International Human Rights Clinic in French Guiana

July 23, 2012 | By Roy Brown, Class of 2014

Except for the time I spent about 30 minutes just inside the Canada border when I was in 8th grade, I had never been out of the country. It made my experience participating in the OU Law International Human Rights Clinic that much more significant.

On May 19, two law students, a law professor and I embarked on our journey across two time zones, an ocean and thousands of miles to the French overseas region of French Guiana. French Guiana, or “Guyane” as the locals call it, is situated along the Atlantic Ocean in South America bordered by Brazil on one side and Suriname on the other. We were there for eight nights to experience local indigenous culture and customs and to conduct interviews about indigenous issues.

During our time there, we were able to connect with prominent members of Indigenous communities in Guyane including chiefs of indigenous villages. The chiefs told us about life in the village and what concerns they have for their people. We also met with leaders of organizations dedicated to indigenous rights who told us about the work they do to create a better life of indigenous populations in Guyane. And we met with government officials who shared with us the work France is doing to address indigenous people’s concerns and meet their needs.

Through the OU International Human Rights Clinic, we now have to opportunity to take what we learned about indigenous peoples in Guyane and share it with the international community. The students and professors will submit a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council about the status of human rights in their countries related to indigenous communities. The report will highlight the progress that France has made with regard to human rights in indigenous communities. It will also make recommendations that may help further progress the status of human rights in indigenous communities.

The OU International Human Rights Clinic has been a great opportunity, and it has allowed me to shape my perspective about indigenous communities throughout the world. It was amazing to witness the culture and be a beneficiary of the incredible generosity of indigenous communities in Guyane – not to mention, I now have a few more stamps in my passport.

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