kernel snack) on the 14 hour sleeper-train ride at 8:04 am when I needed some sort of breakfast to take with my malaria medicine, at that very time.

In the fields upon fields of sugar cane stretching out to the mountains today that reminded me that God clothes creation with His glory and majesty.

In the rescue of four girls earlier this week from the red light district of a nearby city!!

*Note, the exact location and placement of Stockton's internship must remain confidential so as to not jeopardize the work taking place.