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November 30, 2012

Students Provide Vital Legal Analysis to International Organization

A student-led reading group takes a hands-on approach to international legal research.
  • Back Row: James Buter, Tiffany Greaves, Professor John Grant, and Jason Mohabir Middle Row: Kirsten Schlewitz, Monica Nassar, Chelsea Stone, and Laura Shoaps Front Row: Vicky Razo and Anna Gulotta

This fall, nine law students formed a reading group for an admirable and exciting cause: they conducted extensive and timely legal analysis to benefit the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and the unrecognized State of Abkhazia.  Abkhazia, on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, broke away from Georgia two decades ago and considers itself an independent and sovereign State, despite protests from Georgia and recognition by only six UN members.

A New Partnership 

This unique opportunity originated with Professor John Grant, current Co-Chair of the Global Law Committee, when he met with senior officials at the UNPO at The Hague in June 2012. 

“I realized that they needed some expert analysis of the human rights issues confronting them in promoting the interests of some 40 unrecognized States and minority groups,” Professor Grant said. “At the same time, I saw an opportunity for our students to gain hands-on experience in applying the human rights law they learned in the classroom to some real-life situations.  Little did I realize at the time that, some five months later, and after 13 weeks of work, nine of our students would produce a superb report for UNPO.” See the report here.

Students Lead the Way

After returning and conferring with colleagues, Professor Grant realized that this type of work did not fit into a traditional seminar. Fortunately, Laura Shoaps, a 2L recently returned from India, happened to be inquiring after a one-credit course in global law to fill her schedule. Her search made it to Professor Grant, and they quickly found a solution for both problems. Laura took the initiative to organize a student-led reading group that would focus on one of UNPOs pressing issues—specifically questions surrounding self-determination, human rights and international recognition in Abkhazia.

“I believe reading groups offer a healthy counter-balance to traditional law school courses by providing an environment where students actively work on developing skills critical to lawyering while fostering a sense of community,” Laura said. “The opportunity to create something that the Deputy Foreign Minister of Abkhazia will review made our practical application of the law all the more academically thrilling, because it offered a glimpse into how our developing skills and knowledge could be of use to others in the future.” 

Just the Beginning

 “UNPO is delighted with what it has received and has asked for further reports from us in the future,” Professor Grant reported. “I am delighted that we as a law school can move so quickly to set up an important and innovative learning opportunity for our students and that we have the caliber of students to produce a report of this quality, a report that, without question, will be of immense help to UNPO in its work.”

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization is an NGO promoting the interests of 41 nations and peoples throughout the world that do not have full representation on the international stage.