Human Rights Practicum Briefs State Department Officials in Washington, D.C.

April 4, 2018
OU Law Human Rights Practicum at the U.S. State Department

Professor Evelyn Aswad’s Human Rights Practicum class has spent the spring semester working on a Diplomacy Lab project for the U.S. Department of State. Diplomacy Lab is a State Department program that provides the opportunity for universities to help the department with pressing research needs on foreign affairs matters. The class project is focused on researching laws in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Eurasia that infringe on international law protections for freedom of expression. The trip to Washington was made possible by a grant from main campus.

The students began their visit in Washington by meeting with international human rights experts at Freedom House and Human Rights First, two of the leading NGOs in this space. During these meetings, the students discussed their research with a variety of country-specific and thematic experts to gain additional insights for their research projects. 

“The NGO meetings were extremely helpful in developing our presentations,” said 2L Kevin Cartwright. “It was difficult to brainstorm negotiation positions for the State Department to utilize when discussing international obligations with foreign countries. The NGO experts collectively had decades of experience in advocacy, and they were well-versed in the issues specific to our countries. We incorporated many of their recommendations about what levers of government would be most effective in the current geopolitical climate.”

OU Law students at Human Rights First in Washington, D.C.

Each student on the trip then briefed a variety of State Department officials from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on his or her research findings and responded to questions from the officials.

“This trip was an incredible opportunity. I never expected I would be briefing the State Department when I started law school, but having done so, I now believe these Diplomacy Lab projects are vitally important,” Cartwright said. “The United States has long partnered with colleges on scientific and technological projects, yet collaborations about human, political and national relationships are no less important. These dialogues help the United States navigate the world stage in 2018.”

Professor Aswad, Herman G. Kaiser Chair of International Law and former head of the human rights law office at the State Department, remarked: “In an interconnected world, it is increasingly important that law students be equipped to practice transnational law; that is to understand the law of other countries, to understand how they relate to international law, and to understand how foreign law and international law intersect with U.S. law. The students did a great job representing OU Law in their presentations at the State Department and in their discussions with leading human rights NGOs in D.C.” 

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