Camilo Sánchez Joins Faculty as International Human Rights Clinic Director
Nelson Camilo Sánchez León will join the University of Virginia School of Law in July as director of the International Human Rights Clinic.
Sánchez has worked as a consultant and legal expert on different human rights issues for academic, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations.
He was formerly a research coordinator of the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia) and associate professor at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogota. Prior to joining Dejusticia in 2008, he served as adviser to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and as a researcher at the Colombian Commission of Jurists.
Sánchez has also been a visiting and guest professor at universities worldwide, and has published eight books. Last year, he co-taught Comparative Constitutional Design at the Law School with Professor Mila Versteeg.
He holds a Ph.D. and J.D. from Universidad Nacional de Colombia and an LL.M. from Harvard Law School.
Students in the yearlong clinic gain firsthand experience in human rights advocacy, working in partnership with nongovernmental organizations, human rights practitioners and law firms in the United States and abroad.
Sánchez said his goal for students is to get them thinking about law beyond just individual cases and, whenever possible, get them out of the classroom and into the field.
“If we are to motivate students to become human rights advocates,” Sánchez said, “we need to think holistically and connect strategically the different opportunities that the school can offer, including academic reflection and training, experiential education, community engagement and other out-of-classroom experiences.”
He aspires for the clinic to collect and analyze responses by human rights organizations “to the growing crackdown against civil society;” litigate cases on the human rights impacts of climate change and other environmental damage; support the work of the U.N. Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; and improve the capacity of national African judicial systems to address international crimes.
“With the current context in the United States and many countries facing political and social upheavals, I believe that the surge in energy for making a difference can be harnessed and made sustainable and impactful, and I would love for the clinic to be a home for that,” Sánchez said. “I aim to create a space to cultivate this passion for justice and ‘doing something’ so students can embrace human rights as a discourse and perhaps a career path after graduation.”
Versteeg, director of UVA Law’s Human Rights Program, said she’s excited to have Sánchez join the faculty, particularly because of his expertise in Latin America.
“While there is a growing sense, in some circles, that the human rights movement is in crisis, it is very much alive in Latin America,” she said, “and that will be an appropriate focus for our clinic.”
In his 15-year legal career, Sánchez has worked on cases regarding enforced disappearances in Central America, attacks against human rights defenders in Mexico, and policies for reparations programs in post-conflict countries such as Guatemala, Peru and Colombia.
Most recently, in Colombia, he was closely involved in crafting contents of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, an eight-year initiative that has involved litigating before the Colombian Constitutional Court on issues of international crimes and the rights of victims of human rights violations.
Having an international human rights law framework has bolstered democratic societies in Latin America, he said. For example, use of martial law and consolidated executive power has been curbed, respect for the rights of indigenous people has grown and international standards on access to information has spurred more transparent governments.
“Preparing for practice also means creating ways to expose students to what is going on beyond the United States, because what is happening within this country and in many others is much more deeply connected than we think,” Sánchez said.
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