University of Virginia School of Law student Brooke Swann ’20 used her Monroe Leigh Fellowship in International Law funding this summer to research human rights and help prepare litigation.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre does work in many countries in Southern Africa including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and Malawi, to name a few. My work here has mostly consisted of research in a variety of human rights issues. I have also done a lot of work in litigation prep, and it has been exciting to see cases I had a part in go to trial. Different topics I have worked on include women’s land rights, customary law and gender discrimination, the right to access justice, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

The legal systems of countries in Southern Africa are quite different than that of the U.S. One large difference between their systems and the American system is the existence and importance of an additional body of law: customary law. Customary laws are those that come from traditional African cultures, and they are provided for and protected by the constitutions.

Swann Postcard City
A view of Johannesburg from the "Roof of Africa," The Carlton Center, which is the tallest building in Africa.

I’ve been able to do a lot of fun things around Johannesburg. It is a vibrant city with lots of history, and even though it’s winter here, it is still very green and full of life. My favorite weekends have included going to see the national rugby team play a match against (and upset!) England, visiting the many museums around the city, and taking a drive out of the city to a wildlife park. I also love visiting the many markets around Jo-Burg. They are filled with tons of amazing food and beautiful crafts made by local artists.

I’m definitely going to be leaving Johannesburg with a number of interesting stories. Something I encountered on a regular basis, though, were funny reactions to my accent. There were other American interns at SALC, but they were all from New York City. I, however, am from the Deep South. People were confused, though, and often thought I was from a completely different country. This led to many conversations and questions about where I’m actually from, and I almost felt like an ambassador for the Southern states, talking about our traditions and way of life.

Johannesburg and my time at SALC have taught me many things, and I will remember these experiences for the rest of my life. I have really seen here that conflicts and struggles exist all over the world. There is crime, hunger, poverty, racism, violence and other things ailing human beings. However, while these terrible things exist everywhere, there are also good and kind people in the midst of it seeking to improve the world as much as possible. I have also developed a newfound appreciation for the freedoms we experience at home in the U.S., because there are many countries where others are not so fortunate.

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