2016 2016: UMass Law launches clinic dedicated to protecting human rights within the U.S.

2016 2016: UMass Law launches clinic dedicated to protecting human rights within the U.S.
UMass Law launches clinic dedicated to protecting human rights within the U.S.

Human Rights at Home Clinic will focus on gender-based violence, unmet health needs and other human rights concerns in our local communities and beyond.

Margaret Drew, UMass Law faculty

The University of Massachusetts School of Law will launch a law clinic dedicated exclusively to protecting basic human rights within the United States.

The Human Rights at Home Clinic, scheduled to open in January, will be led by Professor Margaret Drew, whose work on domestic violence and the rights of people living with HIV has earned national attention. The clinic design differs from other law school human rights clinics in that it will focus only on human rights within the US; is designed for flexibility to address pressing local and national human rights needs as they arise; and will provide students an opportunity to represent individual clients as well as work on broader advocacy issues.

“Human rights are considered by many to be a foreign concern; but over the past several years advocates have increasingly raised awareness of human rights needs within U.S. borders,” said Professor Drew, who began her involvement with domestic human rights working with victims of abuse. “The deprivation of health, security, housing  and other basic needs that comes with being a target of abuse are human rights concerns .  The students will learn to bring a human rights framework in their service to clients and the local communities with a focus on restoring and maintaining individual dignity.”

The clinic will bring first-hand, practical experience to UMass Law students, who will work with  domestic human rights law  through individual and community advocacy.  The clinic will focus, in part, on unmet needs of those in the area living with HIV.  Those needs were uncovered through a study conducted in partnership between the School of Law and the College of Nursing .  In addition to representing survivors of gender violence, students will assist transgender individuals who wish to petition the courts for name changes.

Eric Mitnick, interim Dean of UMass Law, said the Human Rights at Home Clinic is an example of the dedication of UMass Law staff and students to the public interest. Law students have performed more than 87,000 hours of community service valued at $4.5 million – nearly all in the form of free legal services – to the community since the school was established in 2010.

“Professor Drew is a highly respected leader in the field of domestic human rights and will develop a clinic that will be a model for others across the United States,” he said. “The clinic will provide much-needed legal assistance for the most vulnerable in our society and provide our students with an excellent, real-life learning experience at the same time.”

Professor Drew has long been involved in domestic human rights, including her work during the Castle Rock v. Gonzales case, which involved a mother suing a police department for failure to enforce a restraining order against her estranged husband that resulted in tragic consequences. The case was heard in both the U.S. Supreme Court and at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Professor Drew assisted with amicus briefs for both the Supreme Court case and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights petition.  The Gonzales case was a springboard for the human rights at home movement.

Professor Drew has chaired the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence. She received a 20/20 Award from the Commission,   which recognized her as one of 20 leaders in the U.S. who  implemented the Violence Against Women Act by enhancing representation of domestic violence survivors. Earlier this year, she was named Partner of the Year by the Women’s Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts.  Prof. Drew co-edits the Human Rights at Home Blog.

The Human Rights at Home Clinic will be the fifth clinic at the law school, joining those focused on immigration, small business development, tribal law, and criminal prosecution.