Human Rights Lab Spotlight: Anne Dutton ’16 (JD/MSW)

Please tell us about your Human Rights Lab project. What was the work and what was this experience like for you personally?

Our project was an investigation of the work of the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) in Northern Uganda. The TFV is part of the International Criminal Court and has a dual mandate to (1) provide reparations linked to a specific conviction and (2) operate its assistance mandate, which provides for physical and psychological rehabilitation as well as material support in situations under investigation by the ICC, including before there’s been a conviction. 

Reparations are increasingly recognized as a critical component of international justice but designing and implementing a program to provide meaningful reparations is quite difficult—and there’s a gap in the research evaluating the efficacy of reparations programs. Under its assistance mandate, the TFV has been operating reparative programming in Northern Uganda since 2008. We designed our program to take a close look at this reparative work, drawing on the expertise of the TFV staff as well as NGO staff in Northern Uganda to identify the successes and limitations to date. Our goal was to better understand the complexities associated with reparative work and to get a sense from those implementing the day-to-day work of the mandate how they evaluate and understand their work. To carry out the project, I spent a week in the Hague at the ICC, interviewing TFV staff, reviewing data, and preparing for the subsequent weeks that I spent in Uganda. In Uganda, I interviewed staff of the NGOs with which the TFV contracts to deliver the assistance mandate services and observed aspects of the operations.    

Personally, the work on this project was immensely rewarding. Our project appealed to me as both a social worker and as an attorney; from my social work perspective I was fascinated by the insights shared by the interviewees on the difficulties of conducting psychosocial rehabilitation in what was still a very fraught environment. As a lawyer, it was incredibly interesting to delve into the questions of what terms like “rehabilitation” and “reparation” really mean and how the international justice system can identify when these obligations have been met. And overall, I was incredibly energized by the talents, professionalism, and dedication of the people I was interviewing. 

After the field work, I transcribed and coded the interviews. Based on the interview findings and the secondary data I obtained in the Hague, Professor Ní Aoláin and I wrote up our findings in a paper that was recently published by the Chicago Journal of International Law.

As a graduate student and a law student, how did you view the importance of this research to create bridges between the academic community and public policy/non-governmental actors?

Efforts to bridge the gap between academia and NGOs are incredibly important. Strong relationships between academia and NGOs can create mutually beneficial relationships and avoid having each sector talk past the other. For example, without linkages like those provided by the Human Rights Lab, I think there’s a risk of academia overlooking the pragmatic challenges that exist in the field and that carry significant weight in determining program success. The conversations I had with interviewees made clear that, while there were difficulties anticipated during the program design phase, there were also unanticipated challenges that only became clear in the course of implementing the assistance mandate. You can’t learn about these programs and the goal of “reparation” in a theoretical vacuum; when academia grounds itself in listening and learning from experts in the field, it becomes much more relevant and responsive. Reparations work is incredibly complex and having the opportunity to talk directly with those grappling with this complexity on a daily basis was enormously enriching for what was previously my exclusively theoretical knowledge of reparations work—not that I’m an academic but I think it speaks to the same point! 

What are the lessons you’ve learned and how have they affected your work going forward?

In addition to the pragmatic skills of interviewing, coding, etc. I gained a lot of insights from the interviewees as to how they view and approach the trauma they’re addressing with the assistance mandate, at both a micro and macro level. This is probably the most directly relevant to my current work as an immigration lawyer specializing in asylum; by its very nature, asylum is a trauma-intensive field and my organization works on both individual and systematic cases. Though the contexts are obviously quite different, I see parallels. And more generally, I drew a real appreciation for the assistance mandate’s efforts to work on multiple levels simultaneously. They recognize that to meaningfully address individual harm, they also need to engage with families, communities, etc. up to the level of the national government. They use a wide variety of tools to carry out their reparative work, including individual therapy, group therapy, community dialogues, policy work, and government outreach. Seeing this ecological approach to repairing harm was fascinating and, again, has influenced my thinking in how I engage in my work to respond to different forms of injustice here in the United States.