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UT Law School Students Inform United Nations’ Opinion on Arbitrary Detention

Clinic students in Geneva.

UT Law School students Will Chambers, ’14, Kelley McIlhattan, ’14, and Mark Dawson, ’14, stand in front of the Palais des Nations, home to the United Nations office in Geneva, to file the complaint on behalf of Obaidullah.

A United Nations Working Group released an opinion earlier this month condemning the “prolonged and indefinite” detention of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. The ruling was a result of a complaint submitted by the Human Rights Clinic and National Security Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

In its opinion, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that the detainee’s “prolonged and indefinite” detention violates human rights law, lacks any legal justification, does not afford adequate due process guarantees and is discriminatory.

The ruling came after the Working Group examined a complaint filed by three students from the Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and two from its National Security Clinic arguing the detention of Obaidullah, an Afghan native being held in Guantanamo Bay prison without charge or trial, violated international human rights standards.

“These students undertook very complicated legal, factual and procedural research that resulted in the filing of this petition,” said Ariel Dulitzky, a clinical professor and director of the Human Rights Clinic at the School of Law. Dulitzky traveled to Geneva with three of the students to file the petition.

“They researched everything from what the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was, what its procedures were, what the UN has said about this issue before, what kind of ruling you can get, and what kind of enforcement mechanisms there are,” said Ranjana Natarajan, a clinical professor who also helped advise the students on the case.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal and educational organization based in New York, reached out to the National Security Clinic in 2009 to see if it would represent Obaidullah pro-bono. The School of Law has one of the largest clinical programs in the country with more than 400 students participating annually in its seventeen clinics and six internships.

“After taking the Human Rights Clinic, I have truly realized the value of clinical education,” said Kelley McIlhattan, one of the students who worked on and traveled to Geneva to deliver the complaint. “It’s an experience that you simply won’t get in a traditional classroom setting. The clinic challenged me in so many ways, and it was hands down the most rewarding experience I have had in law school.”

Natarajan said that when students return in the fall, they will continue to explore the opinion released by the Working Group to see how it can be used for advocacy and public education in Obaidullah’s case and beyond.

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