Gates Public Service Law Speaker Series
Karen J. Hanrahan '00
Vice President for International Peace and Stability at MPRI, an L-3 Communications company
November 17, 2008
Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for being here. This is
the Gates Public Service Law Speaker Series, and we are always so happy
to be able to bring into the community people who can share their
experiences about public interest, public service work and experiences
in the law and ways that they are helping to make our world a better
place with their law degrees.
So, today, we're very fortunate to have someone who is a graduate of
this law school, Karen Hanrahan. And her focus today is really going to
be about human rights fieldwork. But, let me back up and say a little
bit about her, and then I'm going to turn the floor over.
could you not say we're in troubled times? Well, OK, so we're in
troubled times, and some of our troubles are all around the world. And
the need for human rights advocacy, the need for strengthening of rule
of law - and she'll say more about her perspective on that, I think -
is so critical.
And we are now, in this country, in a time of
changing leadership, and what is that going to mean to the work that is
happening in many unstable environments and war-torn environments? And
our speaker has lived and worked in Iraq and in Afghanistan, as well as
many other places, and has perspective about what is happening in those
places now and what we could hope for in the future.
recommended to us by Professor Anita Ramasastry, who, as you all know,
is always working internationally and doing good work around corporate
responsibility and human rights issues. So, she comes well-recommended.
currently the vice president of international peace and stability at L3
and dealing with corporate strategy planning and expansion efforts in
the areas of post-conflict stability and reconstruction.
that position, which she's had for the past two years, she'd worked
with the US Department of State as an Iraq rule-of-law coordinator, as
a senior rule-of-law coordinator in Baghdad. She's worked with the US
Agency for International Development as an advisor on human rights and
transitional justice. She's worked with Amnesty International, focusing
on advocacy in Middle East and North Africa.
Before law school,
she was still engaged in international issues, particularly looking at
conflict resolution, and then came to law school to add a law degree to
her list of [laughs] degrees and abilities to work and advocate with a
wider range of tools.
In addition to her law degree here, she has
a degree from the American University School of International Service.
She's studied in both Morocco and Australia as well and gotten degrees
and certificates, speaks Arabic and has proficiency in French - and
probably something else too. [laughs] At least English, right?
we're just really honored and excited that she can share her
experiences with us and have a little time for dialog with us, as I
know, looking around the room, how many of you are very concerned about
rule of law and human rights. So, this is a great opportunity.
So, please join me in welcoming Karen Hanrahan.
Am I on? Yes, I am on.
Hello, everyone. Thanks for having me here today. The first thing I'm
going to do is apologize. I think, I'm going against an important
stricture of public speaking by apologizing. And that's because,
actually, I have written some things down here, and although I'm not
going to read it word for word, it's going to help me stick to the time
limit and stop me from sort of wandering off into interesting stories
that I find interesting. Given the topic, I don't know if you will.
I'm honored to be invited back to the law school to speak with you
about public service, and being a human rights lawyer in particular. I
was originally asked to speak for about 40 minutes, but I don't think
either of us could stand that long of me speaking, so I'm going to try
to stick to about 20 to 30 minutes and use most of the rest of the time
for questions. I do want to also say, feel free to raise your hand and
ask a question at any time during the middle of the talk.
next half-hour, I hope to broaden your perspectives a little bit on our
noble profession, move away from some of the formality of the
courtrooms, from the pristine, first-world law order, and into some of
the more sort of dusty, dangerous areas of human rights law practice.
not going to be academic. I'm not going to go into the sort of fine
lines of human rights laws and issues, or really even talk about any
groundbreaking ideas. But, I'm going to talk about something that's
important to me, which is the practice of human rights law in the
field. And I think that's one of the biggest gaps in terms of where the
human rights movement is today. I think, one of the biggest needs is in
the area of practice.
So, as background, you've heard my
background, so I won't repeat any of that. Although, my work in
Afghanistan was with the United Nations, so I've had experience with a
wide range of agencies - Department of State, USAID, the UN, a few
NGOs, including Amnesty International, Search for Common Ground, and
now a private company. And I did practice law for a few years at White
and Case, so a big, corporate law firm. That helped me pay off a lot of
my school loans, and learn a lot of important things as well.
again, I'll try to spend the next half-hour talking about, trying to
sort of bring you into the blindingly beige deserts of Afghanistan and
Let me see... I'm sorry.
Again, I'm going to use the
first-person singular a lot. Not because I want to make this an
autobiography, but because I've found that the practice of human rights
law is very personal. It's an intensely personal experience, and I
think it's one of the most up-close and personal of the legal
In my view, the best way to convey what I believe
are the challenges and rewards of the practice of human rights law is
to share with you my experiences, both the good ones and the bad ones.
going to share a few quick points right now on the human rights
movement and conflict, so please bear with me for a minute. Then I'll
move on to, again, more of some of the things that I've done.
think, the human rights movement has made a lot of progress in the last
century, but we have a long way to go. And I think that we need more
and better human rights lawyers to advance the movement.
the past century has seen a record of abuses unsurpassed in recorded
history. Despite the fact that human rights laws and institutions have
flourished over the past century, abuses and suffering abound - so,
crimes against humanity, torture, all sorts of repression, desperate
poverty. They reflect a major gap - what I call the human rights gap -
between international law and legal rhetoric, and the experience of
millions of people around the world who are currently suffering human
rights abuses and atrocities.
Because widespread human rights
abuse and violations of the rule of law are a major cause of violent
conflict, which in turn contributes to more atrocities and human rights
abuses, I think it's essential that we make progress in these areas, in
bridging this human rights gap, if we're ever going to make progress
towards longer-term peace and stability.
I think, if we're going
to make progress, again, we need to improve the world's ability to
realize, enforce, and protect human rights. We must improve the process
by which individuals can protect themselves and seek redress in systems
for abuses that they face.
And this is where the promotion of the
rule of law comes in. It's a critical link between human rights laws
and the reality of their implementation. It's where protection of
humans comes into play.
I think, the human rights gap is the
widest - this is probably pretty obvious - in violent, unstable, and
failed states. So, we have Iraq, Afghanistan, the Congo, Somalia,
Sudan, Haiti, and the list goes on. These unstable states are violent
and dangerous, making human rights protection extremely challenging -
After years of working in unstable
environments, I continue to be shocked at what people are willing to do
to each other, and even more so at how easy it is to get away with it.
So, to say the least, we have a lot of work to do.
And moving on
to my own experiences, I have been involved in human rights work for
about a decade, from my epiphany in the midst of the violence of the
Palestinian Intifada to, more recently, being the senior rule-of-law
director in Baghdad Palestinian Intifada - I was in Iraq for two years
and came back and worked in the secretary's office for Iraq at the
State Department in Washington, DC.
But I think, in many ways, my
year in Afghanistan perhaps best captures what I believe the practice
of human rights law is all about, and I think it paints a stark picture
of the difference that human rights lawyers can make. So, I'll go into
a little bit more detail of that.
My service in Afghanistan did
not begin on a whim, and it wasn't exactly what I imagined when I sat
here at the law school taking notes on torts and secured transactions.
said that, the seeds of the human rights lawyer that I would become
were planted before I even thought of going to law school. It was a
trip to the West Bank in Gaza in my early 20s that fundamentally
changed how I viewed the world. I won't go into the details too much,
but suffice it to say it was the first time I actually saw violence and
So I saw, very up-close, nonviolent protests
turn deadly. I saw collective punishment. I saw daily humiliation. I
saw very deeply embedded anger and fear on the faces of both sides of
the conflict. And I saw thousands of malnourished children. So, the
full spectrum. For me, it's a full spectrum, human rights, from
economic all the way to civil and political. And that's an area that
touches every single one of those.
I walked away from this
experience knowing for sure that I wanted to do human rights work, and
in particular that I wanted to be a human rights lawyer.
there's actually, also, another force that shaped my desire to be a
human rights lawyer, and that is that I had a mentor. In fact, it was a
law professor here, who became both my mentor and my friend. Her name
was Joan Fitzpatrick.
I don't think any of you know her.
Professor Fitzpatrick was an extraordinary scholar and teacher, who
took me under her wing while I was here and taught me not only
substantive human rights and international criminal law, but also how
to be a good lawyer, how to be a good human rights lawyer, in this sort
of underdeveloped, hard-to-enforce body of the law.
So, many of
you know, Joan Fitzpatrick died in the spring of 2003, while I was in
Afghanistan, and she probably had more impact on my professional
development than anyone before and anyone since. Her intense commitment
to human rights and refugees helped to actually change the face of the
international legal order around these issues.
Joan and I spoke
regularly while we were in Afghanistan, and she spent a lot of time
trying to talk me down off the ledge - many conversations convincing me
that I was actually doing something positive and that it made a
So, after law school, again, I went and I practiced
law at White and Case. And that was a long three years where, again, I
learned a lot, but probably spent the last year looking for a human
rights position in the field, knowing, again, for sure, that I wanted
to go work in the field.
So, in 2002, I accepted a post in
Afghanistan with the United Nations, western Afghanistan. It was with
the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. But, I did primarily sort of
bread-and-butter human rights work; also dealt with a lot of displaced
people, but more IDPs, internally displaced people.
As you can
imagine, although I approached these new responsibilities with
enthusiasm, I also recognized that it was not without its hardship. So,
my salary dropped to about a quarter of what it was at the law firm. I
moved from a house in suburban Washington, a four-bedroom colonial
house, to a single room in a UN guest house with sporadic water, toxic
kerosene heaters in the winter, and really bad food, actually. So, it
was quite a switch, and I was more than happy to do it. I was extremely
And after arriving in Afghanistan, I quickly found out
that the Afghan people are an amazing, beautiful... Afghanistan is an
amazing, beautiful country with very strong, independent people who've
learned to function and survive over 30 years of conflict.
Has anyone here been to Afghanistan? OK. Then I can say anything I want about it. [laughs]
a very proud people, living within a complex web of cultural and
religious traditions and norms. And they are entitled to be treated
with dignity and respect, which is obvious.
That said, the
country was rife with human rights issues. So, there was violence and
torture. There were child brides. There were abused women. There was no
predictable safety or security for the people. There was no formal
legal system or laws. People tended to turn to their informal local
systems - sometimes very tribal, sometimes sort of semi-formalized in
what they call Jurgas, often drawing upon Sharia law.
importantly, most Afghan people were also destitute. At the time, their
poverty level and living conditions were extremely poor.
also not a country where you could really walk in with a copy of the
Convention on Civil and Political Rights and say, "OK, people, let's
get moving." Instead, in order to actually even make a dent in the
human rights situation and issues there, it was a very long, complex
process, figuring out what could be accomplished given the culture and
the conditions. And even more difficult, I had to figure out how to do
So, in all of this, I recognized that human rights law, like politics, is the art of the possible.
we all tried to basically eat the elephant one bite at a time. In my
case, I trained human rights NGOs, human rights trainings for Afghan
government officials, village leaders, teaching them what rights looked
like in their daily lives, which was both humorous, and frustrating,
and deeply humbling.
On a number of occasions, I found myself
standing in front of large groups of men, hardened Afghan men in
turbans. I would be standing in front of the room, basically, they were
first required to be there in order to get food assistance. And this
was an ICRC and UN requirement. So, it wasn't my charismatic teaching
style that attracted them.
I would stand in front of the room as
they stared at me, bewildered, as I tried to explain why they should
not sell their daughters to get money to feed their family. Why torture
may not be a good form of punishment. Why honor killings are wrong.
once sat in a mud house with a Mullah. Hundreds of people in his
village had recently been killed and/or maimed for revenge killings.
It's some ethnic conflict that was going on while I was there. He was
clearly very uncomfortable being in my presence, which is
understandable. He was not used to seeing women's faces.
too, was uncomfortable. I knew I was pushing a cultural boundary. I
wore a head scarf rather than a burkah. At the same time that I wanted
to respect him and his culture, I also had certain limits and was only
willing to go so far in adopting local tradition.
Also, while I
was there, I set up human rights protection systems in the IDP camps. I
conducted interventions and investigations into actual ongoing human
rights abuses and events. It was a complex process that required
persistence, a lot of patience, and a lot of understanding - and
understanding even of the people that were responsible for the abuses.
the project I probably enjoyed the most was a study on women and girls
throughout western Afghanistan. And I was basically sent to the most
remote areas of western Afghanistan, to meet with women and girls and
basically try to determine, from a rights perspective, what their
conditions were, what their life was like, and then try to determine,
from a rights perspective, what the international community might be
able to do for them, which was often mostly just getting them food, and
getting them basic requirements just to stay alive.
women shared incredible things with me. They shared things about the
challenges they faced just in surviving and in trying to take care of
their families. I met eight and nine year old child brides, and a huge
number of 12 year old pregnant girls. At that time, it was... some of
the families, the only way they had to make money was by selling their
daughters. And it was not unusual, no eyebrows were raised, it just was.
my year in Afghanistan, I learned the true complexities inherent in
advancing human rights in violent and poor environments. I saw
firsthand that poverty and destitution will almost always trump human
rights. When families are concerned only about surviving and eating one
meal a day, they might do things that offend our sense of moral
purpose, like selling their daughters to much older men for marriage.
was clear to me that a multidisciplinary solution that addresses
security, justice and well being, these solutions are key in realizing
the objectives in these environments, particularly when it comes to
So, despite these challenges, I was able to use my
legal skills every day. It was my understanding of human rights law and
legal reasoning that served as my foundation. It allowed me to focus on
implementable solutions, and helped me to boil complex concepts and
ideas down into simple actions that local people and governments could
I used the law and legal drafting skills to
convince the local government to release a group of girls being held
against their will in a government guest house for abusive purposes. I
used my understanding of refugee and human rights law as well as all of
my legal skills daily to analyze problems and come up with solutions.
I know I said I'd speak about Iraq too. And, I'm guessing some of you
might be interested in that. We're probably going to have to save more
of that for the question and answer period. I can tell you that there
was no shortage of lawyers involved in the lead up to Iraq, and in the
reconstruction in Iraq.
We had lawyers justifying the reasons for
going in. We had lawyers rewriting laws, lawyers setting up courts,
lawyers doing just about anything that you can think of. But, there was
definitely a shortage of human rights lawyers. And I think this had
consequences for our country, for principles of international rule of
law, for soldiers, and more importantly, for the Iraqi people. So,
again, I can answer more questions on Iraq, but for now, that's all I'm
going to say on Iraq.
My experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan
underscored my professional and personal commitment to the practice of
human rights law. These experiences also underscored four qualities and
requirements that I believe form the foundation for successful practice
of human rights law in almost any environment, particularly difficult
With your indulgence, let me just lay these out for
your consideration. First, I think successful human rights lawyers must
be experts across a wide range of legal regimes, laws, and practices -
both US and international. Legal expertise, I think, is the ticket to
ride. And you have to prove over and over that you know the law.
knowledge of the law alone is not sufficient. Equally important, you
have to understand the environments in which you are applying the law.
And remember that the practice of human rights law is an intensely
personal experience. You have to carefully tailor your programs, your
methodologies and your messages so that they resonate with the people
and the cultures that you're trying to shape.
Lecturing does very
little to build enduring human rights. So, you must know your audience,
and you have to know their environments. The practice of human rights
law is sort of like the legal equivalent of meatball surgery. You have
to adapt your skills to the environment that you're working in. You
have to apply both a deep knowledge as well as intellectual agility in
finding solutions and it takes all of that in order to have your
messages take root and grow.
Second, I think we need to maintain
our lofty and idealistic objectives and motivations. Your work will be
frustrating in many ways, taking two steps backward sometimes for every
step forward. In my work in both Afghanistan and Iraq, I regularly
questioned my motives, as well as those of the international community.
And I think that sort of introspection is very important, but you must
never let that introspection slide into cynicism, which is very
difficult particularly when you've viewing these things face to face on
I think, you'll get discouraged and that much is
certain. I sometimes found myself in situations knowing for sure that I
was not having the impact that I intended to have. But, also wandering
what actual impact I was having.
Hoping that I was at a minimum
not doing harm, but I figure idealism is your shield and it is our
foundation for the strength that we bring to these situations. And it
helps me to always remember and I think for you to always remember this
fundamental truth, which is you can, when you approach these
environments, you can and you will make a difference.
Third - You
have to be committed and seriously committed so there are no half
measures in the practice of human rights law. By its very definition
you will have very few friends in the environment in which you will
You will always be pushing up hill against traditions,
against personalities, against comfort zones, sometimes against the
International Community and the tendencies of countries and
multilateral organizations to not want to take action or to not be able
to take action.
And it's often again pushing up against very
profound and heartbreaking brutality. In the face of these obstacles
you must stay the course. And pick yourself up when you're knocked
down, dust yourself off, and try again.
Human Rights lawyers do
not routinely serve in Paris or London. We tend to work in Baghdad and
Kabul, Kinshasa, Lagos, and other garden spots. You'll find yourselves
living and working in austere and dismal environments, and you'll find
yourselves working and living among some of the most noble men and
women that you have ever worked with.
These are men and women who
reflect probably the best of the human species. I'm referring not to
your co-workers and the people you work with but also the communities
that you are trying to shape. These are communities that often teach
you more than they learn from you.
So, it's a world of paradox and I think you need to be unequivocally committed if you're going to succeed.
- You must be tenacious. Human Rights Improvements do not happen over
night. While those all male audiences that I taught in Afghanistan
showed up so that they could eat and so that their families could eat.
Eventually some of the messages that we conveyed began to take root and
thrive in some of their villages.
As I mentioned Human Rights
Laws is not a business for dilatants or for weekend warriors. It's a
messy, squishy area of the law filled with set backs, but through all
of these qualities through tenacity and persistence and patience you
can make a difference and you do and will make a difference.
it's measured in the advance of human rights on a community scale, on a
global scale. You're contributing to what actually is a movement and
it's a human rights movement that has made a lot of progress.
I just listen to myself and I can imagine that you're asking - if any
of you were interested in doing this in the first place, even more now
why would you do this. Why would you do this work, put yourself through
the discomfort the physical dangers, the physical or the frustrations,
professional frustrations. Some of you might be thinking why would you
want to take such a pay cut.
And I can speak with some certainty
because I have asked myself these questions, although rarely did I
actually take any of them that seriously because I have always been
Since for over a decade that I was doing what I needed to
be doing what I wanted to be doing and I feel lucky in that. I think,
it is rare that people actually identify what they're passionate about
and then actually end up doing it so I feel very fortunate in that
And again these questions again fortunately I had a mentor
who could answer a lot of these questions and basically inspired me to
serve this greater cause. Profession Joan Fitzpatrick was a walking,
breathing, living embodiment of the nobility of Human Rights Law.
Her intense commitment to human rights and refugees helped to change the face of the International Legal Order.
remember at one point when I was in Afghanistan I wrote down something
that she said. And I wrote it down because it was rare that I ever
heard her go from her very intense analytical mind set and step into
the world and language of idealism.
She said, "Karen, Human
Rights work is hard and it doesn't always work, but you just have to
keep going, you just have to keep doing it you are part of something
that is much bigger than yourself, and it is a movement that is bigger
than both of us."
But, the laws are so weak, the institutions are
so weak the people are not protected and it's up to you to figure out
how to fix that.
So, two months later Professor Fitzpatrick died,
but what she did for me and more importantly what she did for the
practice of Human Rights Law around the world will endure for many
And that's what we're all here for tonight. I think
that's for the heart and soul of Human Rights Law. I actually
congratulate all of you, each of you, on what you've already achieved
to be here. And let me just leave you with a final thought.
practice of Human Rights Law in the field is not for everyone. It can
be an incredibly dangerous experience, but it is also an incredibly
rewarding experience. And I have found it even more rewarding than
working at the policy level, working at the academic level. I've always
had the most fun and had the most reward from working in the field.
so I encourage you whether it's Human Rights Law or any other area to
spend more time doing that. So, for those of you for whom this has an
appeal the rewards and service in human rights can be immeasurably
As the US government and the International Community
become increasingly aware of the inextricable relationship between
security, economic development and human rights this field will
continue to expand in both investments and opportunities.
for all of you, and just to underscore this point in order for this
human rights movement to continue and to grow and to advance we need
desperately more and better human rights lawyers.
So, regardless where your education and practice leads you I wish you the best. Thank you.
I should have looked at the clock. I thought we were only about twenty minutes.
I was just curious what is this would be an appropriate...
If you could just repeat the question a little bit louder... Let me...
I can do it since I'm the one with the microphone. Basically, you're
asking whether you and HCR International and perhaps also National
Refugee legal regime design laws should add an economic reason in their
status analyses for asylum.
I don't necessarily think this time is better than any other time. I
think, it is a good... I think, with that issue there is immense
difficulty in implementation. Economic justice, you know the arguments
on both sides and there are a huge number, millions of people in the
world who are migrating and moving for economic reasons.
to turn it into a reason for asylum, again, we would have to have very
strict and specific conditions that differentiate some people from
others. So, I would find danger in that in ranking economic justice
issues. But, I do see your point and I think that as it is being
discussed in a lot of forums, I think it's an important issue to keep
on the agenda.
I have a question about sporadic and... [off-mic question]
For me this is a pretty clear issue. For others it may not be. I think,
you can't separate the means from the end. I think besides the fact
that that's sort of a degrading and what they're doing seems
ridiculous, there are other ways and better ways to achieve their
objectives. So, the military throughout Iraq is finding ways to do
searches and seizures without engaging in that type of activity.
And actually there are much more difficult dilemmas that human rights
lawyers and practitioners and others on the ground get involved in. I
think on that most would find it a problem, both in treatment of the
women they are auctioning off as well as how they are actually engaging
with local Iraqis.
Does that answer your question? Not really. [laughs]
-huh. Well, and that's the foundation of my answer which is that I
think the means.... You always have to consider the means. You cannot
do anything just for the sake of the end. And yeah, it's an issue
related to everything.... Just the whole fact that we went into Iraq
and let's just say for argument fact that we did it for humanitarian
reasons. Let's just say that. [laughs]
If in the process we have destroyed a country and done it in such a way
that thousands and thousands of people have died, there's a means and
an ends issue there. So, go ahead.
So, this was my second job in Iraq. The first one I had was Senior
Advisor on Human Rights, in terms of transitional justice. So, the
second job I worked for the embassy. I worked for Ambassador
Negroponte. He was the ambassador at the time. Before that there was no
real rule of law program.
There were some ad hoc efforts to work on the justice system, the set
up, some courts, a court here and there... Sorry. There Iraqi hired
tribunal to try Saddam Hussein. There were some ad hoc efforts that
were really attached to US objectives related to prosecution and regime
there wasn't a general rule of law program that address things from the
legal framework. And the judiciary and the justice system. So, what we
did was convinced Jerry Broehmer to set aside some money to start a
rule of law program. Jerry Broehmer was the head of CPA.
You mean Paul?
Paul. I'm sorry. [laughs] Sorry, I have a friend named Jerry Broehmer.
And they ended up recruiting me to basically develop an integrated US
government rule of law strategy and program, and then to oversee its
So, what it means is that the primary focus of what a program like that
should be is to work with locals, local professionals, local
stakeholders to identify what sort of problems there are, what
weaknesses there are in their systems and their legal framework, in
their ability to achieve certain ends.
whether it is law and order, an accountable government, or human
rights, fair justice, fair and equitable justice and to work with them
to figure out whether they are able to do that. And if not, what are
the gaps and how can we assist them to do that?
So, it's often
about capacity building. Training sometimes there is infrastructure
involved. I know in Iraqi courts a lot of the regional courts, this
whole system has been neglected for so long that the infrastructure had
broken down. Sometimes you had toilets overflowing into the courtroom,
which was really just a little room in a little house.
had things like a lot of the courts were not owned by the governments.
The buildings and the land was owned by private owners. So, you had a
whole system of courts that were paying rent to private landowners. I'm
barely scratching the surface here.
The one thing I want to point
out and it's a significant thing for me, but I'm not sure it will be to
you. That is, the relationship between rule of law and human rights. I
was talking with someone else about this earlier. Some people use the
terms interchangeably. Rule of law and human rights or in one sentence.
And really they are different things. They are related. They are
reinforcing, but they are different. And there are a lot of countries
and people use the rule of law to do very oppressive things.
I believe that rule of law, any activity that we do under it, whether
it is legal reform or building justice systems or training judges, it
needs to be informed by human right content. And I think that is one of
the critical pieces of a definition of rule of law that is not always
You mentioned that you started out in a firm... [off-mic question]
Well, I knew when I was going, when I went to White and Case I knew
that I was going to do human rights work. It was just a matter of time.
I think I felt a little bit of anxiety about not actually being able to
ever do it, about getting stuck in a law firm. And to be honest, it
does take a little while. It takes diligence to actually do work in the
I think it's easier now, actually. There are more opportunities. There
are more programs. There are more places on earth that are demanding
and in need of assistance. So, it was more how long was I willing to
stay at the firm before I take the step. I always knew that I was ready
but part of it, I also needed... I saved a lot of money to pay off a
lot of school loans and that was helpful for me.
-hmm. Well, I think at this point, probably the best leverage point is,
if you are in the US, it's at a policy level. So, until our policies
are informed with a commitment to human rights and justice issues, it's
harder to do stuff in the field. So, in terms of big leverage, an
ability to make the difference, I think that's probably the level.
It allows you to mobilize funding. It allows programs across the
government, across NGOs. NGOs get funded, businesses get funded. It
changes how we give money to the UN and other places. So, I think
Yes, yeah. I think that time spent being a lawyer is invaluable. And
you really learn how to be a lawyer when you are practicing law at a
firm or in legal services or maybe with the government. You get a lot
of skills and a lot of knowledge and a lot of confidence in your
ability to use the law that, now only shows in your work, but there are
people out there that really value that experience.
I remember going to Afghanistan. U&HCR liked that I had practiced
law at a big law firm. I think they would have liked the practice of
law in other fields as well. While I was working at White and Case I
did a lot of asylum cases. That was probably helpful, but overall they
like the lawyers who know to use the law.
Yeah. Oh, I'm sorry.
It was my fault. I'm Peter Bessinger. I work for the Afghan Legal.... [off-mic question]
This is a really big and important question. And I think that what you
are touching on spans the whole range of reasons for intervention. And
what I would like to think is that economic sanctions pressure, third
track diplomacy and other mechanisms could bring greater stability to
It does work in some countries. I think in others, there needs to be
some sort of intervention to protect people, for human protection. Now,
there's a whole other question of who should do that - Peace keepers,
should it be bilateral? Should it be NATO? The US? By Bilateral I mean
an individual government.
a whole other question. But, I do know that I think these military
interventions are going to be around for a while. I think that they
have been happening for decades and they are going to continue. What we
need to be better at and what they need to be better at is what happens
next. It's how they do it and then what happens next.
kind of space needs to be created for people to come in and do
humanitarian work, human rights work, poverty alleviation, protection
work? And I think that's... what role should military play in that? And
I don't know how many of you know this but the US military is getting
more and more involved in development work. And they call it stability
So, a whole manual out and they have been doing it
for years but what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan is it became clear
to some people in the government that we, as a government, were not
quite equipped to do this type of post-conflict reconstruction by
So, what you have on one side civilian agencies like
state department and USAID that are under funded, under resourced, not
enough people and cannot respond to a situation like Iraq and
Afghanistan to the same level that the military can. And that became
very evident in Iraq, in particular, in Iraq.
Then when you add
Afghanistan, although I know it was the reverse, it's even worse. So,
how do you get the voice of people, experts, development experts, human
rights experts in there to balance what the military does? I'm
answering your question in a broader way, but I do believe military
interventions will be abroad. I do think that they are necessary
sometimes for human protection.
Oh, wait, I forgot, I called on her. Thanks.
No. I understand your question. You know, there are different
directions that you can head. And I'm actually, there are probably more
than even I know at this point. But, I do know that there are a lot of
human rights NGOs. A lot of them are based in DC, but not all of them.
Some are attached to universities, some are not.
The more time you can spend doing work for them the better off that you
will be. I mean during law school, during the summers. The summer after
my first year I worked at the International Human Rights Law Group and
learned a lot about how you apply human rights law to specific
situation although I did it from DC.
also depends on what part of human rights you are interested in. There
are internships available with international organizations. You can
even do work with some companies that get funding from the US
government or the EU or other places. So, the list is quite long and
maybe I can talk with you later about more specifics.
What I do
know is that if you want to do and you keep trying and you just keep
picking up the phone and trying, you'll do it. You'll definitely do it.
Well, again, it's one of those things that you have to feel out while
you are on the ground in the situations you are in. So, in that case
that's exactly what I was doing, which was balancing those two issues.
It's very unlikely that I would go somewhere where I would end up
wearing a burkah and to be honest most would not expect it of me. They
already get that I am different and foreign and probably already
corrupted in some way.
But, working a lot in the Middle East, that's a really relevant
question. One thing that does help is an ability on the side of people
that I work with to understand that we are from the West and we are
different. But, I think, having respect - there is a line that I guess
it is different. I can imagine it would be different for everybody.
There are just certain things you just know would be offensive to
people and makes your work more difficult and it means very little to
you as a person.
wearing a shirt that shows my arms is not important to me. So, I
wouldn't do it. I can cover my head. I'm OK with that. And it's a very
symbolic thing that they appreciate. So, it takes you a long way and
costs very little, I think.
There are three more... Go ahead.
I work for a company called L-3. I'm an anomaly within the company. Two
years ago I made a decision to step away from Iraq and step away from
the public section for a while. So, I work for a company that does,
they work primarily in the realm of... the groups that I work with work
in the realm of international nation building.
The reason that I'm different is that this company primarily does
reform in the realm of security. Again, I have to say this. Not
Blackwater, they don't provide security. They don't provide armed
people. But, what they help do and this is so critical is reform
security sectors. They help train police, build capacity of police,
reform security institutions so police intelligence.
work with militaries and again, it's legal reform to help with
accountability. It's about security sector accountability. What is
legislature's role in overseeing a security sector in a new democracy?
How do you build a security force that is accountable and that
functions under the constitutional system and the rule of law?
goes back to this question of military interventions. It is about
security. It is first and foremost, people need safety and security.
Too often, we have security sectors that are responsible for most of
the abuses. And so, until you actually reform the security sector, it's
very difficult to achieve your objectives and more humanitarian...
I didn't answer your questions. What I do is I was brought on to help
round out... they do security sector reform. I was brought on to help
round that out into more of a comprehensive view of national security,
and to help this company build capabilities that affect, not just
security sector reform, but also political and governance side, the
economic growth, health and well-being side.
And so, to get into
international development, democracy and governance and do it from a
strategic, corporate management level and then help them let it trickle
down so that we can offer through the entire range from security to
For the first part of your question, I don't know if it's changed my
view on it but I do know that we need field work here in the US. Then,
I think, it's essential and we need more.... Again, whether it's
lawyers or others working in these sectors, we just need a lot more of
And I know historically law schools and business schools and others
haven't created a facilitating environment so that people can...
professionals that are really good at what they do can go and do that.
Whether it's pay, whether it's high tuition versus low pay, or other
reasons, it doesn't work.
So, I think, it's hugely essential. I have just chosen for now to do things internationally.
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