More than 31 percent of Colombia's Afro-Colombians are illiterate; a rate nearly three times that of the general population. They're not getting the free education that Colombia is required to provide to them under its Inter-American treaty obligations. It's facts like these that Steven A. Koh '08 and Jocelyn E. Getgen '07 researched and Assistant Clinical Professor of Law Sital Kalantry presented at a hearing in Washington, D.C. on March 12, 2008, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organization which represents members of the Organization of American States (O.A.S.). The students are members of the Cornell Law School's International Human Rights Clinic, directed and founded by Professor Kalantry.
Mr. Koh, Ms. Getgen, and Professor Kalantry were part of a delegation to Colombia in December 2007 for a fact-finding mission sponsored by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. During that visit, students met with and interviewed nearly 100 people in Spanish, including Afro-Colombian leaders, indigenous schoolteachers, education reform activists, and government representatives, including a vice-minister for education, a Senator, and a magistrate justice of the Constitutional Court.
"Our field work and report," says Professor Kalantry, "are part of a larger project to draw attention the serious violations by countries in the Americas of the right to education of Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples." She further noted that "the fact that the Commission granted us this hearing demonstrates their increasing concern for violations of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to education."
At the hearing, Professor Kalantry testified on the methodology of their project and the domestic legal framework in Colombia, joined by the director of the international human rights clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law, who presented the Guatemala report. Activists Angélica Macario Quino of Guatemala and Diego Escobar Cuellar of Colombia spoke passionately about their personal experiences. The reports not only detail the deficiencies in education for minorities in the Americas, but also highlights the legal obligations of parties to the American Convention on Human Rights.
Cornell's new International Human Rights Clinic, which began in fall 2007, gives students real-life experience researching and advocating about practices that violate domestic and international human rights prohibitions. "The Cornell International Human Rights Clinic has given me the experience of a lifetime," says Ms. Getgen. "The skills and knowledge that I have gained has opened doors for me to continue on a successful career path in international human rights advocacy."
Professor Kalantry has focused on human rights throughout her career. At Yale Law School, she co-taught a Human Rights Clinic focusing on national security and civil liberties. She has supervised students in a wide array of projects, including writing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of Madeline Albright, representing Muslim Americans alleging border discrimination, filing briefs on behalf of non-US citizens seeking relief pursuant to the Convention Against Torture, and advocating legislative reform in Pakistan. She has degrees from University of Pennsylvania Law School, the London School of Economics, and Cornell University.