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Law professor wins Fulbright research grant

| Monday, February 16, 2015

Notre Dame law professor Douglass Cassel, an international human rights law scholar, won a Fulbright Fellowship to do research in the spring semester of 2016 on Mexican courts’ enforcement of Inter-American human rights law.

Among his credentials, Cassel served as Legal Advisor to the United Nations Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, was an award-winning commentator on human rights and represented victims of human rights violations in Colombia, Guatemala, Peru and Venezuela.

Cassel’s research in Mexico is for one of the Fulbright Programs for the social sciences, he said. He competed not only against other legal scholars, but also against anyone else involved in the social sciences.

“The research is on the enforcement of Inter-American human rights law, and it’s really important in the field of international human rights law,” Cassel said.

Cassel said a new doctrine implemented in Mexico not only tells national courts to enforce international human rights, but also tells them how they should do it.

“It’s a radical departure. … It’s going to be fascinating how the courts react to it,” Cassel said. “The purpose of my research is [to see] how the doctrine is working in practice.”

According to a Notre Dame press release, “The Inter-American Court of Human Rights provides a forum where citizens can sue their own states for violations of the American Convention on Human Rights. Because the Court has limited capacity, it recently developed the innovative but controversial doctrine of ‘control of conventionality’ that, in effect, deputizes the far more numerous national courts to enforce the Convention.”

Cassel said in the press release his proposal outlined a 6-month stay in Mexico, “the country where efforts to carry out the new ‘control of conventionality’ doctrine are most advanced,” to focus on the policy and examine how it is being carried out by Mexican judges.

“Can it actually work?” Cassel said in the press release. “If so, how? Do national court judges know about it? In practice, do they resist or embrace it? Without training in international human rights law, how can they get its application right? How expansively do they interpret their own jurisdiction, under national law, to become international human rights enforcers?”

Cassel teaches regional as well as international human rights law at Notre Dame, and this year, one of his students is writing a thesis on this doctrine.

“I will be reading his entire doctoral thesis, which is going to be the most complete and up-to-date scholarly reading on the subject,” Cassel said. “So I’ll have plenty of advanced academic research before I go.”

During his time in Mexico, Cassel will stay at the Institute of Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Cassel’s host scholar there is one of the university’s senior researchers as well as a former judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“It’s the right institute in the right country at the right time to study a novel doctrine that will have potential implications not only for Latin American but also for countries across the world,” Cassel said.

Cassel said the application deadline was back in August 2014, and the entire application process went through three stages.

“I got a notification in early November that I made the first cut, did a Skype interview with a group of decision-makers in Mexico City, and then I finally got the notice a week or two ago,” Cassel said.

There were only four recipients of this particular fellowship, and Cassel said the competition was especially strong this year. He said the competition included a variety of political scientists, sociologists, psychologists and more, so he was thrilled when he received the news he was awarded the fellowship.

“It’s very gratifying for any serious academic to be given a grant that enables you to devote an entire semester to research and scholarship,” Cassel said. “I love teaching, but this frees me up for a semester to really dig in on the scene at the leading edge of a new doctrine in international law.”

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

Contact Selena