Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Center targets rules of law to improve human rights

From an unheated, bunker-like office in the basement of the International House, Bob Golten is working to change the world. 

Golten directs DU’s Center for International Human Rights Advocacy, overseeing the Asylum Project and teaching advocacy courses that match students with international nongovernmental organizations working to improve human rights.

A 1954 graduate of the University of Michigan and 1959 graduate of Harvard Law School, Golten has been a public interest lawyer and clinical law teacher for most of his long career. His professional experience includes working for the National Wildlife Federation, Job Corps and on behalf of American Indian tribes. From 1996–2000, as an American Bar Association volunteer, Golten helped establish legal aid programs in law schools in such places as Uganda, Slovakia and Azerbaijan. 

In 1998, Golten formed DU’s Center for International Human Rights Advocacy with support from law professor Ved Nanda, internationalization vice provost; and Jack Donnelly, a Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS) professor and PhD program director. The center’s crown jewel is its International Human Rights Advocacy course. 

Last spring the course was divided into two courses. The first 10-week course is a substantive study of international human rights and the problems marginalized populations face. The second course allows students to spend the term researching a human rights issue and drafting either a litigation report or an advocacy report addressing it. During the second term, students often go overseas to work with NGOs to try to solve the problems using the rule of law.

Pat Cooper (MGS ’06), went to Peru to help get reparations for thousands of indigenous women involuntarily sterilized under the Fujimori regime. A law student who went to Croatia now runs a human rights office in Macedonia.

“Going overseas and doing this stuff has really been transformative for some of these students,” says Golten.

Another of the center’s programs is the Asylum Project, which provides legal representation to political asylum seekers in the Denver metro area. Golten is enthusiastic about both programs, but frustrated that the University’s funding for the center has dwindled from about $80,000 per year to only $18,000 this year.

Grants for $8,000 ($5,000 from the Hawley Family Foundation and $3,000 from the Hunter-White Family Foundation) are helping the Asylum Project assist its 15 remaining clients, but without additional University funding, Golten has been forced to turn new clients away. He says he can’t afford to go overseas to cultivate and maintain relationships with the legal aid programs he established. And his advocacy students have to locate funding or pay their way overseas.

Law dean José Roberto “Beto” Juárez is exploring opportunities for the College of Law to provide financial support to the Center’s Human Rights Clinic. In the longer term, Juárez says he hopes to work with the law faculty and GSIS to move the center to the College of Law.

“Everyone recognizes the value of having a human rights law clinic,” Nanda says. “The law school is a natural home for it.”

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