International Human Rights Clinic team to argue before Inter-American Court

Two students and a professor from the law school's International Human Rights Clinic will present oral arguments this summer before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the highest tribunal for human rights matters in the hemisphere.

Marsha Mavunkel a May 2009 graduate, and Garrett Oppenheim, who graduated in December 2008, along with Assistant Professor Tom Antkowiak, will travel to Costa Rica for the July 3 hearing. The Inter-American Court is one of only two active international human rights courts in the world. It has binding jurisdiction over states throughout the Americas. There are no appeals from court judgments and decisions. Cases often take years to reach the high tribunal and advisory opinion proceedings such as the present matter are infrequent.

"This is very exciting and unique learning opportunity for Marsha and Garrett, who both aspire to be international human rights lawyers," Professor Antkowiak said. "The chance to argue before the Court is relatively rare, even for an experienced international litigator. This trip gives one example of the many opportunities available at the Clinic to SU law students interested in practicing international human rights law."

Mavunkel said the Clinic provided her with invaluable experience.

"When Professor Antkowiak asked for research assistance on an amicus brief he was writing to the Court, I never imagined I would have the chance to travel to Costa Rica and actually speak before the Court," she said. "This will truly be memorable, and I am extremely grateful to Seattle University School of Law for helping to make this possible."

This invitation was a result of the Clinic's recent submission of a legal brief on a pending advisory opinion requested by the State of Argentina. Such opinions are only issued by the Court every few years - the last one was handed down in 2005 - and deal with significant human rights matters.

Argentina has requested the Court to decide upon the legality of ad hoc judges in cases in which individuals file a cause of action against a state. This is an important issue, because for more than 20 years, the Court has allowed ad hoc judges to participate in this kind of case. An ad hoc judge is a judge appointed by the state only for a particular case. However, individual petitioners do not have a similar right to appoint an ad hoc judge.

The Clinic's brief argues in part that the ad hoc judge subverts a petitioner's right to an independent and impartial tribunal. It concludes that neither legal reasons nor even practical justifications exist in support of the participation of ad hoc judges in state vs. individual petitioner proceedings and recommends that the Inter-American Court discontinue this practice immediately.

"Garrett and Marsha are closely involved in proceedings that hopefully will result in the greater protection of victims' rights in the Inter-American System," Antkowiak said.

The clinic also is lead counsel on a case involving torture and illegal detention in Mexico and will soon file a complaint before the same human rights system.

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