Angela Liu: Celebrating the Work of Our Volunteers

Volunteer attorney for The Advocates For Human Rights, Angela Liu, at the United Nations

Angela Liu, a Chicago-based lawyer at Dechert, is one of the many inspiring volunteers that make the work of The Advocates for Human Rights possible. While Liu is a partner in Dechert’s Trial, Investigations and Securities team, she also has an impressive pro bono practice, devoting hundreds of hours a year to helping those in need. I had the opportunity to speak with Liu earlier this month about her work as a volunteer with The Advocates, which has not only had a tremendous impact on the lives of others but also significantly impacted her own life as well.  

She shared that when volunteering for The Advocates, you might go into a project wanting to help other people, which you do, but you leave the project personally gaining much more than expected. For the past several years, Liu has participated in a number of projects for The Advocates, including a 2015 domestic violence monitoring mission to Montenegro and a 2017 United Nations Study-Advocacy Tour to Geneva.   

Liu participated in The Advocates 2015 domestic violence mission to Montenegro, where she was a part of a team that carried out fact-finding to monitor and document the Montenegrin government’s implementation of domestic violence legislation. While in Montenegro, Liu spent a week interviewing judges, doctors, mediators, police officers, and victims to better understand the current condition of domestic violence in Montenegro, all of which were used to serve as a basis for final report published in 2017. As Liu noted, The Advocates generated a “very detailed report in terms of how many people lacked the education about what domestic violence was.” She then added, “we wanted there to be more training on domestic violence with different NGOs and we wanted amendments to the criminal laws to make sure that the victims were actually protected.” One of Liu’s most memorable moments of the trip was an interview she conducted with a mediator: 

“We were just asking about the mediation process and they told us that ‘domestic violence is a style of communication between the parties and that the victim is choosing to be communicated in that way – through violence.’ And that really just struck me so horribly because he was just explaining it in the most normal way.”

During her travels to Geneva for The Advocates’ United Nations Study-Advocacy Tour, Liu lobbied members of the Human Rights Council regarding the death penalty, domestic violence, religious freedom, and discrimination issues. She also made an oral statement to the Human Rights Council regarding conditions in Eritrea. Reflecting on her time at the United Nations, Liu told me she got “a sense for how fragile things are,” particularly when considering how the system must work to protect the many around the world whose civil and human rights are constantly under threat.  

When I asked Liu what she liked about volunteering with The Advocates, she had endless praise for their work:

“First, I love the people and I love how knowledgeable the attorneys are there. I cannot even imagine the breadth of what they do. I think, for me, I had done a lot of volunteer work prior to law school but I had never had the exposure on the international scale, but … seeing on an international scale how you could effect change was incredible … It is really empowering to do, what I consider to be pretty small things, like an interview, but then see that it can affect change on such a large scale … I don’t know of any other organization where you can really do that.”

She then told me that she feels that she has grown so much as a person through the volunteer work that she has done with The Advocates. She left me with this final thought: 

“Just because you are a big law lawyer doesn’t mean that you can’t do this kind of work. We have the responsibility to do this type of work. Particularly for myself as an Asian American female at a large law firm, I feel a responsibility to help people through the judicial system, and to break different barriers for so many different generations.”  

Thank you, Angela, for all of the work that you do with The Advocates. Your enthusiasm is infectious. You might feel that you have benefitted from being a part of this community, but this community has definitely benefited from you being a part of it.  

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

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Joan Kuriansky: Celebrating the Work of Our Volunteers

Joan Kuriansky, The Advocates For Human Rights Volunteer Award Recipient

The work done by The Advocates for Human Rights is fueled by its team of talented volunteers. One of these volunteers is Joan Kuriansky, a Washington D.C.­–based lawyer, with a strong commitment to women’s rights work, domestic violence issues, and human rights advocacy. Kuriansky began volunteering with The Advocates in the late 1990s and, ever since, has been a consistent volunteer. I recently had the chance to speak with Kuriansky about her career, including her work with The Advocates.

Moments into the interview, Kuriansky’s passion for human rights advocacy became evident as she excitedly explained to me about some of her past jobs and projects. “It is a lot of fun for me to do this work. I have been involved, especially with the issue of domestic violence, since 1978,” she told me. Kuriansky was the co-founder of a battered women’s program in DC, My Sister’s Place, she ran a legal center in Philadelphia protecting domestic violence victims, and she worked on the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.

Throughout her time volunteering for The Advocates, Kuriansky has worked on a number of different projects. Her first project was in Ukraine providing advocates with domestic violence training. Kuriansky then conducted an in-depth study in Armenia related to domestic violence issues. The report consisted of interviews with attorneys, prosecutors, advocates, and government officials. “And that was my introduction to the work of The Advocates. Already, I was impressed with the way they structured their training, the relationships they were forming, and the breadth of the work,” Kuriansky told me during our interview. Her report was later used to inform future advocacy work of The Advocates in Armenia.

One of Kuriansky’s favorite parts of volunteering with The Advocates is being a part of their annual United Nations Study-Advocacy trip to Geneva. Since 2016, Kuriansky has been an integral member of The Advocates team of volunteers that lobbies at the United Nations. She has co-facilitated panel discussions, delivered a short presentation to the full body of the Human Rights Commission, sat in on country hearings, and met with special rapporteurs and individual delegates from around the world. Kuriansky credits The Advocates for the impact that she has been able to have in Geneva:

“It was because of the extraordinary preparation of The Advocates’ staff that we, as volunteers, could be useful and, I hope, effective. It would not have been possible for us to have had the impact that we did, if we did not have the very well-developed materials and instructions about how to go forward with meeting with these different delegates.”

She noted that many of the team’s recommendations have been incorporated into official comments to various countries under review and some countries have even directly implemented their recommendations:

“In one instance we saw a country increase its funding for domestic violence programs. We also saw that certain laws were changed in keeping with the recommendations. In another instance, moving from law to administration, we saw where a country reorganized its response to domestic violence and the role that the different members of the legal community would play in that regard.”

Currently, Kuriansky is working with The Advocates on various shadow reports, including one on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on domestic violence. Kuriansky’s shadow report is particularly focused on the D.C. metropolitan area.

When I asked Kuriansky why she chooses to volunteer to with The Advocates, her answer was simple. She told me that she enjoyed the direct application of the work. She praised The Advocates’ advocacy skills:

“One of the great aspects of The Advocates in my mind, is their ability to present information in a way that is compelling, raises hard issue that could otherwise be responded to very defensively by a country but, because of the methodology and on the ground support, the recommendations that come from The Advocates … are taken very seriously and sometimes you don’t find that is the case if a country believes that the outside groups, which are coming in to “criticize” them, are not very respectful of the people in it.”

Kuriansky is a model volunteer – longstanding, enthusiastic, dedicated, passionate, and knowledgeable – and is a role model for many. Just as Kuriansky credits The Advocates with being effective change makers, The Advocates credit her with helping to actualize that change.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

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Remote Volunteers Help NGOs Engage with the United Nations

Civil society organizations play a crucial role in human rights monitoring at the United Nations. The mission of the United Nations – to monitor, protect, and advance human rights around the world – is best carried out when civil society actively participates. Non-governmental organizations, activists, and academics provide valuable information about human rights violations that governments miss or cover up. For instance, they can submit written information in the form of a “shadow” or “alternative” report. These reports give activists an opportunity to share local human rights violations directly with the international community and, ultimately, to change laws and policies.

While the United Nations welcomes civil society participation, the opportunities and deadlines for participation are not so easy to track down. Each mechanism has a different system, which is why we need volunteers to become experts on each one and compile the information into one easy-to-use database.

Flag of the United Nations

Thanks to a team of nine paralegal volunteers and twelve other remote volunteers, The Advocates facilitates civil society engagement with United Nations and Regional Human Rights mechanisms through an online deadline database. The database is searchable by country and provides up-to-date, accurate information about reporting opportunities all in one place. Without this team of volunteers, non-governmental organizations may be left in the dark about opportunities to engage with the United Nations.

As someone who personally works with our volunteers on a regular basis, I can attest to their enthusiasm and discipline. I am always impressed with how eager they are to know all the ins and outs of the United Nations monitoring process, even though they don’t need to know all the specifics for this work. It is a steep learning curve, yet they are always up to the challenge. I also appreciate how responsive they are to my many emails about updating the database when unexpected changes arise.

The global pandemic has not stopped them from continuing their work, even when many of their own workloads have increased. One volunteer recently told me she was going to check on the deadlines weekly as opposed to bi-weekly, just so she could make sure she caught all the updates due to COVID-19. Many other volunteers worked to quickly turn around new deadlines that changed due to COVID-19 so that our international partners at the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty could stay up to date.

When I asked our volunteers why they took on this work, here is how they responded. I hope you can see for yourself that something as simple as a database can have a big impact.

“The Advocates for Human Rights does important work and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to contribute my time to such a cause.” – Paralegal Volunteer

“I have been overwhelmed by the changes in policy toward immigrants and anyone in the world really who needs help. The first work I did for Advocates was on an asylum case. Even though we were not successful, the appreciation shown to me, by the wife and children of the man who was eventually deported, made me realize that I needed desperately to fill a hole in my life. When our pro bono director reached out to me on entering deadlines for treaty bodies, I jumped at the opportunity.  There are still many things out there that make me sad, but doing this work, as minimal as it is, helps fill the “hole”.” – Paralegal Volunteer

“I took it on because it sounded terribly interesting and I wanted to contribute (albeit in a VERY small way) to making the world (not just my little suburban corner of it) a better place. I like to think that it enables someone (individuals or groups) to make a case to protect and improve the lives of those who cannot (or are not able) to do so themselves.” – Paralegal Volunteer

“Something that has always been important to me, is to ensure I put aside time to give back to the community, and beyond. Advocating for human rights is so crucial to promote equality within the community, society and all over the world. For me, volunteering my time to The Advocates of Human Rights, and having any part in facilitating their mission, is a real honor.” – Paralegal Volunteer

By Elizabeth Lacy, Program Assistant for Women’s Human Rights and International Justice Programs at The Advocates For Human Rights

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals. 

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A Volunteer Reflects

Sydney Goggins, University of Minnesota Law Student and WATCH volunteer

Going into a courtroom for the first time compared to re-entering a courtroom after a semester of law school are wildly different experiences. My first time in the courtroom was with WATCH, a court monitoring and judicial policy initiative of The Advocates For Human Rights, when I was 18. I was overwhelmed, excited, and confused but eager to learn. The cases moved so fast and it felt like the lawyers and judges were speaking in a foreign language. The lawyers’ clients, if present, seemed just as confused as me. It was not how I had imagined court at all. Similar to many Americans who have never been in courtroom, I was picturing a scene similar to television, a lawyer screaming “this court is out of order!” at the judge after a passionate argument. However, the reality within a courtroom is a more procedural process. Lawyers coming in and out stating what they needed from the judge and leaving, the judge rapidly shuffling through papers, and the occasional defendant coming out in handcuffs. I left the courthouse that day inspired and excited to understand the inner workings of the process. I wanted to be a part of it all. 

Fast forward to when I was 21 years old, re-entering a courtroom for the first time after a semester of law school. Things made sense and the process felt familiar and easy. While the lawyers’ arguments were not the passionate, powerful arguments you see on television, I could understand how and why they were making arguments for their clients. I found excitement in the little things that I hadn’t seen or noticed before. Filing motions, writing briefs, and dealing with the procedural issues is necessary work in order to win a case. In law school, especially during your first year, there is a disconnect between what we are learning and how it is applied in practice. WATCH has provided me confidence in a courtroom and in front of a judge that many other students may not yet have. Volunteering for WATCH allows me to bridge the gap between my legal education in the classroom and how this information I am learning is put into practice in the courtroom. 

By Sydney Goggins, University of Minnesota law student and WATCH volunteer

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.