September 9, 2014
Distinguished Professor Linda Carter and Field Placement Director Colleen Truden directed a summer internship program that placed three law students in Lesotho, a small country in Southern Africa, from June 2 through July 18, 2014.
According the Professor Carter, "The idea behind the Lesotho Field Placement program is to give law students the opportunity to experience a legal system and culture in a developing country. Experiences in another legal system and another culture are invaluable in today's legal practice that inevitably crosses borders."
McGeorge student Michelle Payne, '15, and Gabriela Mendez from USF School of Law, interned with the High Court of Lesotho. The High Court has jurisdiction to hear serious civil and criminal cases, and appeals from the lower courts. Elizabeth McCullough-Sanden from UC Irvine was placed with Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) for her internship.
The internship program began with a tour of the capitol to see the chambers and meet members of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Lesotho. The group also toured a maximum security prison in Lesotho to see another aspect of the justice system.
To further her understanding of how Lesotho's justice system works, Michelle and Gabriela were assigned research projects about how the High Court could improve its processes. For example, Michelle prepared recommendations about how processes such as Advanced Dispute Resolution and Plea Bargaining could be adopted in Lesotho. Next, Michelle and Gabriela delved into categorizing open old cases, to both gain a better understanding of the Lesotho legal system and to determine what point the cases stalled and how to restart the proceedings.
"In my research, I found the juxtaposition of the role of customary law versus the role of codified/civil law in the Courts to be fascinating," said Michelle. "For example, I explored marriage case files in which the couple could not be granted a divorce in the High Court because they had a customary marriage instead of a civil one, and reconciling the two law systems is intense."
Lesotho has a dual legal system consisting of customary and civil laws operating simultaneously. Customary law is the traditional, local law that is based on laws passed down each generation through oral tradition.
"My summer in Lesotho was invaluable professionally and personally," said Elizabeth. "I experienced first-hand the difficulties women face in developing, patriarchal societies and how laws themselves are not enough to ensure women will attain equality."
At WLSA, Elizabeth edited and researched for publications on the forced sterilization of Basotho women living with HIV, as well as human trafficking in Lesotho. She met with civil society organizations, doctors, and HIV-positive women about their experiences with medical clinics and possible forced sterilization as part of her research. Additionally, she worked on divorce, custody, domestic violence and property cases with her colleague, Lebohang, who represented women at the magistrate courts and High Court.
"Since I desire to work in the international human rights field, I have a better understanding about how customs and traditions are huge influences in State behavior, including the behavior of liberal, feminist organizations who must work with custom, instead of fighting against it," said McCullough-Sanden. "Most importantly, I had the honor and pleasure of working with extremely humble, kind, competent people who taught me life lessons about gratitude and dedication, even in the face of legal hurdles and gender discrimination."
At the end of the internship the students returned to the prison to buy a unique paper mache art piece that was made by the prisoners. The prison guard who sold the art uses the money to buy more art supplies for the prisoner rehabilitation art project. Michelle presented the art to Professor Carter back in Sacramento, as a gift from all three interns.
Michelle, who also participated in the McGeorge Salzburg Summer Program on International Legal Studies program last summer, will continue her international legal studies this spring at the Beasley School of Law at Temple University, Japan campus. "I will have studied law on four continents when I receive my degree," said Payne.