April 10, 2007

Pro Bono Spotlight: Protecting Human Rights and the Rule of Law

Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Pro Bono Project

Faegre & Benson serves as the lead administrative firm for the Liberian Truth & Reconciliation Commission Pro Bono Project, a unique joint undertaking by Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and member firms of the Minnesota Law Firm Pro Bono Consortium.

Volunteers from Faegre & Benson and other firms will support the work of the TRC and collect personal statements from Liberian refugees in the United States to document human rights violations suffered during the country's brutal 26-year civil war — a conflict that killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced as many as 1.5 million Liberians across the globe. These statements will be included in the TRC's historical record of the conflict.

"With an estimated 25,000 Liberians in its population, Minnesota has one of the largest Liberian communities outside of West Africa," said James A. O'Neal, a member of the project's national management team and leader of Faegre & Benson's 22-member team of project volunteers. "We hope that giving these members of our community the chance to tell their stories not only contributes to the ongoing reconciliation process, but also aids in personal healing. We are proud to serve together with other area law firms in this effort."

This marks the first time a truth and reconciliation commission has reached out to refugees who have fled to the United States.

Colorado Pro Bono Asylum Practice

In keeping with Faegre & Benson's strong commitment to international human rights advocacy, the Colorado pro bono asylum practice has expanded significantly in the past two years. Lawyers in the firm's Colorado office are actively engaged in providing pro bono representation to both adults and children seeking asylum or immigration status in the United States.

Teams of Faegre & Benson attorney and paralegal volunteers have successfully represented adult clients in affirmative asylum applications and have also defended clients already in removal proceedings. Our lawyers have assisted asylum seekers from many countries, including Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda, Togo, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. Many of our clients have escaped from countries in which they were persecuted for their political or religious beliefs, or for membership in minority clans—and many of them would face grave danger or death if returned to their native countries.

Firm attorneys in Colorado also represent children seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. The firm is a founding member of the Washington, D.C.–based National Center for Refugee & Immigrant Children. Our child clients are typically unaccompanied by a responsible adult, and are often subject to exploitation in the community. Many face the same dangers as adult asylum seekers should they be returned to their country of origin; like their adult counterparts, they are also required to navigate a complex legal system of immigration laws and court practice. Pro bono representation of these most vulnerable clients is critical to success in obtaining safe, permanent homes for them.

In 2006, Faegre & Benson received a Pro Bono Recognition Award from the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center for its work on behalf of asylum clients.

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