Clinic team argues before Inter-American Commission in D.C.

International Human Rights Clinic Team

Professors Hank McGee and Tom Antkowiak pose with the clinic team that argued before the commission.

Assistant Professor Thomas Antkowiak and three students from his International Human Rights Clinic presented oral arguments before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C., in early November. The hearing was covered by EFE, the world's main Spanish-language news agency. The Human Rights Clinic was also mentioned in Peru's two largest national newspapers.

Students 3Ls Kimberly Curtis and Erin Jany and 4L Karin Tolgu and Antkowiak, along with the Instituto de Defensa Legal (a leading Peruvian human rights organization) and the Due Process of Law Foundation (based in D.C.), had petitioned the Commission in September for a hearing with Peruvian government officials. They challenged Peru's attempts to open up parts of the Amazon - including territories of indigenous communities - to resource extraction without duly consulting those communities. The state's actions incited nationwide protests and led to the resignation of Peru's prime minister.

The clinic team and its counterparts applied pressure upon the Peruvian government, which was forced to respond for its illegal actions before an influential panel of commissioners and the international community. The State of Peru was represented at the hearing by several high-ranking officials, including the Minister of Justice. The Commission was requested to continue to monitor the situation and to become formally involved in a recent national process for legislative reform. (In the weeks before the hearing, Peru announced that it would begin a process to introduce laws more protective of indigenous land rights).

"I thought the result was very positive," Antkowiak said. "Also, my students did a fantastic job, both in the preparation of the brief and in the presentation of oral arguments."

Before the hearing, the clinic students helped prepare a 50-page report on Peru's international legal obligations with respect to indigenous communities, and provided analysis on how four Latin American countries have protected indigenous rights. The students accompanied Antkowiak to the hearing, where they submitted the report to the Commission and presented oral arguments concerning Peru's violations of international human rights law. Professor Henry McGee, provided comments on the brief and attended the hearing.

Four commissioners, from Argentina, El Salvador, the United States and Venezuela, conducted the proceedings. Commissioners are independent experts elected by the member states of the Organization of American States.