Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


June 11, 2001

Law students advocate for human rights

Julie Clements completed a Carter Center internship in the spring.


For well over a decade, worldwide intervention on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated has been a component of the Carter Center’s work.

Each week, the center receives information about new human rights violations taking place in various countries around the world. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn often write letters about these cases to foreign heads of state or discuss their concerns when they travel abroad.

Behind the Carters’ voices are the Emory law students whose research on human rights issues enables the Carters and the center to make a difference in people’s lives.

Each semester, students interning with the Carter Center’s human rights committee are assigned research projects on cutting-edge human rights developments. The cases usually require communication with the families of victims, U.S.-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, local human rights NGOs, and American government agencies such as the State Department and U.S. embassies.

With guidance from the human rights committee, made up of staff members from each of the center’s peace and health programs, student interns and a supervising attorney decide which cases merit the Carters’ intervention. The interns draft memorandums and letters for the Carters, then forward these missives to leaders both in the United States and around the world.

International human rights violations constitute the majority of these cases, though Rosalynn Carter also focuses on capital punishment cases in America involving juveniles and mentally ill individuals.

Former intern Maria Fadlelmula said the most valuable skill she took away from the internship was learning to write in another person’s voice.

“I learned to keep a diplomatic tone to my writing,” Fadlelmula said. She drafted a letter for President Carter to former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, urging him to ensure that a particular trial in Peru adhere to international due process standards. The defendant in the case did receive a new trial, which is now under way.

Fadlelmula worked on a number of issues, including research on the Alien Tort Claims Act, which enables human rights victims from other countries to sue their abusers in U.S. courts. The most recent example involved Li Peng, the Chinese official responsible for ordering the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Senior program associate and supervising attorney Ashley Barr emphasized the importance of the interns to the center’s human rights efforts.

“The students also benefit from the field placement, gaining experience with international human rights issues and often working with other students from foreign law schools,” Barr said. “We couldn’t be as effective or accomplish as much without the dedication of the law school interns.”

Back to Emory Report June 11, 2001