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USC Gould’s International Human Rights Clinic counts many successes in past five years 

-By Julie Riggott

When Hannah Garry founded the International Human Rights Clinic at USC Gould, she had a holistic vision for championing human rights. Through litigation in cases before international and U.S. courts, representation of survivors of human rights abuses, and educational and legislative advocacy, the clinic has been training students how to use international law as a tool for social justice and to be human rights advocates since 2011. 

IHRC students have spent the past five years working with judges, testifying in Washington, D.C. on international human rights matters and representing clients in the United States and around the world.

“Human rights must be upheld across the board,” said Prof. Garry. “There must be truth, justice and reconciliation when rights are abrogated. USC Gould’s International Human Rights Clinic is dedicated to using the law to fight for those ideals.”

Under Garry’s direction, the clinic is steadily accumulating a list of impressive successes. Those include contributing to judgments in numerous cases involving mass atrocities, such as genocide and crimes against humanity before all of the modern international criminal tribunals, placing all interested students in competitive internships abroad and helping individual victims find justice and build new lives.

The clinic has also changed the lives of its law students. “Even though I selected USC Gould with the hope of working for Prof. Garry, I did not predict how much my clinical experience would enhance my growth as an aspiring attorney,” said Kelsey McGregor ’15. “I was deeply affected by my time working with survivors of trafficking, and in a transitional justice advocacy summit in Washington, D.C.”

Partnerships With International Tribunals 

Through prosecution of perpetrators of human rights abuses, and coming alongside international tribunals to do that, Garry said, “We give teeth to human rights norms — they are understood to be law and must be upheld.” 

One of the clinic’s biggest achievements is that it has been able to establish partnerships with all of the current international tribunals that prosecute mass atrocities: the International Criminal Court, as well as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the Yugoslav Tribunal.

“We are the only clinic I know of that has been able to accomplish this,” Garry said. “And we are the only U.S. law school after Harvard to be invited to partner with the Lebanon Tribunal to send recent clinic graduates as one-year legal fellows over the past three years.” 

The clinic has contributed to a number of judgments that reached convictions in cases that involved, as Garry pointed out, “tragic events that were historic in nature and resulted in the deaths of millions.” 

So far, about two-thirds of all clinic graduates have gone on to work with judges at these tribunals as interns. The clinic has had a near 100 percent success rate for students interested in being invited to work on site in these highly competitive positions.

One Person at a Time

IHRC Director Hannah Garry, pictured center, led students to Cambodia in 2011 to work on one of their first tribunal cases.

At the same time that students work on cases involving mass atrocities perpetrated outside the United States, they tackle human rights issues right here at home, such as human trafficking, juvenile life-without-parole sentencing, failure by the U.S. government to recognize the Armenian genocide, and limited reception of women and unaccompanied children from Central America fleeing gang violence. 

The clinic has represented several human trafficking survivors from Latin America and Asia who suffered extreme situations of forced labor, domestic violence and torture, and recently took on its first asylum case for a victim from Uganda. Students meet with survivors one-on-one, hear their stories in-depth and write declarations for decision-makers to get the survivors recognized as victims. The clinic has had 100 percent success in assisting its clients with achieving legal status in the United States, reparations and unification with family. 

“We’ve been honored to assist many people thus far,” Garry said. “There is so much healing and joy that goes along with this work, and it’s humbling to be part of the process.”

More Work to Be Done

Garry plans to grow the clinic by taking on more cases, expanding representation to victims of mass atrocities here and before the International Criminal Court, and conducting international field research that could support filings before international courts and recommendations for commissions of inquiry into mass atrocity situations. She also plans to place more students in externships with tribunals and grassroots human fights organizations and to institute a campus speaker series as part of the clinic’s work to raise awareness of human rights issues. 

All of that will take a vigorous fundraising effort, but Garry is not daunted. 

“Perpetrators of human rights abuses and those who have been impacted need to know that there are many of us in the world who care and are not going to stand by. We will take action and ensure that justice is upheld,” she said.