Weissman Research Has Broad Impacts for U.S. and Other Countries

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Deborah Weissman

UNC School of Law professor Deborah Weissman has experienced firsthand a Cuban approach to domestic violence. While researching the issue there, she walked through neighborhoods with physicians and social workers as they responded to problems.

Cuba’s climate invites open-window environments where neighbors overhear each other.

“Domestic violence is a public matter. I’ve been amazed at how people come out and tell doctors and social workers what’s going on and invite them in for a cup of coffee,” Weissman, Reef C. Ivey II Distinguished Professor of Law, says. “Cubans have had an exceptionally comprehensive methodology and practice for dealing with domestic violence.”

That’s just one of the international research projects Weissman has initiated, independently and with students in her Human Rights Policy Seminar. She also has written an article about the role of Cuban women in the emerging political economy, and one about Mexico’s legal reform and problems with the United States’ intervention in the Mexican judicial system.

Her research potentially has broad impacts with lessons for the U.S. and other countries.

“Our research sharpens an understanding of the common and larger issues pertaining to human rights and the relationship between structural inequality, poverty and human rights violations,” Weissman says. “Our projects demonstrate the need to avoid the practice of U.S. exceptionalism that suggests that human rights violations happen elsewhere, and instead provide the knowledge to connect civil rights with human rights and to ‘bring human rights home.’’’

In another project, Weissman’s students Skyped with a torture victim in Italy for whom they’re advocating with the United Nations. Then they submitted a brief and petition on behalf of Abou Elkassim Britel to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. Britel is a naturalized Italian citizen falsely charged with passport violations while traveling in Pakistan in 2002. U.S. officials took custody of him, tortured him and flew him to a Moroccan prison, where he was tortured and released after nine years. The brief explains the legal obligation of four governments to offer him official apologies. Read more

“As attention is drawn to the fact that there was an investigation and he was completely cleared … we’re hoping his community will do more to embrace him and help him get on his feet,” Weissman says. “Students have given Mr. Britel a gift just by their efforts.”

Weissman expects the petition to generate a report calling for the governments involved in Britel’s rendition and torture to apologize and offer reparations. She isn’t optimistic the governments will comply.

But she is impressed by state efforts in Cuba to support gender equality and address domestic violence. She notes, however, that the government’s ability to intervene has been reduced as Cuba moves toward a more privatized economy.

“Cuba wants to be a good international state. Unlike the U.S., it has signed on to the (U.N.) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” Weissman says.

“There’s a solid foundation in Cuba, in terms of gender equality,” she says. “The cultural will to focus on women’s needs is very much there.”

-November 24, 2014

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