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Cornell Law School Team Helps Train Liberian Judges and Lawyers

In November, Cornell participated in a training program for Liberian judges and lawyers. The training, led by Lawyers Without Borders, focused on criminal prosecution of trafficking-in-persons offenses.

The Cornell Law School team developed and delivered the international law component of the program. Melissa Koven ’12 and Jennifer Holsey ’12 provided assistance to Elizabeth Brundige, Associate Director of the Avon Global Center for Women & Justice and co-instructor of the International Human Rights Clinic, and Vice Dean and Professor Barbara Holden-Smith. The program’s international faculty also included four U.S. federal judges and attorneys from law firms.

Trafficking in persons is among the fastest growing criminal activities, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Brundige noted that the program “illustrated the critical importance of cross-border exchanges such as this to the global fight against human trafficking, which is a form of modern-day slavery.”

The aim of this program was to improve the capacity of the Liberian justice system to effectively prosecute traffickers. The training was made possible by a sub-grant to Lawyers Without Borders by World Hope International under a grant from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking of the U.S. Department of State.

Liberian lawyers attested to the program’s impact. Lois Nyenpan, lead counsel at the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, noted that the training would help lawyers implement Liberia’s new rape law. J. Daku Mulbah, a lead county prosecutor, shared what he had learned with the police, and is now seeking trafficking cases for prosecution.

“What most excites me is the extent to which I believe this program has helped or will help lawyers, judges, and justice in Liberia,” wrote Holsey. “The Chief Justice of Liberia closed the entire court system for this training, and participants came from all over Liberia.” Holsey is vice president for Cornell Law Students for Reproductive Justice and Cornell Advocates for Human Rights, as well as treasurer for the Native American Law Student Association. She also has interned in India, New Orleans, and with Community Refugee and Immigration Services in Ohio.

Like Holsey, Koven's passions lie with human rights. She is an associate on the International Law Journal and the Legal Information Institute Supreme Court Bulletin. She also had pre-law-school experience with Human Rights First.

Koven admitted that her favorite part of the training was playing the witness during training exercises. “I would provide long-winded responses that hurt the attorney’s case as a way of demonstrating the risks and emphasizing the importance of asking narrow and directed questions,” she wrote.

Both law students found their Liberia experience immensely rewarding. Koven wrote that participating in the program “was the perfect way to end our project and see all of our hard work throughout the semester put to use.”