About Our Guest
Deena Hurwitz is director of the Human Rights Program and the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law. From 2000-03, she was the Robert M. Cover/Allard K. Lowenstein Fellow in International Human Rights with the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School. While at Yale she co-supervised the law school’s human rights clinic, coordinated events sponsored by the Schell Center, and taught International Human Rights at Yale College.
Before entering academia, Hurwitz served as a legal counselor with the Washington Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. She spent 1997-99 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she was director of the International Human Rights Law Group’s Bosnia program for 14 months. Before joining the Law Group, Hurwitz served as an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) liaison officer to the Human Rights Coordination Centre of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 1997, Hurwitz worked in Ramallah (Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territory) with the Centre for International Human Rights Enforcement, as executive administrator for a project involving human rights enforcement under a European Union-Israel trade agreement. She has also been a consultant with the Women’s Division of Human Rights Watch, investigating violations of women’s rights under Morocco’s Family Code.
Before attending law school at Northeastern University, she worked more than 10 years for the California-based Resource Center for Nonviolence, where she was involved in capacity building and training with nongovernmental organizations in the United States and the Middle East. Between 1981 and 1993, she led regular delegations of U.S. citizens on study tours of the Middle East, and spent a sabbatical year (1989-90) in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Hurwitz has edited Walking the Red Line, Israelis in Search of Justice for Palestine, and authored “Lawyering for Justice and the Inevitability of International Human Rights Clinics” (Yale J. Int’l L. , 2003). More recently, she has served as a consultant with Global Rights in Afghanistan, and with the Center for Justice and Accountability in Lebanon.
Jan Paynter: Hello. I’m Jan Paynter and I want to welcome you once again to our program Politics Matters. We are so pleased to welcome as our guest today Professor Deena Hurwitz from the University of Virginia School of Law to discuss the vital importance of human rights advocacy. Welcome, Professor Hurwitz.
Deena Hurwitz: Thank you.
Jan Paynter: Deena Hurwitz is Professor General Faculty at the University of Virginia Law School and Founding Director of the Human Rights Program and International Human Rights Law Clinic.
She received her JD from Northeastern University School of Law in 1996 and her BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1980. Her interests include the Palestinian Arab Israeli conflict, gender based violence and Islam in human rights among many other things. She has a comprehensive and impressive background in the Middle East. In the years from 1980 to 1993 Professor Hurwitz was on staff of the California based Resource Center for Non-Violence where she was involved in capacity building and training and grassroots public education with NGO organizations in both the United States and in the Middle East. During that time she led almost yearly study delegations to the Middle East which focused on the Israeli Occupation and on politics in the region. She worked with New Jewish Agenda, one of the forerunners of J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace and served as National Co-Chair of the Middle East Task Force for a four year period. She also represented the International Jewish Peace Union at the UN NGO Symposium focused on the question of Palestine. Professor Hurwitz spent two extended periods in Palestine. The first was during the first Gulf War in 1989 to 1990 where she resided in East Jerusalem serving as Director of Middle East Witness. The second occasion was in 1997 when she served and worked in Ramallah for six months with the Center for International Human Rights Enforcement which monitors and promotes compliance with human rights provisions involving regional trade agreements with Europe. Professor Hurwitz’s Human Rights Clinic has partnered with various organizations over the years including Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Human Rights Watch and the Solidarity Center. Deena Hurwitz has published numerous articles and edited two books, Walking the Red Line: Israelis in Search of Justice for Palestine which is a collection of essays by Israeli Peace and Justice activists. She co-edited International Human Rights Advocacy Law Stories together with Margaret L. Satterthwaite and her husband Doug Ford and contributed there a chapter entitled “Universal Jurisdiction and the Dilemma of International Criminal Justice: The Sabra and Shatila Case in Belgium”. She is currently on leave from UVA researching Islamic Family Law and Jurisprudence, Women’s Rights and Inheritance in an interdisciplinary project with a colleague in the Politics Department at UVA which is supported with grants from UVA’s International Programs. For two weeks in February they conducted interviews and focus groups in Hebron and Ramallah. Thank you so much, Deena, for being with us today.
Deena Hurwitz: Thank you for the invitation and for your interest. And please call me Deena.
Jan Paynter: Oh, okay. Thank you. Deena, before we begin looking at human rights law, how it is taught, its vision, goals and objectives as well as the inherent challenges in the world at large, share with us if you would a little about your background and how you came to your strong interest and commitment to this specific area of the law.
Deena Hurwitz: Well, I’ll tell you that when I was in college and just after college I became involved with the Resource Center for Non-Violence and became interested in the place where theory and practice meet and we would do a lot of work with non-violence practitioners as well as their—the bases so Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and also some of the Middle Eastern non-violent practitioners like someone named Mubarak Awad who was very instrumental among others in the first Palestinian intifada in discussing non-violence in that uprising. The first time I went to the Middle East was in 1980 and as a Jew who had never before that had a particularly religious or strong personal connection with Israel I had an ethnic relationship with my Judaism and I had a social relationship with Israel but no strong ties let’s say to the Middle East. Just witnessing the dynamics within Israel, within the occupied territories including the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and visiting other neighboring countries. So we went that first trip in 1980 to Egypt and to Lebanon. That was before the Israeli invasion, before the PLO left Lebanon. It was a very eye opening experience and being there as a person interested in non-violence, as a practitioner, meeting others, Palestinians and Israelis, who were also interested in the same approaches to social change was very important to me and seeing the kinds of policies and actions that Israel was taking with respect to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with respect to what they called Judea and Samaria, others call Palestine or the occupied territories, in the name of Judaism as a—using the protection of Jews as an excuse made me feel I had to become more aware, more knowledgeable and more involved. So that goes back to 1980 and from that point I did become more involved with Middle Eastern politics, Israeli-Palestinian mostly and focusing on the United States’ involvement and relationship with Israel and with the Palestinians and Arabs. And learning more about the law and human rights eventually led me to law school and to teaching human rights. So there you have it.
Jan Paynter: It is fascinating. There’s so much going on with human rights right now. For example, one of the things I wanted to just touch on briefly today in little bullets, when I looked at the papers from The Daily Progress to The Post and The New York Times, everywhere you look speaks to this issue of human rights and domestically The Progress notes that Michael McAllister, a gentleman is freed from jail after 29 years in prison for an attempted rape that he did not commit and his 81 year old woman—mother was delighted to be able to live to see him freed. The New York Times today talks about migrants desperate to escape Myanmar, abandoned at sea and left to starve. Between 6,000 and 20,000 migrants at sea have created a crisis in the region and they’re speaking about being hungry, wanting to be helped and again the paper notes that you have countries pointing fingers at one another and declining to take responsibility. From The Post, Israel toughens its stance toward African refugees telling them they must leave or face prison. And of course leaving Israel means certain death for a lot of them at the hands of the Islamic state militants in Libya. Everywhere you look it seems to me human rights are at the forefront and as we become increasingly global our eyes are on these issues all the time and I would think it engenders a tremendous sense of empathy. Let’s talk first Deena about what is specifically meant by the term human rights lawyering.
Deena Hurwitz: Human rights lawyering goes from that instrumentality of the law and looks at what is the role of a citizen, what’s the role of a lawyer. Human rights lawyering is different from let’s say—well, traditional conventional lawyering because it doesn’t only take place in a courtroom or a legislature. We sometimes say that human rights lawyering can be—sometimes it doesn’t look like lawyering at all because it can be community organizing, it can be public relations. One of the stock and trades of human rights is the naming and shaming of states. So that’s report writing. It’s collecting testimony and report writing. You don’t have to be a lawyer to do that, right? But that is human rights lawyering because it takes the standards and it holds the standards out and looks at what states are doing and what they’re not doing and how people are impacted and harmed by their action—by the state’s actions.
Jan Paynter: In reading your writing it becomes increasingly clear from what you’ve said and others have said that to be a human rights lawyer is to be an anthropologist, a sociologist, in some ways a psychologist, an historian and I would think that would be fascinating for young students coming into the law with high ideals to delve into this. I found it really fascinating that the state or other entities which are responsible to the rights holders are referred to as duty bearers because indeed it is the duty of the state to protect and enforce laws to make sure that people aren’t disenfranchised. So do—is there a difficulty though in becoming too political, too politicized as a human rights lawyer advocate? When does politicization cross the line for people and how do you teach them about avoiding that pitfall?
Deena Hurwitz: Well, let me answer the first point that you made about being—states being duty bearers. In this way it’s very important with human rights I think to remember that states are both violators of human rights and at the same time they hold the obligation to respect, protect, fulfill the rights of their citizens and people within their borders and also to provide remedies and redress for those violations. So we talk about state accountability or due diligence when we talk about who’s responsible and how can we change the situation. There has to be some way to address/redress violations of human rights. Now the question you asked about the politicization of say human rights lawyering. I think it’s important to think about the law. As I said earlier, the law is merely instrumental. It’s what we do with the law that makes the difference. So the question of what is political, what is politicized is a slippery slope. So if—would we call, for example, Thurgood Marshal who took on a very unpopular case, Brown v. Board of Education, an activist? Perhaps we would. He was politicized. But he took a very important issue and put it forward before the courts and asked the—our judiciary to take a look at what the laws were and how the actions of state actors–the states, the federal government and individuals as well because the state has responsibility for what third parties do, citizens, the acts of citizens. You can call that kind of lawyering impact litigation or you can call it political activism. Many people will raise the term political activism when they don’t agree with the way that it’s approached.
Jan Paynter: Yeah, it becomes pejorative, yes.
Deena Hurwitz: It becomes pejorative. But I think—what I’m trying to say also is that the law—the law has to be used for the pursuit of justice. Otherwise it’s—citizens allow government to function as it will.
Jan Paynter: Everyone has a point of view and so a point of view isn’t necessarily a disqualifying factor. I think the law and laws imply specific points of view. One of the things I know you’re deeply committed to and you reference this in your work in various places is the internationalized moral compass. How do we create that? As I referenced earlier when we were looking at the news items, we listen to the news from at home and abroad every day. We see having a moral compass is an essential element in preserving our humanity and increasing the chances for world peace. Is it feasible do you think to broaden our sense of human rights and to bring many nations into this—to this idea? Is that an idealistic goal and what are some of the ways perhaps that human rights advocacy and lawyering can help engender and encourage countries and peoples to become involved in this? It’s a big question but something I’ve just been thinking about in reading your work.
Deena Hurwitz: It’s very important. We think about moral compass. We think about having a sense of values and standards by which we live our personal lives and I think that it’s—it’s also important to think about states and institutions as functioning with a moral compass. We call that perhaps values or principles, ethical standards and sometimes those standards and values get compromised for political expediency or financial expediency but it’s very important for us to be aware of our footprint in the world—our— I’m speaking about being an American for example or even I would say as a Jew also, we’re talking about the Middle East. When—and this is where I started, as I said, when Israel speaks in the name of Jews, many of us say, ‘Not in my name. That’s not—you’re speaking for me,’ and it’s important for me then to speak out and to offer an analysis of what I see is wrong and perhaps hopefully an alternative policy or strategy. It’s very, very difficult for us in the 21st century, anybody to think of our lives as being constrained and cabined within the borders of a country or a town or a state. Just look at the problem of all the refugees. You mentioned the refugees fleeing out of Burma, Myanmar. We’ve been reading about and hearing about the refugees from Syria for months and months and I was reading about recently the tensions in Europe over countries that feel they don’t have an obligation to take in refugees who are fleeing war torn conflict or economic crises whereas other states are saying, ‘Well, we can’t bear the burden of people just because we are the first place they come across a sea.’ So you see that it becomes—it is a much more global—everything is much more global. The United States is involved in—it’s also an economic issue. It’s interesting. I read this morning in an email list serve about there being a demonstration on the border—our border with Mexico over the manufacture and operation of—by an Israeli corporation called Elbit of a surveillance tower on U.S. border. So the United States has commissioned the building and maintenance and operation of this surveillance on our border and at the same time the—Israel has bought for example bulldozers from the United States corporation Caterpillar. Right. You spoke about that in another program I remember. And so it’s—those are global ties and there’s a strong movement to say—to call on corporations as well as states to be accountable for the impact of their policies and their decisions. It’s a very important question we should be asking and we should be looking at.
Jan Paynter: It is an important question and you reference my conversation with Seth Morrison of Jewish Voice for Peace, the relative of your organizations. And he talked about the boycott divestment and sanctions movement and how puzzled he was at the fact that there was so much push back from universities, from Israel about this when in fact it’s a logical thing to do. It goes back to Civil Rights history to the ‘60s, Martin Luther King. We’ve always used that as a non-violent tool to achieve humane results and as you mentioned earlier—implied earlier, Israel has a long tradition of questioning what’s going on and as you say to—not to be in our name but to really strive for what is right and not looking for a political out which is to perhaps as we talked about before the program fall back on as sort of sense of victimhood when it doesn’t suit a nation. We certainly saw that with—I think during the Bush Administration after 9/11. We look at Rendition and various things that are going on now that are excused and rationalized which are tremendous human rights abuses. So it’s all around us.
Deena Hurwitz: Well, just thinking about boycotts as a strategy for social change. I was in college during the Anti-Apartheid Movement and I remember there being a big debate. It wasn’t a simple, ‘Oh, yes, of course we should all be boycotting and divesting from South Africa.’ It was a process and it was a process of activism, citizen involvement, just exactly what this program is meant to talk about and to reveal. We have to remember that it’s a process, it’s a struggle. Governments don’t change because they want to. They change because they have to and because citizens take responsibility for being citizens. That’s what the role of a citizen is.
Jan Paynter: Yeah and universities are struggling financially so if you have a donor attached to one of these organizations or companies rather that are say Caterpillar another one, it’s a little difficult to turn around and say, ‘Yes, we’ll boycott this company,’ because it goes against the interest of survival.
Deena Hurwitz: And the point is that the debate is absolutely imperative, the transparency is so important and questioning the policies of government, of institutions, the decisions of a university for example. It’s very important if you are a member of that community, if you’re a member, if you’re a student in a university for example. And I think that’s—that happens on all sorts of levels. It happens here at the University of Virginia. For example it’s happening around the issue of sexual assault and sexual violence. And it’s very important that there be transparency and there by active participation of the people who are affected and are involved in the process.
Jan Paynter: It’s very important and I think although it was unfortunate in terms of what we all know happened with Rolling Stone, nonetheless we also know that there is an ongoing problem always actually with universities and sexual assault, particularly when you mix alcohol so I think it’s healthy that we’re having this debate and really thinking about this. Deena, I think we’re going to break right now and we will come back and we’re so pleased to have you come back and join us for Part 2 of our conversation.
Deena Hurwitz: Thank you very much for the invitation. I enjoyed it.
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