Students visit from Sierra Leone

Three law students and one professor from Sierra Leone have spent the last two weeks learning from Yale Law students while sharing their own experiences.

The professor and students come from Fourah Bay College, the only law school in Sierra Leone — a country in western Africa that began to emerge from a lengthy civil war with a truce last November.

The trip was funded by the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School and follows a journey to Sierra Leone made last Spring Break by four Yale Law students, including Emily Pierce LAW ’02. Pierce said the Yale students helped Fourah Bay College establish the first human rights clinic in Sierra Leone.

The professor and students from Sierra Leone worked for human rights on a less formal level even before they set up the clinic.

“Their efforts were more extracurricular,” Pierce said.

At Yale, the visitors from Sierra Leone sought to learn how to make their actual clinic a place where students can conduct legal research, develop briefs, and gain experience on how to put together cases. The United Nations is forming a war crimes tribunal, and in the coming years Sierra Leone will attempt to use legal channels to try individuals responsible for atrocities during the country’s civil war.

Fourah Bay professor Yada Williams said he was impressed by Yale Law School.

“In Sierra Leone, the professors teach classes and then leave the school,” William said. “But here, the students are in much closer contact with the professors. Students see and talk to their professors because the professors are around.”

During the two weeks, Williams and his students sat in on various classes at the Yale Law School. They attended Law School classes on pertinent subjects like criminal law and international law, and they also attended an undergraduate class on international human rights.

Alpha Sesay, one of the students from Sierra Leone, said he found a trip to a local Immigration and Naturalization Service office particularly informative.

“Seeing the forms and correspondences for immigration showed important aspects and ones that students can effectively instill in our clinic in Sierra Leone,” Sesay said.

Last Tuesday the visitors from Sierra Leone led a panel discussion at the Law School on human rights. They also visited two schools in the New Haven community and spoke with students about the importance of human rights.

“All the students were extremely receptive. They asked questions, and we led games orientated around teaching human rights,” Williams said.

Williams and his students said they perform similar activities back in Sierra Leone. He said they have set up various panels and visited 13 different secondary schools, and are working on creating free legal services in the country.

Pierce said the visitors from Sierra Leone have made concrete steps toward an effective clinic that can help force change in their country, but said the role of Yale Law School will play has not ended.

“When they go back to Sierra Leone, our job is to still stay in contact, to give them support from this side,” Pierce said.

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