Argentinean Lawyers Study Human Rights Law at Southwestern
Two Fulbright Scholars look toward impacting criminal justice reform in Argentina
Argentinean attorneys and legal educators Luciano Hazan and Florencia Plazas have devoted their careers to human rights. Now they are learning as much as they can about the American criminal justice system while they spend the year studying at Southwestern. Hazan is the first recipient of the Fulbright-Jose Siderman Human Rights Fellowship, which was established at Southwestern to promote the training of young Argentinean lawyers in civil liberties and human rights. Plazas received a Fulbright Scholarship to study similar topics. The married couple will earn their LL.M. degrees, and as the Siderman Fellow, Hazan will also serve in an externship with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at the conclusion of the academic year.
According to Professor Jonathan Miller, who was instrumental in establishing the law school's programs in Argentina as well as its affiliation with the Siderman Fellowship, "Luciano has done cutting edge work tracking down children who had their identities falsified by Argentina's military government of the late 1970's, while Florencia has worked on essential institutional reforms with Argentina's Federal Public Defender. Florencia and Luciano met doing human rights work at CELS, Argentina's leading human rights organization, and I cannot imagine a better couple to have at Southwestern for LL.M. studies focused on civil liberties and human rights."
Although they are young, Hazan and Plazas already boast impressive resumes. Since 2003, Hazan has been the legal team coordinator at the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and since 2007, he has been a lawyer for the Active Memory Association, which helps seek justice for and defend the interests of victims' families of the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. While attending law school at the University of Buenos Aires, he was a journalist, writing for Diario Judicial, a newspaper specializing in criminal justice. Hazan also serves as legal counsel to the Human Rights Commission of Argentina's House of Representatives. Plazas has worked for the Federal Public Defender's Main Office since 2007, collaborating with colleagues to help write legislation to reform the country's criminal justice system. Both are also law professors; Plazas has taught Criminal Procedure at the University of Palermo and is an assistant professor at the University of Buenos Aires, where Hazan teaches Criminal Law. Both plan to continue working with their respective organizations as well as teaching when they return to Argentina next August. "I am trying to develop my skills and knowledge of the legal system to meet the challenge that we have in our country," said Plazas, who also hopes to extern with a U.S. government entity. "In that way, it's going to be really beneficial when I return home."
At Southwestern they are taking courses in Evidence, Criminal Law, Constitutional Criminal Procedure, and Constitutional Criminal Law, which has taught them a lot about legal education in the United States. "It's very different from the education in Argentina," Hazan said. "I would define this as professional education. In Argentina you are on your own. Here there is everything for you. Professors are full time and the library is fantastic. You have professional teachers here, devoted full time to legal education." Both say they are enjoying the teaching methods used at Southwestern so much that they plan to incorporate them in their own classrooms when they return to Buenos Aires. "There we learned the issue, the theoretical and then maybe read the cases," Plazas said. "Here we read the cases and the theory is derived from the case law."
Although they joked that finding a suitable used car has been the biggest adjustment of living in Los Angeles, Hazan said studying and writing exclusively in English is a challenge. "The language is the most difficult thing because it takes a while to practice. But we are feeling better all the time so next semester it will be even easier."
The Siderman program complements the association Southwestern has maintained for many years with Argentina through summer programs, judicial externships and exchange programs in Buenos Aires. The Fellowship is named for Jose Siderman, a successful businessman who was a victim of Argentina's "dirty war" and suffered kidnapping, torture and exile during the 1970's and 80's at the hands of that country's military dictatorship. In a landmark human rights case heard in federal court in Los Angeles in 1996, the government of Argentina agreed to settle damage claims by Mr. Siderman and his family after a 14-year legal battle led by the American Civil Liberties Union. Mr. Siderman's family felt a fellowship in human rights law would be a fitting tribute to him and would contribute to the future protection of human rights in Argentina. "There is a very interesting movement to change criminal justice in all of Latin America, and I would like to learn all I can about criminal justice," Hazan said. "That is why I am so thankful to Southwestern, Professors Miller and Faerman and the Siderman family and the Fulbright Scholarship for this great opportunity."