Cardozo’s Human Rights and Genocide Clinic, Tiferet Unterman and Sarah Efronson provided the legal framework for the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, the core program of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, in November 2012. The annual seminar brings together mid-level government officials from around the world to the Holocaust site of Auschwitz in Poland for a weeklong intensive learning experience focused on the most effective approaches for preventing genocide.
In the weeks leading up to the seminar, Tiferet and Sarah explored the connection between corporate social responsibility and genocide prevention through the research and development of a report and presentation that they would present in the Polish town of Oswiecim. This unique opportunity allowed them to apply the legal knowledge and critical thinking skills they’ve gained at Cardozo to their shared passion of protecting human rights globally in a real-world environment.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS SEMINAR, AND WHY WERE YOU CHOSEN TO PARTICIPATE?
SARAH I listed this project as my first choice for two reasons. First, before attending law school I was a middle school teacher through Teach for America and I always incorporated a course about the Holocaust and genocide and ways that students could get involved to prevent future atrocities. The other reason was because I was interested in the role of corporations in preventing atrocities. During my second year at Cardozo, I worked as part of the Moot Court Honor Society [on a case] in which a corporation was being sued for aiding and abetting genocide. I felt this project would expand on my knowledge of this area and also allow me to further develop my writing and oral advocacy skills.
TIFERET I also listed this project as my first choice. Genocide prevention has always been important to me. Before attending law school, I was the Advisor on Economic and Social Affairs at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations. In that role I had worked on international development and humanitarian aid. I had also worked with the UN Global Compact, an organization that engages businesses in bettering human rights and other principles.
HOW DID YOUR STUDIES AT CARDOZO PREPARE YOU FOR THIS EXPERIENCE?
SARAH In order to create the presentation I had to rely on legal research and analytical skills I have developed during my time at Cardozo. Being a part of the Immigration Justice Clinic last year was extremely helpful in developing these skills because I researched and wrote an appellate brief for the Board of Immigration Appeals. I also was able to draw a lot on oral advocacy skills I gained from being a member of the Moot Court Honor Society. I learned most of the international background required for the project from being a part of the Human Rights and Genocide clinic this year and from previously interning at Human Rights Watch.
TIFERET The legal research and analytical skills I gained from my studies at Cardozo gave me the ability to prepare the presentation in a thoughtful and thorough manner. In addition, all of the events and panels offered at Cardozo have given me perspective as to how to approach complex societal problems. I also drew from other courses I took to understand how law is formulated to address specific societal ills, such as environmental degradation, or violent crime.
DESCRIBE THE MOST MEANINGFUL MOMENT THAT OCCURRED DURING YOUR TRIP. HOW WILL THIS IMPACT YOUR STUDIES AND CAREER GOALS?
SARAH At one point during the tour, one of the government officials from a country in Africa turned to me and said that she never knew that the word genocide existed. She started telling me how concerned she was about how to bring back the knowledge to her country. To me this demonstrated how important and powerful education is [and the] real need to make sure that people working in government positions all over the world understand the impact of mass atrocities and the ability to prevent them.
The trip taught me how much I enjoy engaging with policy. This is something I hope to explore further during my remaining semester at Cardozo. The trip also reaffirmed my passion for working internationally and in human rights and social justice related work.
TIFERET At the trip I met a Muslim man who had lived through a war resulting from ethnic hatred when he was a teenager and who was displaced as a result. He still lives there now and is involved in educational activities that teach tolerance and understanding. During lunch one day he explained to me that he teaches his children songs from different religions so that they will appreciate the beauty and humanity of each person.
I learned from this experience that genocide prevention is complex and multi-layered, but at the same time there are real patterns that have been identified and actors that can influence societal action. To me, this conference strengthened the notion that education and proper training can direct politicians and policy makers to make wiser decisions. It reaffirmed my desire to use my law degree to formulate better policies.