Semester-In-Practice with Reprieve in London: International Human Rights Law Opportunities at BU

My name is Genevie Gold, and I am a 3L at Boston University School of Law.  I am borrowing this blog space courtesy of Aaron Lang (thanks Aaron!) to tell you a little bit about my past semester in London working at a non-profit called Reprieve. In particular, I want to share with you how my time across the pond brought me full circle back to my past two and a half years at 765 Commonwealth Ave.  (And I also talk about tea.)

First a bit about me. After working with the Quakers in Cambridge, MA and government reformers in Washington D.C., I started at Boston University School of Law in 2011, keen on integrating my interest in in international law and social justice with a future career in law.  Throughout my time at BU I have been able to do just this. Highlights include, working in Kansas City with a BU alum at the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic during 1L year, and spending my 2L year working with what was then called the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic (I am happy to report that since then the program has expanded and is now two clinics, the Immigration Clinic and the International Human Rights Clinic).

In fact, I first learned about Reprieve during my time at the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic. Reprieve regularly sends UK interns to work on cases of EU nationals on death row in the United States, and is known in the death row community in the States.  I saw Reprieve as a good intersection of my growing interest in the US criminal justice system with my long-time passion for international issues.  After getting guidance from Boston University Professor Susan Akram, who has worked extensively in the human rights field, I decided to go as part of Boston University’s Semester-In-Practice Program.

Let me tell you a little bit about Reprieve.  A London-based organization started in 1999 by Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve was formed in connection with Smith’s work representing British nationals on death row in US courts.  Today, it assists EU nationals on death row worldwide, and represents clients who have experienced abuses in counter-terrorism (including Guantanamo Bay detainees who languish in the center despite being cleared years ago, and victims of extraordinary rendition and torture).  The red thread that ties its work together is its mission to protect the rights of the most vulnerable prisoners.  This summary is admittedly missing a lot (including, how Reprieve has become one of the leading organizations in working at the frontier of human rights work related to the “global war on terror”). However, I hope this short description give you an idea of where I found myself when I started working there in September.

During my semester, I gained insight into the unique legal world of representing Guantanamo Bay detainees, and how courts of justice are used to sway the “courts of public opinion” (i.e. strategic litigation).  To give you a sense of what I did (within the bounds of confidentiality) my work ranged from crafting persuasive pieces to state officials on issues of international law to investigative work testing potential theories on cases which involved events and people across the world.  And I learned how to make tea for an office of solicitors.

I don’t have the space (and do not want to be greedy with your attention) to walk through all of my experiences. In fact, given Reprieve’s mission it not hard to expect that my months were full of many and new insights and learning moments (including how to properly make tea).   However, I will share one thing that was unexpected.  In many of these experiences, I recognized the previous work of my past two years at BU Law. For example, in crafting case theories I used my experience at the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic and my work in the Asylum Clinic where I created chronologies and witness affidavits to clarify what happened and what was relevant to the court.  In spite of the novelty of my tasks, I continuously had a background to pull from, which allowed me to be a valuable addition to the team and mission.

I will leave you with a fun example of this. During my time in London, I met with a former visiting professor at BU, Oxford Professor Hugh Collins.  Professor Collins shared with me how he had witnessed his scholarship become accepted, albeit slowly, by judges.  And I understood what he meant.   During my time with the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic I had contributed to a project associated with the work of Prof. Akram who has, along with other legal scholars, argued for a harmonized approach to interpreting Article 1D of the Refugee Convention of 1951.  From this experience, I had seen how the work of Professor Akram, which spanned over a decade, was beginning to gestate in the legal field. I knew exactly what Prof. Collins meant, and was delighted to relate to the world of someone who was in an academic post first held by Sir Blackstone himself!

My time in London was an invaluable opportunity.  Looking back makes me appreciate how this experience was built squarely upon my previous years at BU.  And as I march happily towards graduation this semester, I am grateful to be able to use these experiences as part of the foundation of my legal career.

Plus, did I mention that I can now make a serious cup of tea?

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