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United Nations grants special status to IU human-rights law program

The Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL) at the IU School of Law-Indianapolis is joining a select group of organizations that have been awarded special consultative status with the United Nations.

"This is the equivalent of the U.N. telling the PIHRL, 'We have vetted your organization extensively and have determined that you and your members possess special expertise. We trust you and your expertise,'" said Professor George E. Edwards, founding director of the program.

"The U.N. is telling us we can freely provide them with research, position papers, reports, and briefs in written form," Edwards added. "We can also participate by making speeches or 'interventions' on the floor at U.N. proceedings."

United Nations

The U.N. Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations referred the IU program for consultative status last month during a hearing in New York, at which PIHRL program manager Perfecto "Boyet" Caparas, a 2005 graduate of the law school, answered questions from representatives of several countries.

Only about 2,000 organizations from 200 countries -- approximately 10 organizations per country -- have special consultative status. The designation formalizes a relationship the PIHRL has had with the U.N. since the program's founding in 1997.

In an accreditation that began in 2006, government representatives from more than 50 countries have reviewed the PIHRL submission, which included information about membership, financial records, projects, staff and student credentials, goals and mission, structure and organization. It also contained documents that traced the law school's history and its relationship with Indiana University.

The PIHRL's projects, including numerous "shadow reports" to the U.N., were part of the detailed dossier submitted to the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations. Shadow reports are carefully researched and documented descriptions of human rights violations in different countries or related to a specific subject matter.

Edwards, Caparas and Indiana University-Indianapolis law students have prepared shadow reports and submitted them to different U.N. bodies. The students have also traveled to U.N. offices in Geneva, Switzerland, and New York, disseminated shadow reports within the U.N. system and made oral presentations on the reports on the floor of official U.N. proceedings.

The reports have dealt with issues such as sexual orientation discrimination in the U.S. and Chile, freedom of expression in Zambia, caste-based discrimination in Nepal, discrimination against women in Chad and Australia and indigenous rights in Panama.

Caparas said the special consultative status will enhance the international prestige not only of the law school but of the entire IU system.

"With this, we hope to see more aspiring lawyers and human rights defenders trailblazing, assuming leadership roles, and making a real-life impact and difference in the field of international human rights law and its broad cross-section of various other important disciplines, notably environmental protection and climate change," he said.

IU's PIHRL was recommended for U.N. special consultative status along with 38 other organizations on May 18. Those groups will have official, permanent U.N. status that permits them great access to the U.N. human rights system to which they only had ad hoc access before.

The PIHRL began sending student interns to work at the U.N. in 1997, the year that the PIHRL was founded. During the 2010-11 academic year, a record number of seven current and former interns were working for the U.N. in various sites around the world.

More information about the PIHRL is available on the law school's web site: