Building Sustainable Communities of Public Interest Advocates to Protect the Rights of Vulnerable Groups

In September 2013, the U.S.-Asia Law Institute began a three-year project designed to promote the Rule of Law, Civil Society, and Human Rights in China.  The project goal is to build and strengthen sustainable communities of public interest advocates focused on using the law to solve specific social problems relating to land rights, labor rights, and the right to be free from discrimination in employment based on gender, disability, and sexual orientation.  In each of these three areas, unresolved grievances have often generated social conflict; yet the law, and better access to justice, potentially affords Chinese citizens a peaceful and legitimate means of redressing grievances and resolving conflict.

The proposed program is innovative in that it would bring together public interest advocates in China with foreign experts in the same field and build communities of legal experts who will work together to address deep-seated obstacles to social justice and the Rule of Law.  This approach enables those who are closest to the problems to learn from domestic and foreign successes and to formulate “best practice” strategies to overcome barriers to justice, as well as to develop better strategies for protecting themselves so as to more effectively protect the legal rights of their clients and contribute to a vibrant civil society.

NYU’s program is unique in that it recognizes both specific and shared challenges that public interest lawyers face in different substantive areas (unlike programs that target public interest law generally), and it leverages the extraordinary resources of a leading law school that is known for its commitment to and expertise in public interest law. NYU’s approach focusing on specific problem-solving and community building is another distinguishing factor.

Main Objectives

  • Build three sustainable communities of public interest advocates focused on land rights, labor rights, and employment discrimination, respectively
  • Support these communities in identifying and defining the specific obstacles to the protection of rights in these three substantive areas
  • Share best practices to overcome those obstacles
  • Put those strategies into practice
  • Work with these communities to develop ways to protect themselves and other lawyers working in restrictive or challenging political environments.

Anticipated Results and Impacts

  • Publication of analyses of social issues and legal strategies as well as case studies describing best practices
  • Utilization of innovative communication technologies, where appropriate, to disseminate published materials and ideas to a wider audience
  • Leverage innovative communication technologies to share information in real time
  • Improve the capacity of individual and institutional participants to share experiences to more effectively advocate on behalf of vulnerable groups and to protect themselves and their colleagues from retaliation.  The development of these communities of common interest among public interest lawyers provides opportunities for networking, exchange, and solidarity. That is both an immediate output and a long-lasting outcome
  • The ultimate benchmark will be that Chinese public interest advocates will resolve social problems and secure a more recognized and protected status in Chinese society, which, in turn, is essential for the public interest advocacy community to grow in numbers and effectiveness