When is it time to go to court and when is it better to opt for a strong advocacy strategy in order to successfully defend human rights and facilitate a change in society and in people’s way of thinking? How can advocacy and strategic litigation be combined in the most effective way?
These were some of the questions at the heart of the passionate and inspiring debates among participants at this year’s edition of the Open Society Justice Initiative’s summer school on Strategic Human Rights Litigation.
Who took part in the programme?
29 lawyers and human rights advocates from just as many different nations and jurisdictions gathered at the Hertie School for an intensive five-day training with the Open Society Justice Initiative's leading advocacy and campaigning experts and renowned litigators.
The Hertie School's Executive Education team was honoured to host this inspiring delegation of human rights defenders, whose respective fields cover a wide range of battlegrounds – from LGBTQI+ rights to environmental issues and children's rights, as well as indigenous rights, gender-based violence and the fight for inclusion of people with disabilities.
What did participants learn?
The dual focus on strategic litigation and advocacy was welcomed by participants. Besides deepening their knowledge of litigation and advocacy strategies and tools, participants had the opportunity to choose elective seminars on specific areas of application such as "Strategic Lawyering for Migrant Workers", "Open Source Investigation, Cyber Investigations and Digital Evidence", "Taking Witness Statements" or "Building Complex Cases" amongst others.
Participants also contributed to the training experience by presenting cases from their own professional life to the group. As Chidi Odinkalu, Senior Legal Officer at Open Society Justice Initiative, explained, these stimulating exchanges are at the heart of the programme:
"Participants have already started connecting not only on issues but also on experiences. People have come together from different legal systems and different regions of the world to discuss strategic litigation. It allows everybody not only to refresh his or her mind about the work but also gives them a lot of ideas on how to collaborate on their work in the future."
In view of the new Centre for Fundamental Rights which is soon to open at the Hertie School, the school strongly supports the Open Society Justice Initiative's mandate to provide international human rights defenders with a platform to create a network among practitioners and scholars around the globe in the field of human rights.
To mark the occasion of the summer school, Başak Çali, founding Director of the Center for Fundamental Rights and Professor of International Law at the Hertie School, hosted a panel discussion on the future of human rights in strategic litigation. Together with James A. Goldston, Executive Director of the Open Society Justice Initiative and Wolfgang Kaleck, Founder and Secretary General of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Çali reflected on current and future challenges in the field of human rights and discussed the strengths and pitfalls of strategic litigation as an approach to promoting social justice.
Despite being at the beginning of the summer holidays, the event attracted a large group of eager participants who joined the open discussion and had fruitful dialogues with the experts on stage. The evening thus extended the vibrant and open spirit of the daily seminar sessions. Reflecting about Berlin as a setting for the summer school, Ibrahima Kane, Advocacy Director of the Open Society Foundations Africa Regional Office stressed:
"The German context is important at a time when societies are closing down in different parts of the world. Germany still is a liberal society, open and democratic, and welcomes the ideas we propagate in this programme. So I find this quite inspiring".
After that, a cheerful closing dinner allowed everybody to leave these pressing issues for just a moment and to dedicate themselves to the culinary pleasures of Berlin and enjoy the city in full summer swing.
The last day of the seminar in what proved to be a very informative and memorable summer school, focused on the application of the newly-acquired skills. It was opened by Betsy Apple, Advocacy Director and Division Director of Rule of Law at Open Society Justice Initiative, and Başak Çali, who joined forces in a session on "Implementation of judgements advocacy".
Waikwa Wanyoike, Director of Litigation at the Open Society Justice Initiative, then closed the training by encouraging everybody to reflect on how to put the principles discussed over the preceding few days into practice.
Before everybody had to say goodbye to what felt more like a group of friends than a seminar group, Juliana Vengoechea, Director of the Summer School, introduced the group to a very special guest. In a captivating closing lecture, César Rodriguez-Garavito, co-founder of and Senior Researcher at the Center for Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia), encouraged his audience to include successful approaches from other fields such as journalism, sciences of the mind and systems thinking into their own strategy to defend and foster human rights around the world.
Meet some of our Open Society Justice Initiative Fellows
Human rights practitioners and world-changers from 23 different countries joined a week-long programme on strategic litigation and advocacy, media, and the ethical problems that arise in human rights cases. They exchanged their experiences and strategies to promote more peaceful and inclusive societies in their home countries.
Miroslava Ivanovic (Montenegro) has been active in the disability movement since 2007 and has initiated 10 court proceedings for protection from disability-based discrimination.
Tashwill Esterhuizen (South Africa) is a lawyer and Head of the LGBTI and Sex Workers Rights Programme at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).
Anabel Papa (Argentina) works as Legal Advisor to a counselor in the Magistrates' Council of Buenos Aires City, a public institution which is in charge of the judicial politics and judicial power of Buenos Aires.
Álvaro Masquez Salvador (Peru) is a Peruvian lawyer and researcher specialising in human rights and bodies of work on indigenous peoples, Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER), collective rights, criminalisation of social protest and rule of law.
The Open Society Foundations (OSF) conduct in-depth research into thematic and geographically-specific areas of work to better inform democratic change. As part of this analysis, The Open Society Foundations identify the individuals and partner organisations best suited to creating a positive impact in society as well as the tools to do so. These tools include grant making, advocacy, litigation, educational initiatives, publications and conferences.
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