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
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
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. …