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Welcome to the Vance Center eNotes, where you can read about our organization's latest news and developments.

October 2013

Sheila Keetharuth Discusses Human Rights in Eritrea


The Vance Center on October 28 hosted Sheila Keetharuth, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea to discuss the human rights abuses in Eritrea detailed in her recent report to the UN Human Rights Council.


Ms. Keetharuth's presentation called attention to Eritrea's ongoing neglect of the rule of law. She explained that the Eritrean government has not implemented or even reviewed a democratic constitution drawn up in 1997, causing a series of systemic violations. She stated that no institutions are functioning to enable individuals to make claims and have their rights upheld. The Special Court of Eritrea, for example, does not recognize the doctrine of double jeopardy, which protects individuals from being retried on charges that already have been adjudicated, nor does it allow citizens to appeal rulings made on their cases.


A former Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, Ms. Keetharuth, called for Eritrea promptly to review, update and officially adopt the constitution. She proposed that Eritrea allow independent media and transparent, democratic elections so citizens can participate in the political decision-making process and build democratic institutions. Ms. Keetharuth expressed that only through such actions would Eritrea be able to establish the rule of law and protect individuals' human rights.



L-R Vance Center Administrative Assistant, Janet Mejia; Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth; Vance Center Managing Director, Elizabeth Millard and Vance Center Staff Attorney, Clea Bowdery


Visit from Colombia's Pro Bono Lawyers of the Year Award recipient Sebastián Quintero, Vance Center intern Ildiko Egry, award recipient Raúl Vargas, Vance Center staff members Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste, Elizabeth Millard, Clea Bowdery and Dina Stukanow de Paterson

The Vance Center recently hosted Sebastián Quintero and Raúl Vargas, attorneys from Colombia who won the “Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year” award. Fundación Pro Bono Colombia, a Vance Center pro bono clearinghouse partner, grants the award to law firm associates who have excelled in the management of one or more pro bono causes. The award, bestowed at a meeting of the National Business Association of Colombia, consists of a four-day trip to New York for meetings with representatives of the Vance Center and its member law firms, as well as other organizations, to exchange best practices in the implementation of pro bono programs

Sebastián Quintero, an associate in the Dispute Resolution Group of the Colombia office of Baker & McKenzie, received the award in 2011 for his work representing Carlos Batanero, who lost his home and became deaf in one ear when a lamppost fell on his house. With Sebastián’s assistance, Mr. Batanero reached a settlement with the electric company and received compensation for the damages that he and his family suffered. Sebastian says,“The main difference between pro bono work in Colombia and in New York is that in Colombia we are still in the process of achieving a pro bono culture that integrates all participants around pro bono work: clients, attorneys, law firms and social organizations. Given the realities of Colombian society, and the high demand of legal services which in many cases deals with fundamental rights of the most vulnerable population, Colombia must become a top leader in pro bono work

Raúl Vargas, an associate in the Corporate Department of Brigard & Urrutia Abogados S.A.S, received the award in 2012 for his work representing Rafael Correa who suffers a visual impairment preventing him from working as an industrial painter. The government initially denied his request for a disability pension, but, with Raúl’s assistance, he received the pension retroactively.  Raúl said, “pro bono work not only benefits the clients who receive the advice but also enables lawyers to have enriching experiences that are useful in their day-to-day professional and personal life. Lawyers can know that they have helped to reduce social injustice by making a small contribution to the life of a person,family or social group.”


Women in the Profession Session Convenes in Boston

The leaders of the Women in the Profession program (WIP), who include partners from law firms across the Americas, convened in Boston at the time of the recent International Bar Association Annual Meeting, to discuss future activities of the program. Working with local partners, the Vance Center since 2007has organized WIP conferences in Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Chile and Colombia. These conferences, panels, surveys, and discussion sessions have given women lawyers at all levels and from large and small firms, as well as in-house departments, strategies, guidance, and personal encouragement about enhancing gender diversity in their country's legal profession. Participants also have found common interest in women's rights issues to be pursued through pro bono engagement.

Thirteen people including Carrie Cohen, Sabrena Silver, and Antonia Stolper of the Vance Center Committee and Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste and Elizabeth Millard of the Vance Center staff, attended the Boston meeting, while several others: Esther Nunes of Pinheiro Neto, Verónica Undurraga of Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, Valeria Chapa of Honeywell, Rocio Liu of Miranda & Amado, Maite Quiñones of Estudio Rodrigo, María Eugenia Yabar of Estudio Olaechea and Elisabeth Eljuri of Norton Rose joined by phone. Attendees discussed holding further country-based WIP conferences and creating a cross-border network of lawyers dedicated to the advancement of women's rights in the Americas, as well as an online community of lawyers to advance women in the profession. For more about the Vance Center's Women in the Profession Program, please contact Elizabeth Millard at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



Global Health and Human Rights Database

The Vance Center, through the Health and Development Program, recently organized a team of lawyers to assist the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law with the Global Health and Human Rights Database. This database provides a systematic survey of health-related human rights jurisprudence at the national, regional and international levels. Categorized by both rights and health issues, the organization of materials in this database enables comparative legal analysis of similar claims in different national and regional contexts.

The O'Neill Institute based at Georgetown University Law Center, developed the database with Lawyers Collective and more than 100 partners globally, including NGOs, academics, and private researchers. The database was officially launched on October 24, 2013, at the United Nations Headquarters during the current 68th session of the UN General Assembly. This event featured remarks by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and Lawyers Collective Project Director Anand Grover and presentations on the development and potential application of the database across sectors by representatives of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the O'Neill Institute, the University of Chicago Law School, the Lawyers Collective, Open Society Foundations, Human Rights Watch, Columbia University and the United Nations Development Program. For more information about the database, including an informational video and launch presentations, please visit the following post at the O'Neill Institute's blog.


New Additions

The Vance Center welcomes a third 2013-14 South African Legal Fellow to New York.  Ngisana Mngomezulu, an associate at  Bowman Gilfillan Inc. in Johnannesburg,  will be spending six months at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and thereafter six months in the legal department at Morgan Stanley.

Janet Mejia, a former paralegal, has joined the Vance Center staff as administrative assistant.  Fernanda Lessa Barreto de Freitas, a Brazilian LL.M candidate at New York University, and Maria Fernandez Gutierrez, an Argentine LL.M candidate at Fordham University, have joined the Vance Center as interns.