On the 29th of October, the Lund Disability Human Rights Clinic concluded its latest course for students at the Faculty of law at Lund University. Led by Anna Bruce, Senior Researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, the Human Rights Clinic has continuously developed since its beginning in 2019. The 2021 clinic saw increased interaction between the students and practitioners, a greater focus on oral presentation and, most importantly, work with real ongoing cases.
This autumn the clinic’s civil society partners were the Independent Living Institute (ILI) and Antidiskrimineringsbyrån Norra Skåne (ADB) with the students working in two groups on separate cases. One group of students worked on proving that a person’s exclusion from the Swedish armed forces educational program was discrimination on the basis of disability according to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The other group students worked with the “65-year rule”, according to which you cannot apply for personal assistance in Sweden after the age of 65. This year, for the first time, the students had the opportunity to directly interact with the clients.
Through this direct interaction, Anna explains that the students learned a lot about the centrality of the client’s perspective and client interaction. For example, on the one hand you need certain information from the client to do justice to the case, but you also do not want to ask questions that are more intrusive than necessary, or even disrespectful. These were ongoing and potentially life-changing cases that were actually being litigated at the time of the course, as opposed to previous years in which students worked on cases that would only later be taken to court.
Additionally, this time more legal practitioners came to talk about their work. This gave the students an insight into the reality of strategic litigation and what it is like to work as a lawyer in a human right organisation. Through the participation of organisations of persons with disabilities, the students also learned about the living conditions and injustices with which persons with disabilities are confronted.
Interview with Mikaela Dahl
Mikaela Dahl was one of the course participants this autumn. Here she describes her expectations, her learnings and her general experience of participating in the course.
First of all, why did you choose this course and what were your expectations?
I choose this course because I’ve always been interested in promoting equality between people. The aspect of being able to work with real cases also especially interested me, so I could be able to apply my knowledge to people’s actual problems and be able to help them out.
How was the course structured?
The course started with a few lectures about national and international law in a more general sense, especially the CRPD. Later on we had more practitioners coming to us. They talked not only about specific rules but also about how they are used in real cases, especially concerning international law, as that’s quite different than what we’ve been working on generally during our education. We also had group work where we set the standard of what we wanted to do during the seminars or the meetings with Anna, once a week. We decided amongst ourselves what we wanted to do each week and how we were going to form our report.
How was the experience of working again in groups after a long period of working from home, did it help you successfully carrying out the project? What did you learn from directly speaking with the clients?
It definitely helped working together. Especially because the course, even if it interested me a lot, was a bit scary to start with. It felt a lot like it could have real consequences, both good and bad. So in that sense it was really good to be able to work with our group and definitely even more when we could do it in person. Sometimes when someone was sick we could do it over Zoom, it is a good way to do things when nothing else works, but it’s not the same as working in person. Especially as we didn’t know each other before this course it was easier to form some sort of bond and be able to try out your thoughts when unsure.
Most of our contact was with the organisation ADB, although we had one meeting with the actual client. Working with ADB was really rewarding because generally in our education we think more from an academic point of view.
“It was rewarding to get to think more practically and to have more real issues brought up, for example maybe we can’t take this argument right now, we have to wait. We have all this knowledge but how do we actually use it in real life?”
Then speaking with the actual client, it was a bit scary because we have this as a course and of course we are very dedicated to it, but it’s his life. But it was also very rewarding, on a personal level to feel that we did something. In the future I will probably have a lot more client meetings, and getting to have my first one during my education is very valuable I think.
What assistance did you get on your actual work on the case? Did you run into any difficulties?
We had meetings once a week. Since we’re such a small group we also had the opportunity to get feedback when we had lectures or just by sending an email. But these meetings were very good to have, sometimes we went there and thought we wouldn’t have anything to talk about, then one and a half hours just passed because Anna had lots of new inputs or just wanted us to explain something a bit further. It was very good to have these meetings so often as well, we got a lot of pep talk and encouragement.
Concerning difficulties, at the beginning there were not so many guidelines, it was not clear what we were going to do. But I also think that this is not something bad, we decided for ourselves what our report was going to look like, what we wanted to bring into it.
To summarise, what did you think of the course in general? Do you feel that it met your expectations?
At first I thought that this course was a bit scary, this is something I wanted to do but I thought that maybe I couldn’t do it. But this course really did meet my expectations and more because we got so much out of it, for example in terms of knowledge. I learned so much that I would not learn in another course, I thought so much about one Convention that I had not even heard about before. Working in a team for such a long time was a bit different as well, because usually group work is with fewer people.
“It was really rewarding and educational to work together for such a long time and be able to get insights from other people. I haven’t really experienced that in other courses, because that’s only involved fictional cases. Here we all really cared about it and it came through.”
I also think that this course has given me knowledge outside of the law field, I’ve seen so many other career paths for the future. So I think this is one of the courses that has opened up a lot more paths for me, just because I know much more about the existence of different organisations.
Finally, what did you gain as a person from the course?
For me personally, what I really felt when I walked out on the last day was that I know that there are organisations and such that I can work with in the future. During the rest of our education there is so much corporate law which does not apply to me. And I know I’ve been wanting to work with human rights, but I didn’t know how I could do that. So in that sense I gained a lot from it. Also, we have had international law during our education but I had not really understood how it actually can be applicable in Sweden. I really learned that you can use it, maybe you don’t just always have to follow the path that has been there before when following the laws. You can also try to think outside of the box to turn to another way.