Ho, Parndigamge Receive South Africa Human Rights Fellowships

December 17, 2007

First-year law students Kathleen Ho and Nilakshi Parndigamage will spend their summer break working hands-on with human rights issues in South Africa. The pair received this year's Class of 1957 South Africa Human Rights Summer Fellowships, which provides a $7,500 grant for students working for a human rights organization.

Kathleen Ho '10 and Nilakshi Parndigamage '10
Kathleen Ho '10 and Nilakshi Parndigamage '10

"I came to UVA with the intention of doing human rights work. I've had an eye out for this type of thing," said Ho, who will be working for the Legal Resources Center, which has locations in multiple cities. "It will be exciting to spend the entire summer in South Africa."

She recalled learning about some of the prevalent human rights issues in high school and college and has since developed a strong desire to work in the human rights arena through legal advocacy. She hopes her experience in South Africa will help her develop new ways of thinking about how the law can impact human rights.

"It gives you a purpose and drive," she said. "Law has a lot of opportunities to address human rights violations in a broader way than just working one-on-one, although I think that is also very important."

The Legal Resources Center covers the gamut of human rights advocacy in South Africa, including reparations for human rights violators, and housing, water, and women's rights. Ho looks forward to being part of the action. "This is a great opportunity and I'm eager to take advantage of it. I'm really happy I applied for the fellowship," she said. "[The experience] can only reaffirm my commitment to human rights work."

Parndigamage will journey to Cape Town to work for the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), an organization that has offices all over the world, including her home, Sri Lanka.

The ICTJ addresses issues surrounding countries coming out of a violent or oppressive regime that are transitioning to democracy and building a new legal framework for governance. The organization assisted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in reparations and criminal proceedings against accused perpetrators after Apartheid ended in the mid-1990s, which Parndigamage finds inspiring.

"Coming from Sri Lanka, a country that is still fighting a two-decade-long civil war, I'm interested in learning about and working in post-conflict societies. Having had the opportunity to work at the prosecutor's office in The Hague, I was able to witness first-hand how international justice is meted out to war criminals in the former Yugoslavia. I don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all method to bringing justice to survivors of post-conflict societies," she said. "Being able to work at the ICTJ is somewhat like the next necessary step for me. I will be able to see how South African society is dealing with transitional justice in the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how they are supporting the survivors of the Apartheid in their fight for justice and reparations, all at a domestic level."

Parndigamage is excited about working with the staff at the organization. "The offices are headed by some very well-known human rights advocates who've had extensive experience not just in South Africa but in other countries also."

Law professor Chris Sprigman, who helps organize the application process and locate host organizations, anticipates that the fellows will be a significant help to their sponsors. "I expect their developing legal skills will be put to good use," he said. "The students will get an up-close look at the beauty and warts of a developing democracy. South Africa is beset with very serious social and economic problems, but the country is also blessed with an energetic and creative civil society — including great lawyers — who are working toward solutions."

The South Africa Human Rights Summer Fellowships were inaugurated last year by Law School alumnus Leigh Middleditch '57.

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