Southwestern Celebrates Successful Siderman Fellowship Collaboration
On May 1, a special commemoration event marking the 5th Anniversary of Southwestern's Jose Siderman-Fulbright Human Rights Fellowship was held at the law school campus. The unique fellowship program provides an Argentine human rights lawyer the opportunity to study at Southwestern for one year and earn a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in in Civil Liberties and Human Rights or Advocacy.
Jose Siderman, a successful businessman singled out by the Argentine military in 1976 because he was Jewish, 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 concluded 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. The Fellowship was born out of the Siderman family's extraordinary story and collaboration with Southwestern, which has maintained ties with Argentina for many years through faculty connections, summer programs, judicial externships and exchange programs.
"Tonight we really celebrate the fact that a family that suffered such gross human rights violations has turned that horrible, negative experience into a vital, ongoing force," Dean Susan Prager said. "The Siderman Fellowship program at Southwestern is designed to educate and train young Argentine lawyers in civil liberties and human rights so that they will return to Argentina and help continue the protection of human rights in their country in the future."
The celebration featured several prominent speakers, including Dean Prager; Ricardo Arredondo, Deputy Consul General of the Argentine Republic in L.A.; Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman; Southwestern Professor Jonathan Miller; current Siderman-Fulbright Fellow Mariano Gaitan; and Carlos Siderman, the founder of the Jose Siderman-Fulbright Human Rights Fellowship.
Mr. Hoffman, a former member of the Southwestern faculty and former Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California, served as co-counsel representing Jose Siderman. He explained that the main obstacle in the case, which took 14 years, was the principle of sovereign immunity, which ordinarily protects governments from suits in U.S. courts for human rights abuses. In part, because of the extraordinary injustice suffered, U.S. judges did all that they could to keep the case alive.
"There's no higher calling as a lawyer than to be able to represent someone like Jose Siderman," Hoffman said. "I'm very proud to be a small part of this.... To see his name go forward in this fellowship is truly a wonderful thing and so fitting."
Discussing the Siderman family's court battles in Argentina, Professor Miller spoke about the enormous obstacles in seeking civil compensation in countries like Argentina. According to Professor Miller, confronting State-imposed terror involves not only confronting members of the military who tortured and murdered, but large numbers of civilians who participated indirectly, whether in changing the identity of the children of the disappeared and placing them in adoption, or court-appointed receivers who looted the assets of the victims' businesses.
However, above all, the evening celebrated the Fellowship itself. Since it was established, the Fellowship has trained seven attorneys who have all returned to Argentina and continued their careers in human rights. The faculty have consistently commented on the outstanding caliber of the fellows who have come to Southwestern, including the current fellow, Mariano Gaitan. "Mariano is very much the fruit of the Siderman family's commitment to human rights," Professor Miller said. "Every Siderman fellow has been an absolute pleasure to have here."
Mr. Gaitan explained why his experience as a Siderman Fellow at Southwestern has meant so much to him. "The Siderman Scholarship gave me something that I couldn't find in Argentina," he said. "It gave me perspective, it gave me the opportunity to think about my own practice as a human rights lawyer, and it gave me the opportunity to think about the future.... When I look forward, I now can see a future full of new possibilities, new ways to continue working for human rights in Argentina and new opportunities that I had never imagined before."
Carlos Siderman spoke last. "My sincere gratitude is to Dean Prager and Jonathan [Miller] and Sylvia [Faerman] and Debbie [Leathers] because you have made a home for this dream of the Siderman family.... The dream - because we have to dream big - is that it's going to be an international program one day."
Click here for a video of the speakers' remarks on Southwestern's LiveStream page.
Click here to read more about Mr. Gaitan.