Introducing our new student editors: Carla Cortavarría and Maria Solomidou

On behalf of the IntLawGrrls editorial team, I’m delighted to welcome two new student editors, Carla Cortavarría and Maria Solomidou, to the blog.

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Carla Cortavarría is a rising 2L at Temple University Beasley School of Law. She is interested in human rights, particularly in Latin America, as well as immigration and refugee law. This summer she is interning at the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), a non-profit membership organization that strives to advance human rights in various parts of the world through its members. She is currently helping with their Dominican Republic and Haiti programs focusing on gender-based violence, human trafficking, and judicial corruption.

This upcoming school year, she will be the Vice President of Temple’s International Law Society and is planning on studying abroad in Utrecht, Netherlands in the Spring to focus on human rights law. Her goal after graduation is to work in public interest, specifically focusing on social justice issues within Latin America, and those affecting the Latino communities in the United States. Carla is originally from Lima, Peru, but grew up in the DC Metro area. She speaks fluent Spanish, advanced-level French, and some Portuguese.

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Maria Solomidou is a Global Scholar and a rising 3L at Temple University Beasley School of Law. Her family history and her experiences overseas have cultivated her academic interest in international and human rights law. Prior to entering law school, she received her B.A. in International Business and Economics from Temple University’s Fox School of Business. From a young age, Maria was an avid volunteer at the International Red Cross in Nicosia, Cyprus where she had the opportunity to help refugee families fleeing several international crises including the Lebanese/Israeli Conflict and the War in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Since then, Maria has participated in the Temple Global Scholars program in Rome, Italy. She has also interned with a law firm in the Republic of Cyprus that specialized in European Union law and immigration issues. She was able to work directly on asylum cases on appeal in the European Court of Human Rights and also assisted with immigration cases in the Supreme Court of Cyprus. This past year Maria also worked at the Nationalities Services Center in Philadelphia where she worked directly with asylum applicants and refugees.

This summer she is interning with the Honorable Ourania Papademetriou in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Family Division where she will have the opportunity to research family law matters relating to immigration law, specifically Special Immigrant Juveniles Status.

Maria looks forward to a rewarding career in international and human rights law, and is excited to be welcomed into the IntLawGrrls community.

We also say a heartfelt thank you and farewell to student editors Claire Poppelwell-Scevak and Melissa Vo, who worked with us over the past year.   Thanks for your many contributions to the blog!

At the centenary of chemical warfare, a visit to Flanders’ World War I battlefields

YPRES, Belgium – Beautiful vistas and bright sunlight cannot blind the visitor to the pain of this place.

This place is Flanders Fields, the name given to the part of west Belgium, close to the French border, that saw intense battles and horrendous casualties during World War I. This town – Ypres in French and Ieper in Flemish, but called “Wipers” by British WWI soldiers – played a central role. So too nearby Passchendaele/Passendale. Both towns were leveled, and like many in the region, were rebuilt in the old manner after the war ended.

During the war, upwards of half a million persons died in this area alone.

Our visit to Flanders Fields occurred on the 4th of July. Memories linger, and were sparked again by today’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1st large-scale use, in Ypres, of chemical weapons; mustard gas, to be precise. It was the 3d compound to be attempted, after chlorine and phosgene proved less reliable as lethal weapons, according to our tour guide, Raoul Saracen, a retired history teacher. Initial efforts to fight back against chemicals also were crude: before the development and widespread distribution of gas masks, Canadian troops resorted to breathing through kerchiefs soaked in ammonia-rich urine.

The cruelty of chemical warfare did not stop its use. Recording other places where chemicals have been used was a signpost in Langemark, the cemetery where German soldiers (including several with whom I share a surname) are buried. Tokyo, Japan, Halabja, Iraq, and Ghouta, Syria, receive mention, though more recent gassing sites in that last country have yet to be added.

The thousands of headstones in the many Flanders Fields cemeteries of course give pause. So too the cramped trenches, still on display at Sanctuary Wood Museum.

Yet it was a different site that stole my breath – the “dressing station,” a kind of field hospital, at Essex Farm Cemetery. The station’s cement-bunker cells were small, dark, and saddening, a truly concrete reminder of the scourge of war.

(Cross-posted)

U.S. Government Sued Over Illegally Turning Away Asylum Seekers

Today several groups filed suit against the U.S. government’s Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency for turning away asylum seekers, contrary to domestic and international law.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, asylum seekers arrived from all over the world to present themselves to CBP to ask for protection. The right to seek asylum is enshrined in Article 33 of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, which came into being in 1951 and was expanded by the 1967 Protocol. The United States signed the Protocol in 1968, enacting domestic law to implement the international agreement in 1980.  The U.S. is thus bound by the terms of the Protocol and the Convention itself, including, critically, the principle of non-refoulement — non-return of individuals to a place where they would  face persecution on account of one of the five protected grounds.

In recent years, however, CBP has been routinely turning away vulnerable asylum seekers, forcing them to return to Mexico without allowing them to pursue their right to claim asylum.  This illegal practice has worsened as CBP officers became emboldened following the election and inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. President. Indeed, in January 2017, several groups filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Offices of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Inspector General, alleging systemic abuses at the border. In March, the U.S. government failed to even show up to defend their practices before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, a session which included testimony from multiple groups on the illegal turning away of asylum seekers at the border.

To challenge the unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers, today the American Immigration Council, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Latham & Watkins LLP filed suit in federal court in California’s Central District. The plaintiffs are Al Otro Lado, a “national, direct legal services organization serving indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico” and six of their clients. The lawsuit alleges that DHS and CBP have violated asylum seeker’s rights to seek protection, along with their due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and violations of international law.

The plaintiffs’ stories are all too familiar to asylum lawyers based in the U.S. Personally, I Co-Direct the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. Our current clients include several mothers fleeing violence in Central America who eventually made it into the U.S. after being illegally turned away. We work with survivors of extreme domestic violence and persecution at the hands of transnational criminal organizations, known as “maras,” were turned away at the border by officials with statements such as “There’s no asylum for people from Honduras…” or “You can’t get asylum because you’re scared of your husband.” These statements are patently false, of course, and the precedential Board of Immigration Appeals decision, Matter of A-R-C-G-made clear that individuals fleeing domestic abuse can meet the asylum definition.

As Karolina Walters of the American Immigration Council summarizes from the Complaint today, on their blog, “[o]ther examples of the tactics used by CBP officers against asylum seekers, include:

  • Misrepresenting that visas are required to cross at a POE or that asylum seekers must obtain a “ticket” from a Mexican government agency before they will be allowed to enter the United States to seek asylum;
  • Yelling profanities at an asylum-seeking mother and her 5-year-old son, throwing her to the ground, and forcefully pressing her cheek into the pavement; and
  • Coercing asylum seekers into recanting their fear on video and into withdrawing their applications for admission to the United States.”

The Washington Post quotes legal fellow, Katie Shepherd, also with the American Immigration Council  “‘[CBP officers are] getting very creative; we keep hearing new ways they’re turning people away. . . ‘If a single asylum seeker is denied in a day, that’s one too many.’”

It is, of course, a sad state of affairs that a lawsuit to protect the rights of asylum seekers is necessary. We can only hope that the Court will hold the government to account and the government will honor their legal obligations to protect refugees.

 

Georgia Law’s Chanel Chauvet, IntLawGrrls conference presenter, begins term as ILSA Student President

Chanel Chauvet, a Dean Rusk International Law Center Student Ambassador and member of the J.D. Class of 2018 at the University of Georgia School of Law, has turned to social media to reach the global membership of the International Law Students Association, whom she now serves as 2017-18 Student President.

In the YouTube video above, she offers her

“deepest gratitude for the confidence that the International Law Student Association chapters all around the world have placed in me and members of my administration.”

That team of student officers were elected earlier this year by vote of the chapters. Chanel adds:

“I would also like to thank the faculty at the University of Georgia School of Law and my family for their support.”

Also thanked were predecessor presidents, among them Kaitlin Ball, who earned her Georgia Law J.D. in 2014 and is now a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Politics & International Studies at the University of Cambridge, England. (Kaitlin also presented at the March 2017 IntLawGrrls conference, and she’s posted here numerous times.) They are the 2d and 3d Georgia Law students to hold the position; also leading ILSA while a student was Richard Alembik (JD’91).

My student in a number of international law classes and a presenter at Georgia Law’s IntLawGrrls conference last spring, Chanel is working this summer as a Legal Fellow at CARE headquarters in Atlanta. Last summer, she earned a Certificate in International Humanitarian Law at Leiden Law School’s Grotius Centre in The Hague, Netherlands. Prior Exchange of Notes blog posts by or about her are here.

Her ILSA statement looks forward in particular to ILSA’s 2 signature events, the International Law Weekend set for October 19-21 in New York, and the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition, final rounds of which will occur in April 2018 in Washington, D.C.

¡Brava!

 

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes blog)

Write On! U.S. Feminist Judgments Project

backlit_keyboardThis installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes a call to present within Feminist Judgements: Rewritten Family Law Opinions, as follows:

The U.S. Feminist Judgement Project, seeks contributions for rewritten judicial opinions and commentaries for an edited collection tentatively titled Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Family Law Opinions. The list of selected cases, a description of the process of selecting decisions, and the opinions considered but not included, are on the application website (https://goo.gl/forms/9JYv7GtR2gJMDVbY2).

Continue reading

Court of Justice of the European Union takes on Muslim headscarf employment discrimination cases

With the increased reach of the populist movement and changing demographics, several European countries have been confronted with the need to define secularism and freedom of religion in a way where each of these concepts do not impinge on the rights of the other. This has dominated several discussions in politics, law, education, and social interactions throughout Europe.

One issue that stands at the forefront of these arguments is the wearing of the headscarf by Muslim women in Europe as a practice of their faith. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the highest court in the European Union with regards to European Union law, provided judgments on two cases involving the headscarf in March 2017.

In Samira Achbita v. G4S Secure Solutions NV (G4S), the CJEU was asked to provide guidance on the interpretation of Council Directive 2000/78 as it related to the dismissal of Ms. Achbita, an employee of G4S, for wearing a headscarf as part of her religious beliefs. The Council Directive 2000/78 provides that the “principle of equal treatment” means that there will be no direct or indirect discrimination based on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation as regards employment and occupation. Furthermore, the Council Directive highlights that indiscrimination occurs when apparently neutral provisions, criteria, or practice put persons of a particular religion, disability, age, or sexual orientation, at a particular disadvantage unless it is “objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.”

G4S stated that the company has a policy of not allowing employees to wear any political, philosophical, or religious signs as it may compromise the visibility of G4S’s position of neutrality. The Court ruled that there was no direct discrimination as the Directive did not single out a specific group of people or religion to target and was facially neutral. The Court did leave room to say that the rule may constitute indirect discrimination if persons of a particular religion or belief were put at a particular disadvantage, “unless justified by a legitimate aim” and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

Similarly, in Asma Bougnaoui v. Micropole, SA (Micropole), Ms. Bougnaoui was dismissed from her employment at Micropole because of her refusal to remove the headscarf that she wore for religious reasons, and about which some customers of the company had complained. However, here the CJEU ruled that the “the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the services of that employer provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement within the meaning of that provision.” Continue reading

Introducing Jennifer Ismat

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It is our great pleasure to introduce our new intlawgrrls contributor Jennifer Ismat! Jennifer is a lawyer in New York and has spent the past 7 years working as an independent consultant with universities and international organizations. She received her Bachelors degree in Political Science and International Relations at Syracuse University and her Masters degree in Global Affairs from New York University. She also earned her Juris Doctorate in Law from St. John’s University School of Law. She has studied abroad in both Egypt and Malaysia. She was an Arthur C. Helton Fellow. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the New York International Law Review.

Heartfelt welcome!