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Guatemala Rule of Law

Center for Social Justice launches new program

Seton Hall Law’s Center for Social Justice (CSJ) launched its Guatemala Rule of Law Program this year, designed to expose students to issues involving access to justice in a post-conflict country and support the human rights work of local Guatemalan partners.

Pictured, front row left to right: Jennifer Vasquez '13, Clinical Teaching Fellow Rachel Lopez, Jessica Zamora '13, Kimberly Krone '12, and Sebastian Sanchez '12. Back row, left to right: Javier Calderón who is a law student at Universidad Rafael Landívar, Matthew Blair '13, CSJ Director, Professor Lori Nessel, and Santos Flores '12.

As part of an inaugural trip over fall break, CSJ Director, Professor Lori Nessel, and CSJ Clinical Teaching Fellow, Rachel Lopez, led a delegation of six Seton Hall Law students to study and support the development of the rule of law in different regions of Guatemala. During the visit, the delegation met with Guatemalan law students, professors, judges and human rights advocates who shared their struggles to promote rule of law through advocacy, litigation, direct legal services and legal education.

Notably, students engaged in an in-depth discussion with judges in the recently established femicide court in Quetzaltenango to learn more about the epidemic levels of gender-based violence, as well as the current efforts to address it through judicial reform. In Guatemala City, students visited the Archbishop’s Office on Human Rights in Guatemala (ODHAG) to interview Guatemalan refugees who returned after the civil war and have experienced significant obstacles to reintegrating into Guatemalan society, including difficulty obtaining identity documents and access to basic necessities like adequate housing and potable water.

In Antigua, students met with a prominent human rights lawyer to offer feedback on a novel human rights petition that he plans to present to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In Santa Maria, Chiquimula, students visited a rural legal aid office that is staffed by law students and serves the indigenous communities.

Students have described this experience as a crucial part of their development as lawyers.Here are some of their reflections:

“Traveling to Guatemala as part of the inaugural Guatemala Rule of Law Trip was a privilege. As a law student committed to achieving social justice through the law, I was inspired by these lawyers doing human rights work in Guatemala. We were exposed to lawyers fighting governmental decisions that destroyed the Guatemalan ecosystem, lawyers who work in public interest legal clinics, and lawyers fighting corruption and violence at the highest level. Furthermore we were able to engage advocates and others on issues of the highest importance for human rights, women's rights, and indigenous rights. All in all, it was an amazing trip that exposed us to how a different country uses the law to advance social justice.”

-Sebastian Sanchez '12

“Going on the Guatemala Rule of Law trip opened up my eyes to how much my legal education can help those in most desperate need of legal assistance.”

- Jennifer Vasquez, '13

“The trip to Guatemala was definitely an experience like nothing I have ever done before. My favorite part of the trip was when we visited a legal clinic and spoke to the Guatemalan law students about the cases they face on a daily bases. When they told me about specific incidences I could not help but relate my experiences with the work I’ve done in the U.S. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

- Jessica Zamora '13

“Participating in the Guatemala Rule of Law program has been the most valuable experience of my law school career. I was most impacted by our meeting with the clinical law students from Rafael Landivar University’s rural Legal Action Office. Before this experience, I had never met fellow law students from a foreign country who shared the same desire to provide pro bono legal representation to those in need. It was comforting to learn that we were all motivated by the desire to help others. The entire experience put my legal career in perspective and confirmed my commitment to public interest.”

- Santos Flores ‘12

Much work that lays ahead in order to support the particular litigation and advocacy projects that have been identified by Seton Hall Law’s partner organizations in Guatemala. Students are working on legal research and a memo to address human rights violations and potential remedies for the Guatemalan refugees that were repatriated after the armed conflict.