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Posted Feb. 24, 2010

U.N. Special Rapporteur Visits Law School

Rashida Manjoo

A top U.N. expert responsible for examining, monitoring, advising and publicly reporting on violence against women recently visited the University of Virginia, a trip hosted by the Law School Human Rights Program.  

Rashida Manjoo, the U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women, served as a University of Virginia distinguished international fellow and visiting research professor from Jan. 26-Feb. 16 and spoke in a number of forums and classes.

”It was a privilege to have Rashida in residency for three weeks at UVA,” said Deena Hurwitz, director of the Human Rights Program.  “She is a globally known gender expert with remarkable qualifications, and an inspiring human rights attorney and legal strategist. But what makes her especially unique is her down-to-earth demeanor, her sincere interest in others and her ability to sit back and listen.” 

Hurwitz said that Manjoo, who receives many offers to visit and teach, chose Virginia in part because of the work that the Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic has undertaken with her.  

“I am grateful to be able to work at UVA with students who are so keen to work on the mandate of the special rapporteur,” Manjoo said.

During her visit, Manjoo participated in a two-day roundtable discussion organized by the International Human Rights Clinic focusing on violence against women in the United States, which included nationally known gender and human rights advocates. She also met with the clinic and visited the new Public Interest and the Law class, as well as several University courses on Main Grounds. 

At a lecture sponsored by the Human Rights Program, Manjoo spoke about the challenges of recognizing Muslim marriage in South Africa, a secular, multicultural society where the legal framework includes African customary laws and Muslim Personal Law as well as constitutionally protected individual and group rights.  

“How far do you go in recognizing identity?” asked Manjoo. “Does recognition of identity mean that each of us can use whatever legal system we feel bound to because of socialization, because of birth, because of our faith systems?”

Manjoo, a native of South Africa, was appointed special rapporteur in July 2009 by the U.N. Human Rights Council, holds a professorship in public law at the University of Cape Town and is an advocate of the High Court of South Africa. She is the former parliamentary commissioner of the South African Commission on Gender Equality and the founder of the Gender Unit at the Law Clinic at the University of Natal, as well as the Domestic Violence Assistance Programme at the Durban Magistrates Court. She was an active member of the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice in the International Criminal Court and remains an Advisory Board member.

Roundtable
 
Participants at a roundtable with Manjoo held on Feb. 5-6

Students were heavily involved in preparing for Manjoo’s visit. During their winter break, clinic students and pro bono volunteers collected information from advocates and prepared a briefing paper for the roundtable highlighting the legal context and specific problems in the areas of domestic violence and criminal justice, violence against women in the U.S. military, violence against incarcerated women, reproductive justice, economic insecurity, trafficking and issues facing immigrant, refugee and Native American women.

“Preparing for the roundtable was an amazing experience,” said third-year law student Jamie Schoen, a student in the fall International Human Rights Clinic. “After we identified over 100 experts in different fields of violence against women, we began to interview some of them.  We asked them what were the most critical issues of violence against women is in the U.S. We then analyzed these interviews in light of the U.N. special rapporteur’s due diligence standard [for government accountability] and discovered trends. These interviews laid the foundation for the roundtable.” 

Held Feb. 5-6, the roundtable included experts from Legal Momentum, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, the National Organization for Women, SisterSong, and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, among others.

“Ms. Manjoo’s insights and expertise in this area are a valuable resource in our continuing efforts to improve funding and expand programs to combat domestic violence and sexual assault in the U.S.,” said roundtable participant Jan Erickson, director of programs for the National Organization for Women. Erickson called the roundtable a “stimulating and thoughtful discussion of the most compelling issues facing advocates who seek to end violence against women in all its forms.”

Manjoo’s visit was funded by a grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs and the Roundtable was funded through a grant from the Ford Foundation.