In 2019, 17 Harvard Law School students traveled to 13 countries as Chayes International Public Service Fellows. This program, established in 2001 and dedicated to the memory of HLS Professor Abram Chayes ’49, provides students with the opportunity to spend eight weeks during the summer working with governmental or non-governmental organizations concerned with issues of an international scope or relevant to countries in transition. This year, the Fellows’ work focused on areas ranging from the peace process in Yemen to human trafficking and labor migration in Thailand, and from human rights impact litigation in South Africa to plea bargaining and sentencing practices in Bosnia and Herzegovina, among others. The profiles that follow highlight the experiences of three of the 2019 Chayes Fellows.
Roberta Thomazoni Mayerle ’21
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Beijing, China
After graduating from Sciences Po Paris, and earning a master’s degree in global governance and diplomacy from Oxford University, Roberta Thomazoni Mayerle worked with the United Nations Development Program in Beijing and the Boston Consulting Group in London. Even before she arrived at HLS, she had been intrigued by another institution: the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). “It’s a multilateral development bank [MDB] of the size and kind that only gets established every other decade or so, and also the first major international organization launched by China,” she explains. “Because the organization is so young, it’s still nimble and a place where things are being created.”
For her summer placement at the AIIB, Mayerle worked with the Institutional Team in the Office of the General Counsel, which deals with matters relating to the relationship between the AIIB and its 100 members, as well as with governance issues within the bank. Mayerle conducted legal and historical research and wrote several legal memos—work that tied in with what she had learned in her first-year Public International Law class. “I would use Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice on the sources of international law, or the guidelines in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties on how to interpret international agreements,” she recalls. “Even absent precedents in international law that were legally binding on the bank, I frequently drew on legal arguments from different international fora to help frame my work.”
At the same time, “I had rarely given thought to the governance structures within international organizations. One of the projects I worked on dealt with the allocation of powers between the president of the bank and its board of directors. It was a very exciting issue—one that many other institutions are dealing with—but also a highly sensitive one,” Mayerle explains, adding that she enjoyed presenting her work and being “cross-examined” on her legal arguments by the general counsel (Gerard Sanders LL.M. ’92) and other members of the team.
Before she left for Beijing, Mayerle met with Stephen Wiles, an HLS research librarian, who showed her resources that were available online and introduced her to some of the most commonly used international law journals. In fact, when she was in Beijing, her collaboration with the HLS librarians allowed her to find an elusive document—a memorandum issued by the World Bank in 1947—that the bank’s legal team had been searching for.
Mayerle has studied Chinese in the past, but this summer has left her more determined than ever to master the language; she is now studying advanced Chinese. Even though work at the bank was conducted in English, her Chinese language skills helped her explore the city and connect with people. “One of the most rewarding aspects of my time in Beijing was being able to interact with people on an everyday basis—in restaurants, on the street, or at my favorite local art market. I had amazing conversations about Chinese-U.S. relations and learned a lot from these encounters.”
In her 2L year, Mayerle is serving as an articles editor for the Harvard International Law Journal and has enrolled in several international law classes. Early in the fall semester, she drew on her experiences from this summer in the International Law Workshop, with Professors William Alford ’77 and Gabriella Blum LL.M. ’01 S.J.D. ’03. “We read articles from a host of prominent legal scholars and critique them, or ask questions about them,” she explains. “One of the points I raised in class was that very often, in both the western media and western scholarship, the AIIB is portrayed as a Chinese vehicle to dominate the world,” noting that it is often linked with China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative, although the two programs are not connected. “What I found remarkable was how international the AIIB felt—how similar it actually is to other MDBs in terms of its structure, its staff, and its policies. I hope the perception of the bank changes.”
During her placement, “I was able to meet many people with similar interests and to contribute, in a small way, to the practice of international law,” Mayerle adds. “In sum, this summer was everything I had hoped for, if not more.”
R. Scott Sanderson ’21
Advocates for Community Alternatives, Accra, Ghana
R. Scott Sanderson spent his 1L summer working with Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA), an NGO—founded by Jonathan Kaufman ’06, a 2004 Chayes Fellow—that helps West African communities develop and implement sustainable development plans and builds legal networks to support them. After graduating from Dartmouth College, Sanderson lived and worked for several years in South Africa and Kenya, but hadn’t had much exposure to western Africa, he explains. Working with ACA also fit well with his emerging focus on working in rural areas on issues that involve poverty, land and development.
Sanderson worked on several projects during the summer, including research to support procedural arguments for a case involving community rights and mining in Sierra Leone, an initiative to explore the use of technology to restrain fraud by tax collectors in a rural community in Ghana, and another case, involving land rights in Ghana, that gave him exposure to customary law.
His principal assignment involved allegations of human rights violations committed against the residents of Samaan, a small rural community in eastern Ghana. “About nine years ago, residents learned that a gold mine would be established in the forest north of town. They feared that the mine would pollute the community’s two rivers, [and] that their land and the surrounding environment would suffer,” he explains. “When residents observed the mining company taking steps to divert one of the rivers, they began to stage peaceful protests, and reported that the Ghanaian military, the police, and company security responded by intimidating them,” eventually arresting prominent citizens and forcing others to flee into the woods to hide. Members of the community filed some claims in Ghanaian courts for damage to land, while ACA focused on claims under international law, for a case to be brought before the ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] Community Court of Justice.
Sanderson spent several days in Samaan, helping to interview witnesses. “We learned a lot about how to do this well,” he explains. “For example, initially we had a community leader serving as an interpreter, and found that we were getting very restrained and carefully phrased answers.” Later, when a Ghanaian intern interpreted, with no community leaders present, “they were much freer with their descriptions, [and] the story just got deeper and deeper.” Sanderson was especially struck by hearing for the first time about a protest where women from the community dressed and painted themselves all in white, an episode which became “a dramatic and compelling part of the fact pattern that we could write.”
He also conducted legal research, focusing initially on possible claims involving rights to water, food, and a healthy environment, and later shifting to rights around freedom of expression, opinion, assembly, and association. “The mining company violated the community’s rights to water, and the government violated its rights to advocate for their environment—and that became a lot more powerful,” he adds.
Sanderson researched African and international treaty law, as well as case law from matters brought before the African Commission and African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “The Court and the Commission are quite young, as are Africa’s treaties, so both see value in cases brought before the European Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court, and I dug in there as well,” he notes.
All in all, “this summer was completely on point with the issues I want to be working on,” Sanderson observes. On campus, he has enrolled in the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic for the spring semester, and after years of working abroad, he will spend next summer with the Conservation Law Foundation in Vermont. “My hope is that there will be a similar set of issues but in a very different context and different points of emphasis. How do you protect water quality, or forests, while still maintaining a thriving agricultural industry? How do you protect agriculture as climate change becomes more and more of a factor?”
Working with ACA “allowed me to learn about human rights advocacy first hand and to contribute concretely while doing so,” he adds. “This experience has helped to reaffirm my commitment to working at the intersection of human rights, poverty and environmental justice.”
Rachel Westrate ’21
Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, Mexico City, Mexico
Rachel Westrate spent her summer working with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). “They’re a regional organization, with attorneys and scientists from Latin and South America,” she observes. “I thought that would give me a great opportunity to gain not only international experience, but also national perspectives from a variety of different countries.”
Westrate began working on international environmental issues as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis. “I got involved in this world at a very exciting time—everyone was really looking forward to the Paris Agreement,” she recalls. After college, she worked for the World Resources Institute, working in its Washington, D.C. office but connecting with its offices all over the world. Getting involved in climate change also reminded her about the ways in which she and her family were directly affected by it. She grew up in Park City, Utah, where her father operated a fly-fishing business. “I grew up being able to ski from October to May, and we never had any problems with the rivers running, which is not the case now,” she observes. “The changes in climate seemed very subtle at first, but they have had a huge impact on Park City and other communities in Utah.”
At AIDA, her work focused, in part, on Mexico City’s severe air pollution. “It’s an amazing city, but just flying in, you see a grey cloud,” she notes. “In Mexico City, and in Mexico generally, air quality standards are not as stringent as the World Health Organization’s—a much higher level of pollution is acceptable under Mexican law.”
Westrate conducted legal research and wrote legal memos in connection with AIDA’s participation in the Citizens’ Observatory on Air Quality (OCCA), a coalition of NGOs working on this issue. “The National Court of Human Rights in Mexico came out with a decision in 2018 that essentially qualified clean air as a human right, and [suggested] things that government agencies should do in order to better monitor and regulate air quality,” she explains. “The government of Mexico, along with Mexico City, then came out with a list of 14 policies that they were implementing, and OCCA prepared its own list. My first project was essentially consolidating those—where are they lining up, and where are the gaps?”
Expanding on this, she wrote a legal memo on Mexico’s international obligations. “There are several recent decisions that qualify a healthy environment and the right to clean air as human rights,” she notes. “Mexico has signed on to a lot of international human rights treaties and is obligated under international law to uphold them.” Westrate then collaborated with an AIDA fellow on a memo outlining arguments that the Mexican government could use in case their new policies are challenged.
In another project, she explored the potential cases that migrants could bring in U.S. courts, against the United States or the so-called “carbon major” companies, to address their contributions to climate change and displacement. “In my second week there, I attended a climate litigation conference that focused on strategy, and how you create arguments—what to challenge, and what evidence to include or leave out,” she recalls. “Those are very concrete skills.”
Her experiences were “crucial in confirming that this is the kind of work I want to do, not only in theory, but that I really like the work that is being done on the ground. My previous work focused on mitigation; this summer definitely refocused me more on how climate change affects populations and the remedies that are needed,” she adds.
In her 2L year, Westrate has enrolled in a reading group on climate displacement and a course on environment law with Professor Jody Freeman LL.M. ’91 S.J.D. ’95. She is serving as vice president of the Environmental Law Society, and as a research assistant with the Environmental & Energy Law Program, for a case study involving a U.S. nuclear disposal site in the Marshall Islands, and how sea level rise is threatening it.
But first, Westrate traveled to New York to attend the United Nations Climate Summit and to participate in the September 20th Climate Strike, where at least 60,000 people filled the streets. “The experience of realizing that this is a common problem, and though it affects all of us in different ways, everyone will have to deal with it, gives me hope that we can solve it,” she adds.