Legal Studies That Cross Borders, and Justice Systems ; Diversity of Nationality, Language and Culture Is Vital for Honors Program

By Guttenplan, Dd | International Herald Tribune, April 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

Legal Studies That Cross Borders, and Justice Systems ; Diversity of Nationality, Language and Culture Is Vital for Honors Program


Guttenplan, Dd, International Herald Tribune


Encounters across cultures are among the main reasons students attend Georgetown's Center for Transnational Legal Studies, an honors program that draws law students from 15 countries.

"Everyone has the right to nationality."

Kimberly Karseboom's presentation on citizenship rights last Monday began with a review of the relevant legislation. Ms. Karseboom, a third-year law student at Georgetown University in Washington, then summarized a 2005 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against the government of the Dominican Republic, which had refused to issue passports to two girls who had been born in the country but had Haitian parents. Even after the court ruled against it, a discouraged-sounding Ms. Karseboom told the class, the Dominican Republic had refused to comply.

"That happens frequently in the Inter-American system of human rights," said Francisco Ibarra Palafox, head of the Institute for Legal Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the class teacher. "Decisions can take many years to produce effects. But don't forget, at the end of the day, moral sanctions are very important."

Ms. Karseboom was not convinced. "What can be done to enforce this ruling if the Dominican Republic don't really care?" she said. "I would never bring a case in this court -- ever."

Up until this point, the discussion, which took place in a classroom just off Chancery Lane in the heart of London's legal district, had remained relatively abstract. Then another student spoke up, and the dispute suddenly came alive.

"I was born in Jerusalem," said Nardine Jildeh, a recent graduate of Al-Quds University in that city. "I have an Israeli travel document. I also have a Jordanian travel document. It looks like a passport, but I don't have the right to live in Jordan. So I'm basically stateless."

Such encounters across cultures are among the main reasons students come here to the Center for Transnational Legal Studies, a unique honors program that this semester draws 60 students from 15 countries to classes taught by legal scholars from Australia, Canada, Israel, Italy, Mexico and the United States. Set up in 2008 and administered by Georgetown, the center's 12 founding partners include the Free University of Berlin, the University of Fribourg, Hebrew University, King's College London, the National University of Singapore, the University of Sao Paulo and the University of Toronto. But another dozen universities in Chile, China, Colombia, India, New Zealand, Russia and South Korea regularly send students.

Naomi Mezey, the center's academic co-director, explained that although Georgetown had a spacious campus in Washington, the decision to locate the center outside the United States had been deliberate -- and set the program apart from other law schools, like that of the University of Pennsylvania, which has a clinic in transnational law, a growing field that studies the way laws apply to individuals, corporations and governments across national boundaries.

The center was the brainchild of Alexander Aleinikoff, formerly dean of the Georgetown law school who resigned to become United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. "There are 15 different legal systems in the room, starting from 15 different assumptions," said Scott Foster, the center's executive director.

Ms. Mezey, who teaches courses on law and culture at Georgetown, said, "Nobody is on their home turf here. …

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