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Part Two of Two: Civil Rights Expand Globally with Columbia Law school's Human Rights Internship Program

published August 15, 2005

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In this second article of a two-part series, we continue our look at public interest programs administered by Columbia Law School's Center for Public Interest Law. Last week's article discussed Columbia's Public Service Fellowship, upcoming expansions to the summer programs, and the law school's loan repayment program.

As for HRIP, it is the "flagship program" among Columbia's public interest endeavors, says Harlene Katzman, Dean of the Center for Public Interest Law. Specifically, HRIP gives a Columbia Law student a stipend for the summer to do human rights work anywhere in the world and pays for him/her to get there as well.

There is also a 20-hour required training and orientation program participating students must complete for HRIP. The training program adds to the core first-year curriculum, says Katzman, with instruction on topics not usually found in the first-year course schedule, such as the international convention of human rights. "Supplementing the curriculum is very valuable," says Katzman, and is one of the things that set this program apart from other human rights internships.

The program's origins, and the philosophy behind its beginning, are other distinguishing factors of HRIP.

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the landmark civil rights case Brown vs. Board of Education. One of the attorneys who argued that case before the Court, eventually winning that historic victory, was Jack Greenberg, Professor of Law and founder of HRIP in 1984, just after he joined the Columbia Law faculty.

We were able to interview Professor Greenberg via email, as he is lecturing in New Zealand this summer.

Greenberg was motivated to start HRIP because he "had been involved in human rights, domestic and international, for 35 years and knew people and organizations all over the country and the world. I thought that students would gain a good deal from working with those I knew and that they could well use student assistance. Moreover, it would help civil rights and international human rights to grow."

The phrase "human rights," in fact, is not substantially different from "civil rights," says Greenberg. Any difference is "historical and arbitrary," he says.

"In the U.S., we have used the terms 'civil rights' and 'civil liberties' relating to constitutional and statutory rights," says Greenberg. "Internationally, 'human rights' applied to similar freedoms, although protected, when they are protected, by different documents. To some extent, 'human rights' is coming to cover the U.S. freedoms too.

As for the most important issues in human rights currently—"it's hard to rank the issues," says Greenberg. "Certainly those that arise in the context of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars now have priority," he says, "but race relations remain extraordinarily important."

Even with the high profile of international human rights issues, there are still human rights concerns within the United States. Prominent among these are "school segregation, educational inequality, and criminal justice, particularly the death penalty," says Greenberg.

Once in the program, Columbia Law students benefit greatly from the experiences they have. "They work on matters about which they care," says Greenberg. "They try to solve novel problems or old problems in novel ways."
Greenberg stays involved with HRIP, assisting students in finding groups to work with. "I have counseled on placements and have called or written to people and agencies where students want to work to facilitate the placement," he says.

Students are sent to preapproved placements with organizations listed in a database at the Center for Public Interest. They can "go shopping" through the database, says Katzman, to find a human rights organization that fits their interests. The program has this list so that HRIP administrators know the quality of supervision and the quality of work that will be available. "Students have very substantive experiences over the summer," says Katzman.

Regional program advisors are also in place to help students who have identified regions of the world in which to work and are seeking further guidance. There are advisors for Latin America, China, Africa, and Eastern Europe, among others.

Getting into the program is "very competitive," says Katzman. Students are not required to find placements before they are approved for the internship and its funding, so they start the application process early. Students must fill out an application; write essays; and then, if they move on the second round, do an interview with a panel of human rights attorneys who are alumni of HRIP.

Those who are not accepted into the program can find other summer funding at Columbia—even some who are accepted to HRIP turn it down because they do not need the travel stipend included in the program. For students looking for an international human rights work experience, however, there is "no parallel to getting into HRIP," says Katzman.
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