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Friday, March 14, 2014

Partnership Supports the Establishment of a Human Rights Legal Clinic at Universidad Católica de Oriente

During the first year of the Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership, the University of Minnesota has worked collaboratively with the Universidad Católica de Oriente (UCO), located in Rionegro, Colombia, to establish a Human Rights Clinic in their Law School. The clinical program officially started in July of 2013, and the first group of participants was comprised of one faculty member, Professor Maribel Ocazionez, and eleven upper-level law students. It has since added six new students and one new faculty member, Professor Carolina Rojas. In preparation for the launch of this new clinic, the Partnership provided UCO's faculty with training in human rights advocacy strategy and engaged faculty in constructive conversation and brainstorming around the academic and administrative challenges and opportunities inherent to creating, maintaining and running a human rights legal clinic.

The goals behind the development of the Human Rights Legal clinic at UCO are to train students and docents in skills necessary for effective human rights advocacy, to stimulate further research in the human rights discipline, and to generate opportunity for advancement by students and docents in the field of human rights. Alongside the establishment of this new clinic at UCO, the Partnership is working to further develop and enhance existing clinics at other Antioquia institutions - including Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de Medellín, and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana - in collaboration with faculty and administrators at those institutions and particularly with regard to clinical work on human rights topics.
UCO students have responded with great enthusiasm to the implementation of this new clinic and are clearly excited about the opportunity to tackle local human rights issues. For example, they are already conducting in-depth research on human rights issues resulting from pollution and contamination in the Oriente Antioqueño, the eastern portion of Antioquia in which Rionegro is located. Also, they are working in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Human Rights Clinic, led by Professor Jennifer Green, in the drafting of a joint shadow report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding the Colombian government's failure to ensure the human rights of children in the Antioquia region. And finally, they have just started work on a project regarding the rights of incarcerated individuals, through which they will be assessing factors such as overcrowding, staffing, health care, education, etc. in local prisons.
Enthusiasm for human rights advocacy by UCO students is reflected in the aforementioned surge of human rights clinical work and in their diligent participation in trainings put on by the Partnership. For example, when Professor Barbara Frey visited Medellín in August to give a four-day short course on human rights advocacy, the clinical students from UCO traveled about an hour and a half every day from Rionegro to Medellín in order to attend. While the long commute may have deterred some people from participating in the seminar, the students from UCO attended the presentation each day without fail.
With the goal of sustaining the passion of these outstanding students and engaging an even broader community of students and faculty in human rights work, the Partnership remains committed to the ongoing development of legal clinical work at UCO, not only through curriculum development but also through the growth of administrative support. Over the next couple years the Human Rights Clinic at UCO will engage in strategic selection of cases in order to address the most pressing human rights issues in the region and allow for continued collaboration with the Human Rights Clinic at the UMN. Furthermore, UCO's Human Rights Clinic will continue to receive meaningful guidance from and work collaboratively with legal clinical teams working in other Antioquia institutions, including Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de Medellín, and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.