PUBLISHED:November 25, 2009

New ad-hoc course to study social justice in Brazil

Nov. 25, 2009 -- Duke Law students Kat Shea, Noah Browne, and Anne Dana have developed an “ad-hoc seminar” for Spring 2010 that will focus on issues of human rights and social justice in indigenous communities in Brazil and will include a service trip to South America during Spring break.

The seminar and trip are designed to give students hands-on exposure to the opportunities and challenges of practicing law in a global context. The course will examine socio-economic, political, and legal issues in Brazil, and students will provide legal assistance to indigenous communities and related NGOs. Professor Laurence Helfer, an expert in international law whose research focuses on the intersections intellectual property and human rights, will advise the course.

“This is a really good match with what students are interested in right now,” says Shea, a 3L who co-led the 2009 Southern Justice Spring Break trip to New Orleans, through which students assisted residents with legal needs as well as hurricane recovery efforts. “With Professor Helfer joining Duke Law this fall, and the growing interest among students in international service and human rights, we think this will be a really exciting service learning experience.”

Two projects under consideration for the seminar are assisting a traditional Afro-Brazilian community in the Atlantic rain forest region to gain legal title to their land, or assisting a private Brazilian company in designing biodiversity initiatives that promote the rights of indigenous communities and protect their traditional knowledge.

“Indigenous communities in Brazil face many challenges, including land tenure, public health issues, and protection of local knowledge and culture,” says Helfer, who will accompany the students on the trip and who co-directs the Duke Law’s Center in International and Comparative Law, which is helping to fund the trip. “The seminar, trip, and partnerships with local NGOs will allow students to provide concrete legal assistance to one of these communities and to bring their insights from the field into the classroom.”

The trip is being arranged with the assistance of Global Imprints, an organization that specializes in academic educational trips in developing countries and has created similar legal service trips for law students at Stanford, Harvard, and elsewhere. Complete details about the course, requirements, and the application process are available here. The course will be limited to five to seven students (in addition to the three students convening the course). Applications are due Friday, Dec. 4.

Students are seeking donations to assist in covering the cost of the trip to Brazil. To donate, contact Lisa Weir in Duke Law’s Alumni and Development Office (or see the Blueprint Benefactors page for more information).