A graduate of Corrales Elementary and Cibola High is leading discussions in Europe and elsewhere about avenues for legal action to assign responsibility for human rights abuses and environmental violations.

Jeff Handmaker, Cibola class of 1988 and University of London graduate in law (1994) who also holds a doctorate in the sociology of law from Utrecht University, Netherlands (2009), now works in The Hague, at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University. He also teaches at Leiden University. He is now leading a team researching legal strategies to hold governments, individuals and corporations accountable for human rights, environmental and other legal violations.

Handmaker and four others were awarded a five-month fellowship through the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the  Humanities and Social Sciences in Amsterdam. Their focus is “the strategic potential and challenges of legal mobilization” to ensure consequences for illegal or inappropriate corporate behavior.

In an interview Handmaker give last year, he explained that the concept of legal mobilization “as a practice is aimed at advancing social justice.” As an example, he referred to advocacy for Greenpeace to mitigate climate change and other environmental harm.

“Legal mobilization is intended to function as a legitimate means to resolve conflicts, redress rule of law and justice deficits and address other governance problems. Legal mobilization is not the same as lawfare, whereby companies and governments instrumentalize law n a manner of questionable legitimacy.

“While lawfare serves to victimize, attempt to bankrupt or in other ways harm social justice advocates, organizations and even government agencies, of social justice cases, legal mobilization can serve as a form of resistance or counter-power. Handmaker added: “An important function of legal mobilization is to protect human rights defenders, environmental justice advocates, indigenous leaders and others against lawfare.

“An example of lawfare is “strategic litigation against public participation,” or SLAPP suits, including lawsuits directed against the environmental group Greenpeace regarding their advocacy on the Dakota Pipeline in the United States of America.”

Another example, he said, is “legal mobilization to protect academics, student and social justice activists who speak out for the rights and freedom of the Palestinian people.” Handmaker, a son of retired Corrales geneticist Stan Handmaker, began working in this field in the early 1990s as a human rights lawyer in the Republic of South Africa.

In the interview, he said “Human rights is just one of the topics I’m researching. It’s about more than just the language of human rights conventions. It’s also about how, and if, these conventions can function in complex societies. In particular, I examine the influence that politics has when it comes to complying with these conventions both in local and global contexts.

“For example, I look at how international crimes are tackled. You can approach different institutions to tackle crime” one of them is the International Criminal Court. But who approaches the court? It may also bee possible for the offender to be brought t justice within his country of origin, the country where the victims come from, or the country the offender goes to as well.

“What we’re actually doing is looking at how social justice can enhance the idea of justice. In this regard, non-governmental organizations often play a key role in this process — international organizations such as Amnesty Internation and local organizations such as the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq.”

In 2019, Handmaker co-authored the book Mobilizing International Law for Global Justice. “One of the objectives was to provide information to international lawyers and international organizations who are also active in this area, to give them a better understanding of how politics relates to, and influences, law and human rights. The book addresses different topics, such as how efforts to challenge corruption through bribes paid in other countries is being waged where the companies are based, and the battle against child abduction.

“It also gives a few examples f how some citizens enforce human rights in cases where enforcement isn’t successful at the national level. “The big question is: what are the law-based options out there for addressing issues like this: It is difficult to hold a state or a multinational company liable for human rights violations, but it has happened in the past through, for example, boycotts, divestment and sanctions or other campaign and petitions.

“Another good example is the work of the Dutch organization Urgenda., The 2015 Urgenda climate case against the Dutch government wa the first in the world in which citizens established their government has a legal duty to prevent the harms caused by climate change. The options are there, and law often plays a pivotal role. That’s what we focus on.

“Lawyers have a tendency to cite the law repeatedly in the hopes that it will be respected in the end. But sometimes, putting pressure on a state, multinational company or institution is what’s needed to get justice.”

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