Faculty Profiles

Joseph Berra

Joseph Berra

Clinical and Experiential Project Director
B.A. St. Louis University, 1981
M.Div. Universidad Centroamericana, 1990
M.A. University of Texas at Austin, 1994
J.D. St. Mary’s University School of Law, 1997

LAW 793 - Human Rights in Action: Collaborative Grassroots Lawyering in Honduras

The Human Rights in Action Clinic (HRAC) will provide students with a critical understanding of human rights as a dynamic and contested field of law and social action, focusing on collaborative partnerships with grassroots organizations and human rights activists in Honduras.  Our clients will be these organizations and victims of human rights violations served by these organizations, and our clinic projects will be designed in dialog with them to support their struggles and priorities.  The clinic will give priority to work with Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, such as the Lenca and Garífuna communities and their organizations.  It will link with the 2019 J-Term International Human Rights Field Experience in Honduras, summer internship opportunities for students in the region, advanced human rights coursework in support of our partners in subsequent semesters, and other projects of the Promise Institute for Human Rights focusing on the region and the Inter-American system for human rights.   

The clinic will build on and strengthen a sustained collaboration with human rights activists in Honduras, which began in the Fall of 2016.  Current partners include the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), the Movimiento Amplio de Dignidad y Justicia (MADJ) and the human rights division of the Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC).  We are also establishing a relationship with the Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH). Students will hold periodic meetings by Skype and conference call with our Honduran clients.

The clinic will offer to students the opportunity to practice on the leading edge of international human rights in action: alignment with marginalized communities seeking to define, gain recognition for, and enforce their human rights as a tool for social change and justice.  Through dialog with our Honduran partners, the clinic will foster a critical approach to human rights practice.  We will engage with our partners’ struggles and human rights practices in the areas of local autonomy for Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, legal pluralism, resistance to extractivist industries, and resistance to emerging forms of the criminal and authoritarian state, in addition to seeking direct accountability for human rights violations. 

The legal work of the clinic will support our partners’ efforts to advocate for their rights, define and directly enforce human rights instruments in domestic courts, and bring litigation in the Inter-American system for human rights.  
A portion of the clinic work will focus on advocacy in the United States tied to the human rights struggles of our partners in the region and to local organizations of the Central American diaspora in Los Angeles.  Linked to the HRAC there will be an opportunity for interested students to travel during Spring break to Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Promise Institute.  This travel will include visits to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the World Bank, briefings with policy makers on human rights in Honduras, and meetings with other human rights organizations based in D.C. 
The seminar portion of the clinic meets once a week for two hours and will include substantive law training in international human rights, with a particular focus on the Inter-American system and the emerging framework on the rights of Indigenous people.  A significant portion of the seminar will be dedicated to skills training in activist lawyering and human rights practice and methodologies, and reflection on the ethical concerns and practical dilemmas involved in this practice.  The seminar will integrate critical reflection on the human rights project writ large, social science analysis, and U.S. policy in the region as it relates to the human rights challenges experienced by our partners. 

Students will also meet in regularly scheduled weekly team meetings and as needed for client conferences or specialized clinic activities.  Students will be expected to spend 12 hours per week on clinic projects and fieldwork in addition to class preparation.

The collaborative model involves playing a supportive role with diverse actors in a broad social struggle.  Prior experience with grassroots organizations or social movements, as well as Spanish language proficiency, will be among the criteria factored into the consideration of applications, but all interested students are encouraged to apply. Enrollment for the Human Rights in Action Clinic is capped at eight students.  Please contact Professor Berra if you have any questions.