A few years ago, I wrote about the many small moments that carry so much significance for us in this Clinic and in our work. Graduation time always brings me back to that place of appreciation for those moments, and last week in Colombia, my work was full of them.
At a press conference in Bogotá last Thursday, the Clinic and its partners, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR), called on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the complicity of executives of Chiquita Brand International in crimes against humanity. It took years to get to that moment: Juan Pablo Calderon Meza, a former clinical advocacy fellow and Colombian himself, had come up with the vision and driven it forward inside the Clinic for almost two years. More than two dozen students worked on the communication submitted to the ICC this week, as well as myself and Susan and Anna.
Sometimes, on a project with so much vision and such a broad scope—a project that requires this amount of mental energy and grunt work, poring over endless sources, lining up the facts just right—it is difficult to imagine the moment when it will come alive in the wider world. But arriving in Colombia, it did.
I watched two of my long-time students, Kenna Graziano and Kelsey Jost-Creegan, hammering out the final details with our partners and communities who live with the effects of the paramilitaries’ destruction to this day. I listened to attorneys from CAJAR as we sat together over meals and spoke about decades of struggle alongside communities to end violence. Despite the sacrifices, it was clear that they would all do it again in an instant.
Then there was the actual press conference, when Kelsey, who speaks Spanish, represented the Clinic in a way that fits into the best tradition of what we were trying to do: she knew the issues inside and out, but she showed a humility and poise that hid the fact it was her first press conference. (It certainly was not her last.) I sat admiring in the audience with Kenna, who herself had put in an uncountable number of hours as we made last-minute adjustments against the swirl of the ever-changing backdrop surrounding Colombia’s evolving peace process.
And while I do not speak Spanish myself, I didn’t need to when Gildardo Tuberquia from the “community of peace” spoke. You could feel the emotion as he described the killings through the years – including one just a few weeks ago.
Juan, the visionary behind the communication, was unable to come; he is now working at the ICC in The Hague. But in a moving turn of events, his father, Ernesto, was able to attend the press conference on behalf of his son. And later that day, in another moment that will stay with me, we Skyped Juan in Geneva and raised a glass to his dedication and his vision, on behalf of the affected communities and all of us in Colombia.
As instructors in this Clinic, we all have stories like this—not just this semester, or this year, but in all the years of our teaching. It’s so much of why we do what we do. Thanks to all who support that work, and make those moments that add up to change.