Professor Aswad’s Human Rights Practicum class has spent the Spring 2017 semester working on a Diplomacy Lab project for the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. Diplomacy Lab is a U.S. Department of State program that provides the opportunity for universities to help the Department with pressing research needs on foreign affairs matters. The class project is focused on understanding measures eleven European countries as well as the European Union have adopted to counter violent extremism (CVE) and determining whether such measures violate international and regional human rights treaties as well as whether the measures are effective. After a telephone briefing with U.S. diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia on their preliminary findings in mid-March, the Practicum students traveled to Brussels, Belgium to continue their CVE research.
The purpose of the trip was to attend RightsCon, the leading international conference on the Internet and human rights, which had a particular focus on CVE issues this year. The conference included about 1,500 participants from over 100 countries. Participants included government officials (including the U.S. Department of State and European Union officials), representatives from Information & Communication Technology Companies (such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, & Yahoo!), non-governmental organizations (including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), online dissidents from various countries, technology specialists, and academics.
Practicum students attended seven panel discussions on CVE matters. One session focused on hearing from former extremists who explained what had enticed them to espouse extremist ideologies, what measures had caused them to relinquish such views, and their recommendations for effective ways to combat extremist ideologies. Another session featured international freedom of expression experts such as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the general counsel for Human Rights Watch who discussed at what point dangerous speech can be curtailed under international human rights law. In another session, the panelists included representatives from the EU Parliament and European NGOs discussing the new EU Directive on Countering CVE. Joint JD-MAIS Practicum student Jessica Ladd who was researching the EU Directive was able to ask the panelists questions during and after the session that were directly relevant to her paper.
After the conference sessions on the first two days, Microsoft, Mozilla, and AccessNow hosted networking events in which students had the opportunity to meet informally with RightsCon participants. For example, at the Microsoft event, Jessica met with the Swiss Ambassador at Large for Countering Violent Extremism, which was helpful as her paper includes a focus on Switzerland. Several students and Professor Aswad spent part of an evening speaking with Microsoft’s Deputy General Counsel.
Prior to the beginning of the conference, Practicum students went on a tour of NATO headquarters in Brussels. They had a roundtable discussion with the top lawyer at NATO and members of his staff about a variety of international law matters. The Practicum students also visited the European Parliament and heard human rights remarks by various members of the Parliament, NGOs, and a former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council. Practicum students actively participated in the discussions. Watch them ask questions at the 1:27 and 1:52 marks in teh video at the bottom of this web page: https://marietjeschaake.eu/en/tech-and-foreign-policy-bridging-the-gap.
At the beginning of their stay, Practicum students visited a variety of sites in Belgium. Nine students visited Bruge, a town about an hour away from Brussels by train, that is sometimes called the "Venice of the North." The next day, some students went to see the site of the famous Battle of Waterloo, which is about a 30-minute drive from Brussels. All of hte students were able to visit the historic town center of Brussels, including its beautiful main square.
“We very much appreciated the opportunity the College of Law gave us to participate in a conference that was the epicenter of the global CVE conversation and to interact with experts from around the world on our research project,” said Professor Aswad.
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