Megan Britt (2L), Jenny Khavinson (2L) and Seth DeLong (2L) were excited when they signed up for the opportunity to work two semesters with a new collaborative project between Miami Law and an international human rights clinic located at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellin, Colombia. They knew that the opportunity to travel to another country and work with people involved with human rights violations was a one-of-the-kind experience.
This particular project involved evaluating different cases regarding human rights violations as a consequence of the armed conflict in Colombia and their admissibility in the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights—the last remedy available to the victims and the last resource to litigate for the international human rights clinic in Medellin.
Now, having returned from the trip, which took them from the law library of Coral Gables to the streets of Colombia, their lives and legal education has been forever enriched.
"I was given an amazing opportunity to immerse myself in everything that Colombia has to offer," said Britt. "I learned so much about the history of the country, the people, the language, and the culture."
The project, headed by Paula Arias, Lecturer in Law and Director of the International Moot Court Program, provides students the opportunity to learn about human rights and humanitarian law by doing legal research in the field and experiencing a different culture.
During the spring semester, students were responsible for researching the Inter-American Human Rights System, with a goal of possibly presenting a petition to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, along with the Colombian human rights clinic.
During the summer months, Britt and Khavinson made their way to Colombia where they researched various aspects of the armed conflict, which has taken place in Colombia for the last 50 years between the government, the drug dealers and the guerrillas. The students familiarized themselves with the history of the country and key players involved in this ongoing internal armed conflict.
While in Colombia, they were able to take advantage of on-the-ground interviewing. They were able to speak with professionals about the conflict, as well as visit social programs in the city.
They also took Spanish classes to improve their speaking skills.
"I chose to research the demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers that were involved in the armed conflict," said Khavinson of her more specific focus. "This topic was the most interesting to me because I believe that the young generation is the one that can create changes in the structure and society of a country."
Some of the most memorable moments for Britt involved the support she and her classmates received from the people who were witnesses to these crimes.
"Everyday different people would stop by with books, articles, or movies that they thought would help us along," she said. "We were given the opportunity to interview the founders of the Peace and Reconciliation Office, who, by focusing on the rehabilitation of the disarmed, is changing the way society views the conflict."
Even though she was reading about the history of these crimes, she was also living the history and being able to do something about it.
"I learned that the way the world views this country should change," said Britt. "It is not the scary, dangerous place everyone makes it out to be. It is a beautiful country with a complex history and a friendly, motivated people dedicated to change."
The experience, as a whole, was life changing and truly added to the students' educational experience.
"They made me very proud," said Arias, who started the project in 2010. This is the second time she's sent students to work on the ground in Colombia.
Last year, student Elizabeth Reiser-Murphy traveled to the South American country to research violent treatment toward people as it related to the Colombian Palm Tree Market. She helped to draft and file the last motion in Colombia for one of the victims of the cases litigated in the Clinic.
Reiser-Murphy's efforts also helped to organize a partnership between Miami Law and the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, which led the way for more Miami Law students to continue working on cases in the country.
"Now, we are going to continue working on a bigger project," said Arias.