Thursday, May 15, 2014
Co-editor Lauren Bartlett writes with an update on the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project and a plea for pro bono assistance on a unique human rights housing project this summer.
For the past few years I have directed the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law. The Project aims to normalize human rights at the local level by providing legal aid attorneys and other public interest advocates in the U.S. with tools, resources, and technical assistance to integrate human rights into their everyday work. The Project began with two Project Partners, Maryland Legal Aid and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and later expanded to work with legal aid organizations and other public interest advocates across the U.S. The Project now has a Handbook that has been used by over 1,000 U.S. attorneys and a listserv that is part of the Bringing Human Rights Home Lawyers’ Network. After much training, advice and assistance, legal aid attorneys have begun comfortably using human rights arguments in local courts and before local policy makers. Others have used human rights in community education and for the first time ever, legal aid attorneys have brought complaints to the U.N. and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
As part of the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project, Maryland Legal Aid has developed a housing rights project to systematically study and document rent court practices across the state with an interesting human rights angle. Poor tenants facing eviction in rent court in Maryland have long faced egregious problems regarding equal recognition before the law. Too many tenants with a proper defense go unheard and face immediate homelessness, leading to costlier outcomes for both the tenants and the State of Maryland. Maryland Legal Aid has developed a survey tool to collect and analyze almost 1400 randomly selected rent court cases from 2012. A report will then be compiled using the human rights framework and human rights arguments, to be presented to the Maryland judiciary later this year. Their hope is that the data, along with strong human rights arguments to reframe and clarify this as a right to housing issue, will push the judiciary to make much needed changes in rent court systems and processes. Maryland is lucky to have judges like Catherine Serrette, who actively support the use of human rights arguments in Maryland.
Law student volunteers and interns, as well as the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, have been involved with this project already. This summer Maryland Legal Aid is seeking additional assistance with this human rights project. Interested law students and lawyers willing to volunteer at least 20 hours+, especially before July 2014, can contact me at [email protected] or (202) 895-4556.