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Law Students Will Participate in U.N. Hearings on Corporal Punishment, Sexual Abuse of Children

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March 21, 2012

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Four law students from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus will travel to New York this week to participate in United Nations hearings on allegations of the corporal punishment and sexual abuse of elementary school children in Cape Verde, off the western coast of Africa.

The four are part of a group of Robert H. McKinney School of Law students who, in partnership with Delta Cultura Cabo Verde, a Cape Verdean nongovernmental organization, researched and wrote a shadow report to a United Nations committee discussing how the government of Cape Verde has failed to combat corporal punishment and sexual abuse of school children.

The Indianapolis law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law, directed by professor George Edwards, endorsed the report, titled Cape Verde Breaches Its Duty to Prevent and Combat Corporal Punishment and Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse of Tarrafal, Santiago School Children, and Thus Violates Articles 2, 7 & 24 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR).

The 70-page Cape Verde shadow report provided the U.N. Human Rights Committee with key recommendations in curbing corporal punishment and sexual abuse. It called for the Cape Verdean government to establish child- and gender-sensitive mechanisms for the mandatory reporting and investigation of such cases. The report also called on the government to integrate the best-interest-of-the-child principle in those mechanisms.

“Writing the shadow report has been a rewarding experience. Not only do we get the practical experience of legal writing, but we learn a little more about the world and help prevent human rights violations globally,” said Aimee Heitz, a 2012 law degree candidate.

Heitz, Katherine “Kate” Cook and Timothy Weber, all members of the law school’s International Human Rights Law Society, and Zuo Quan, a visiting scholar from Southeast University in China, will make the trip to New York.

Unlike periodic reports submitted by states parties, a shadow report provides U.N. human rights treaty bodies with various forms of information — including victims’ personal accounts, data and statistics —independently prepared by NGOs and details violations by states parties of a specific treaty.

“Shadow reporting enables grass-roots human rights defenders to engage in United Nations human rights monitoring and enforcement mechanisms,” Program in Human Rights Law manager Perfecto Caparas said.

With his experience as an investigative journalist and international human rights lawyer, Caparas also conceptualized and established the Pro Bono U.N. Shadow Reporting Program at the McKinney School of Law and provided comprehensive training on human rights reporting and supervision to students. Caparas emphasized the importance of consulting and collaborating with grassroots NGOs, especially those based overseas, in preparing reports.

The report’s principal authors, editors and researchers include Florian Wegenstein, founder and project manager of Delta Cultura; Dirce Helene Bettencourt Gomes, Delta Cultura volunteer; and the law students: Cook, Heitz, Weber and Leontiy Korolev, International Human Rights Law Society president, who served as the student team leader and coordinator. Other law students who participated in the project include Ritu Chokshi, Mark Shope, Jessica Topor, David Wesche and Guang Yang.

“Working with this team to write the shadow report has been great,” Shope said. “From a legal education standpoint, it's all there — data mining, analysis, work-product development, review and faculty evaluation, and presentation. But what's more important is that we have utilized our education to provide access to the U.N. to those of us who would otherwise not have access. That is no small matter.”