Cover Story: Law Students Defend Human Rights

Organizing prostitutes and reconciling warriors

Jymi Bolden

Human Rights Quarterly aims for a general audience, according to editor Bert Lockwood.

Cincinnati holds a distinction among people concerned about human rights, but not for the reasons you might think. "People are always surprised to find out the oldest endowed human rights institute (in the United States) is in Cincinnati," says Bert Lockwood, director of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

The endowment for the institute resulted from a relationship between human rights activist William Butler and Urban Morgan, a descendent of one of the founders of what became the United States Playing Card Co.

When Morgan died, he left his fortune in the care of Butler, his lawyer. Butler recruited Bert Lockwood, then associate dean of the Washington College of Law at American University, to create the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights.

For more than 20 years Lockwood has been the director of the institute, which grants fellowships to attract students to the law school. The institute has about 35 students and every summer sends 10 or so around the world on "externships."

In addition to teaching students the ins and outs of international human rights law, the UC institute is home to one of the oldest academic journals dedicated to human rights. Lockwood has been the editor-in-chief of Human Rights Quarterly since its inception more than 22 years ago.

The journal is a multidisciplinary endeavor, with about half of the articles dealing with the legal aspects of human rights and the other half addressing various social concerns about human rights.

"We strive to make it readable by the general public," Lockwood says.

Nearly 300 students have honed their skills at the institute during the past 24 years, several of whom have traveled to various countries to assist in human rights projects.

Last week student Sean Arthurs, 30, was in Galway, Ireland, working with the Irish Centre for Human Rights.

"I have helped organize a conference on minority rights, including working explicitly with the Colombian delegation to the conference," Arthurs said via e-mail.

Before arriving to study at the Urban Morgan Institute, Arthurs spent eight months with Peace Brigades International in Bogota, Colombia, lobbying and accompanying human rights workers in dangerous areas.

Arthurs traveled June 23 to Sierra Leone to spend several weeks working with the United Nations Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"We will be attending hearings in various regions of Sierra Leone as well as in Freetown," he wrote. "In these, victims, perpetrators and observers are invited to relate their stories, free of any sanctions or condemnation. The goal is to begin the healing process."

Since 1991 civil war between the government and the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people — more than one-third of the population.

In May 2002 the first democratic elections took place in the country in 11 years.

Urban Morgan student Erica Hall is in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, working for the Human Rights Department of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Among her assignments is helping the minority Roma population there.

"I knew from day one that I wanted to work in Sarajevo this summer, and Bert knew exactly who to contact to get me here," Hall wrote in an e-mail. "I have been looking at ways to use the legal framework in (Bosnia-Herzegovina) to give the Roma population representation in the workings of the government."

During the past month Hall has done research to draft a proposed framework for a Minority Advisory Council within the Bosnia-Herzegovina Legislature. She has also been working on returning property in the country to its rightful owners.

"While the right to occupy your property is general, it takes on new significance in (Bosnia-Herzegovina) due to the history of ethnic cleansing during the war," Hall wrote.

The 1992-95 war forced Bosnians, Croats and Serbs from their homes.

Pam Newport is studying at UC in a joint-degree program with the College of Law and Women's Studies program.

"Right now I am in London and have been here for two weeks ... and am working with the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), which is an official branch of Britain's General Union, the third largest trade union in Britain," Newport wrote from London.

Newport has tried to recruit new union members by visiting brothels and talking to prostitutes, as well as writing letters to people in the sex industry. Next week she plans go to Amsterdam for four weeks to work with a group called Humanitas.

Newport will work on a project known as Bonded Labour in the Netherlands, which helps women victims of trafficking learn practical skills and return to their home countries.

"Unfortunately, most of these women are illegal immigrants so they cannot do any other paid work other than prostitution," Newport wrote.

For more information about the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights, visit

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.