Sophie Jin, a first year student at the UW School of Law, spent her summer as a legal Intern with EarthRights International (ERI) in Washington, D.C. ERI is noted for its use of innovative legal tactics, including the transnational prosecution of corporate offenders for crimes which conventional approaches typically fail to address. Sophie assisted the legal team on a range of projects aimed at redressing the imbalance of power between multinational corporations and local people that leads to the violation of human rights and harm to the environment. She researched and drafted memoranda on appellate procedure in the case Doe v. Chiquita, a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of Colombian families against Chiquita Brands International, Inc. for funding and arming paramilitary organizations to maintain its control over the region’s banana industry. She also assisted in fact-finding for potential litigation matters and drafted submissions to government agencies on issues ranging from human rights implications of domestic legislation in Myanmar to regulations governing corporate disclosures of payments to local governments related to extractive industry projects.
Steven Swenson, a second-year law student, worked with Columbia Legal Services’s Basic Human Needs Project. His focus area was on rent-to-own scams in Washington State, which target impoverished and undocumented people. These deals enable unscrupulous landlords to receive a large down payment, charge inflated rent and avoid responsibility to keep the home habitable. Furthermore, such predatory agreements position landlords to evict in order to attract a new tenant for another large down payment. The goal of Steven’s work was to educate people about their housing rights and eliminate this practice, which preys upon the desire for homeownership. He researched the legality of rent-to-own contracts, investigated bad actors in our state, worked on community outreach and education, and helped prepare a case to get a tenant’s payments back. The most significant work Steven did was to write a legal memo for housing advocates across the state which will help them protect their clients’ rights when they are presented with a rent-to-own lease. He also wrote a know-your-rights pamphlet in easy-to-follow language, which will be put up on washingtonlawhelp.org in multiple languages to help anyone who finds themselves in a bad rent-to-own situation. He also worked as back-up on a case which aims to ensure easy access to free healthcare for impoverished and undocumented people in Washington.
Steven took a lot of pictures, which were presented to the courts as evidence. One of the pictures sent to us in a summary report of his activities was of a rat from an infested rent-to-own home where the landlord refused to pay for extermination. We will leave that image to your imagination; however, included above is a picture of Steven (third from top left) with Seattle Basic Human Needs team made up of attorneys, paralegals, and legal interns, which worked together on human rights in housing, healthcare, and eldercare in Washington State. Steven shares: “I loved the work so much that I am going to continue laboring on these cases and issues by volunteering through the school year.
Angela Thurmond, a Law, Societies and Justice student, spent her summer aiding efforts to empower homeless communities in Seattle, namely those from the Nickelsville community. Nickelsville is made up of two camps of homeless residents in Seattle, WA and is often referred to as ‘tent city.’ As King County’s “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness” reaches its deadline, the homeless community in Seattle continues to grow and shelter space becomes more scarce. Nickelsville strives to maintain a safe, low-maintenance, sheltered space for homeless individuals, couples and families that would otherwise be sleeping on the streets. With funds from the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Endowed Human Rights Fund, Angela was able to help coordinate several fundraising efforts to supply very basic amenities that the Nickelsville camp requires to maintain a fundamental human dignity in the camps — notably, an onsite Honey Bucket.
In addition, Angela worked with Nickelsville staff to help improve their online presence in an effort to reach a wider audience with their needs. Nickelsville staff learned to build and maintain an active email list, maintain their website, and manage social media campaigns. Angela and the staff also solicited the help of a freelance photographer to capture images of the camp’s residents for their website. By the end of the summer they raised nearly $5,000 for Nickelsville through social media campaigns and fundraising efforts such as a community pie contest. Angela wrote, “For many, Nickelsville has brought at least a basic level of dignity to the hardships of homelessness. Safety, security, protection from environmental exposure, and privacy all contribute to this dignity, but minimal amenities like the on-site Honey Buckets also play a huge role. Without them, residents would be forced to dispose of their waste the same way many homeless have to – in public streets and parking lots. This is not just a public health hazard; it’s a humiliating, dehumanizing process that creates a very negative public discourse around the homeless.” You can visit Nickelsville’s website at: http://www.nickelsvilleworks.org/