May 1, 2013
Lisa Davis (’08) has been associated for years with the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic (IWHR), but this is her first year as a full-time clinical professor.
“It’s really exciting to be able to work with CUNY students in terms of teaching how to both advocate and litigate for women’s rights and gender rights in regional and international forums,” said Davis.
Most recently, that has meant making trips to Haiti and Colombia with CUNY delegations. In early February, delegates, including students and Dean Michelle Anderson, attended an event in Haiti to help garner support for the passage of an unprecedented law that would enhance protections for women who have suffered from sexual violence, and also improve their access to services.
The latest visit to Port-au-Prince follows several years of groundwork in Haiti. In 2010, IWHR students documented violence against women living in squalid displacement camps that were set up after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. IWHR then worked with a local women’s organization, KOFA – VIV, on behalf of individuals who experienced sexual violence. Together, they drafted a successful petition to the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights requesting Haiti take immediate measures to redress the situation.
“Ever since,” Davis said, “we’ve been working on the implementation of that decision.”
Teaching students and giving them practical on-the-ground experience is how IWHR has operated since it was co-founded in 1992 by professors Rhonda Copelon and Celina Romany. Copelon led the clinic for many years, until her death in 2010. The current director is Cynthia Soohoo.
“Graduates from IWHR have gone on to international human rights NGOs or tribunals or other international legal NGOs, continuing the work they did in the clinic,” said Davis; these graduates include Natasha Bannan (’11), now a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Blakeley Decktor (’12), a legal fellow at the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
Davis first came to CUNY Law after having worked as a human rights advocate. She was drawn to IWHR under Copelon, admiring the clinic’s progressive values, as well as CUNY Law’s mission. Earning a J.D., she felt, would give her a better way to help people and to advance policies.
After graduating, Davis went back to the international human rights field as a legal consultant and then worked as director of human rights advocacy at MADRE, where she is still an advisor to the international human rights docket.
Now a full-time professor at CUNY Law, Davis feels honored to be able to continue the work that Copelon did for so long in what has become one of the premier international human rights clinics in the country.
“It’s my dream job; I couldn’t imagine teaching anywhere else,” she said. “It’s a real opportunity to be with CUNY at this moment in time, to see its longevity and look forward to its future, doing something no other law school does: providing cutting-edge lawyering and attorneys whose main focus in life is helping advance people’s rights.”
– Paul Lin