Five of the most prominent women lawyers in the US arrive in the Philippines to probe into the political persecution, repression and human rights violations in the country.
Rachel Lederman (National Lawyers Guild, she won a million-dollar lawsuit against the city of San Francisco for illegally detaining protesters),
Vanessa Lucas (National Lawyers Guild, Children and Family Justice Center),
Merrilyn Onisko (National Lawyers Guild Co-Chair for the Middle East Sub-committee),
Jill Soffiyah Elijah (Deputy Director of Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard Law School)
Tina Monshipour Foster (Counsel for the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, Center for Constitutional Research)
With them in the press conference are Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Liza Maza, Gabriela Secretary General Emmi De Jesus.
Please find below, the lawyers’ profiles and their mission statement:
JILL SOFFIYAH ELIJAH
Ms. Elijah currently serves as Deputy Director of the Criminal Justice Institute, (CJI) Harvard Law School. Before this, she was a clinical instructor where she supervised third year law students in the representation of adult and juvenile clients in the Roxbury and Dorchester Divisions of the Boston Municipal Court.
She was also a member of the faculty at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law and taught courses in criminal procedure and juvenile rights. Ms. Elijah who specialized in criminal defense and family law, was a supervising Attorney at the Neigborhood Defense Service of Harlem, and before this, worked as a staff attorney for the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society.
Prof. Elijah has authored several articles and publications based on her research of the US criminal justice and prison systems, and has represented numerous political prisoners and social activists over the past 18 years. She has traveled to Cuba and conducted extensive research on the country’s legal system.
Born in Queens, New York, Ms. Elijah earned a Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan.
Ms. Lederman has been practicing law for eighteen years, primarily in the areas of civil rights and tenants’ rights affirmative litigation, and criminal and juvenile appeals.
She currently serves as the co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Post-9/11 Committee and was vice president of the S.F. Bay Area National Lawyers Guild chapter. She was one of the authors of the NLG’s Know Your Rights materials. In addition, she was also a steering committee member of the International Human Rights Initiative, a Governing Board member of Bay Area Police Watch and a member of the NLG National Police Accountability Project.
Ms. Lederman was one of the primary attorneys on a legal team that recently won a sweeping overhaul of Oakland Police Department demonstrations and crowd control policies. This was in the context of a federal civil rights class action arising from the shootings of 58 people with “less lethal” munitions during an antiwar demonstration at the Port of Oakland on April 7, 2003.
She also obtained a one million dollar settlement and a significant published decision in a class action for 350 people arrested during a State of Emergency in San Francisco in 1992 (Collins v. Jordan, 110 F.3d 1363 (9th Cir. 1996). She also won a $225,000 settlement for 17 AIDS activists briefly detained in bars and restaurants by the San Francisco Police during the 1989 “Castro sweep”.
Some of her published appellate decisions:
People v. Hilger (2003) 105 Cal.App.4th 202
People v. Chacon (2003) 1 Cal.Rptr.3d 223
Collins v. Jordan, 110 F.3d 1363 (9th Cir. 1997)
TINA MONSHIPOUR FOSTER
From working in the Manhattan Office of Clifford Chance LLP, one of the world’s largest law firms, Ms. Tina Foster gave it all up to become one of three attorneys working at the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of prisoners at the US Naval Station at Gunatanamo Bay, Cuba.
As counsel for the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, she coordinates more than 400 individual cases and a “John Doe” case on behalf of unnamed prisoners who have been held without charges since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In August 2005, Ms. Foster together with other Attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) worked to secure the release of two detainees held at Guantanamo who have been declared innocent of terrorist related activities yet continued to be detained. The CCR argues that the men, who are of ethnic Uighurs from China, cannot be returned to China where they face persecution.
Ms. Foster got her Juris Doctorate from the Cornell Law School where she was editor of the Cornell International Law Journal and President of the Cornell Law Students Association. Ms. Foster has been deeply engaged in the pursuit of the protection and observance of civil rights for detainees held in US detention facilities all over the world. Before joining CCR, Ms. Foster practiced law in New York, specializing in criminal defense and class action litigation.
VANESSA MELENDEZ LUCAS
Ms. Lucas earned her Juris Doctorate and MA in Business Administration from the University of San Diego in California. Her law practice has primarily focused on the defense of women and children immigrant rights and she has represented clients in various employment, labor law and civil rights cases.
An active member of the National Lawyers Guild, Ms. Lucas supervises the Children and Family Justice Center’s Children’s Immigration Law practice. With law students and volunteers, she provides legal assistance and representation to children and adolescents seeking refuge in the United States. She was involved in the litigation of asylum and Convention Against Torture claims of children fleeing street gang violence, state persecution, homelessness and abuse.
Ms. Lucas has likewise represented women survivors of domestic violence in divorce, custody, visitation, emergency protection and abuse and developed a curriculum for clinical seminar on domestic violence advocacy.
While attending USD she was actively involved in mediation training, the Human Rights Education Programs, and the San Diego Volunteer Lawyers Program "AIDS Team."
Ms. Onisko is the Co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Middle East Sub-committee. She has led various initiatives to fight the systematic violence and institutionalized war crimes spawned by racism.
A legal worker with extensive experience in refugee camps in Lebanon, Ms. Onisko has reported on the plight of Palestinian refugees in the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. She has represented the Palestinian Human Rights Organization in petitioning international bodies to urge the Lebanese government to reverse its policies criticized as racist and discriminatory.
Statement of Mission
Disturbed by the persistent accusations of the Philippine government against, among others, Congresswoman Liza Maza of the Gabriela Women’s Party; Eliza Tita Lubi of the Gabriela Women’s Party; the Gabriela Women’s Party itself, and against the GABRIELA National Alliance of Women;
Concerned by the continuing assassinations of activists, 70 of them women, with none of the assailants being brought to justice and, in almost all instances, the assailants being identified as para-military or military elements; and
Disturbed as well by government threats against and vilification of court judges who rule against government petitions;
We leave for the Philippines with the following intent:
· To confer with human rights lawyers to ascertain the viability of due process and evidence in the rebellion cases filed against Congresswoman Liza Maza, her five congressional colleagues and others;
· To discuss with women leaders the continuing threat of murder against activists, especially women organizers;
· To examine the connection between the government policy of exporting women into the international labor market and persecution of organizations and leaders, especially women who organize women, and the serious threats to their life and liberties, as well as to women’s rights, human rights and civil liberties;
· To examine the connection between the Philippines’ involvement in the so-called war on terror and the constriction of democratic space in the country;
· To express our concern both publicly and privately over this continuing persecution and assassinations.
· To seek international venues and actively work for the relief of the persecuted, especially persecuted women activists and leaders, in the Philippines;