PUBLISHED:April 26, 2011

Helfer serves as inaugural Martin Fellow at State Department

Professor Laurence R. Helfer, the Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law, served as the inaugural Jacob L. Martin Fellow at the U.S. Department of State on Feb. 22.

A scholar of international law whose expertise includes international human rights, Helfer briefed attorneys in the Office of the Legal Adviser on international lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and laid the groundwork for an ongoing relationship.

Each Martin Fellow is a distinguished law professor invited by Legal Adviser Harold Hongju Koh to address and interact with attorneys from different sections in the State Department on a particular area of interest. “Our goal is for you to then serve as a continuing resource for [the office’s] attorneys who work on LGBT rights,” Koh wrote in his letter of invitation to Helfer.

The co-director of the Center for International and Comparative Law, Helfer is coauthor of Human Rights and Intellectual Property: Mapping the Global Interface, Cambridge University Press, 2011, and the law school casebook Human Rights (Foundation Press 2d ed., 2009), in addition to scholarly articles and op eds on the rights of LGBT individuals in international law.

As the Martin fellow, Helfer spoke to State Department attorneys about trends in international and domestic lawmaking and litigation relating to sexual orientation and human rights. In addition to tracing the evolution of issues such as privacy, discrimination, and recognition of same-sex relationships in various countries and international venues, Helfer addressed the recent legal and social backlash against LGBT individuals in certain regions. In areas of East and West Africa, for example, violence against gay men and lesbians is widespread and national legislatures have introduced bills to impose harsh criminal penalties against individuals who engage in private, consensual homosexual sex and human rights advocacy relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Helfer recalled his day in residence as stimulating and somewhat surprising. “I went to the Office of the Legal Adviser expecting to meet with a group of very smart international lawyers who knew the ins and outs of the international human rights system. But I did not anticipate that they would be so well versed in international LGBT rights issues. I was also very pleased to learn that these issues are a high priority for the Obama administration and for Secretary Clinton.”

Helfer has been in contact with attorneys in the office since his day in residence.