Jess Morrison, a 3L at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, recently crafted model legislation that could be used by the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights to bring Iraq into compliance with its obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture or UNCAT). His work was widely praised, with reviewers citing his thoroughness and thoughtful approach. As one collaborator effused, “We are extremely grateful for your help!”
In this interview, Morrison details how he came involved, the important role Professor Wayne McCormack played as an “educator and mentor” on the project, and how his education at the College of Law provided the critical thinking and analysis skills required to undertake the drafting on the project.
First, congratulations on this major accomplishment! Let’s start at the beginning by describing the project.
Iraq had declared its accession to the treaty on 7 July 2011, but to date has not passed or enacted any domestic legislation that would satisfy the requirements of the treaty. It is the goal of the Ministry of Human Rights to rectify this omission and to that end they asked Heartland Alliance International’s (HAI) Iraq office to draft legislation that would stratify Iraq’s obligations under international law.
HAI works on social and economic justice issues in the Middle East, Africa, Southern Asia, and the Americas. HAI’s Iraq office communicated with Professor McCormack who asked me to draft the model legislation. It was decided that we would use UNCAT and similar legislation from the Philippines, South Africa, and Uganda as a starting point. After I drafted the model legislation, I submitted it to HAI and Professor McCormack and then a few edits and comments later that work was submitted to the Ministry of Human Rights, Iraqi lawyers, and Iraqi judges at a conference in Northern Iraq. At the conference it was agreed that the work was good and that significant portions should be accepted as finalized proposed legislation before the Council of Representatives, the legislative body of the Iraqi government.
How did you get involved in drafting the anti-torture model legislation?
I became involved in the project when Professor McCormack asked me to participate over the summer of 2014. Professor McCormack knew my professional and academic background and thought that I would be a good fit to draft the model legislation. Before attending law school I earned a Master’s Degree (M.A.) from the University of Chicago in Anthropology with a focus on Human Rights and Systems of Globalization. I was also an activist working against the United States actions in Guantanamo Bay and against the torture of captives held there. Later I was awarded a Human Rights Fellowship from the University of Chicago to work for a local human rights organization in Nepal as a ceasefire monitor during the end of the ten-year Nepali Civil War. As a ceasefire monitor I documented human rights violations including torture, systematic killings, disappearances, and acts of terror. These experiences made me a good candidate to think critically about the application of anti-torture legislation to real world situations and hopefully draft a functional and cogent document that would result in actual progress combating torture.
What was Heartland Alliance International’s role in this project?
HAI Iraq works to serve children, survivors of torture, prevent human trafficking and sexual and gender-based violence from Sulaymaniyah, Iraq in the Kurdistan region. It works closely with the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi Federal Government. My work was for the “Strengthening the Rule of Law in Iraq: Implementation of the UN Convention Against Torture in Iraq” program. Under this program, HAI attempt to undertake “a series of interrelated activities to increase judicial transparency, decrease abuse in the criminal justice system, and provide legal and psychological services to recent torture survivors. HAI works to engage civil society and government partners to help develop a comprehensive advocacy strategy to support implementation of the UN CAT by the Iraq and Kurdistan governments.” The model legislation and the associated judicial conferences are a major piece of this program.
How did your classes, clinical experiences, etc., help to prepare you to undertake a project of this type?
Although I relied extensively on my previous professional and academic experiences, I did apply significant skills and training from the S.J. Quinney College of Law. I applied theories and construction principles derived from Professor Michael Teter’s Statutory Interpretation course. I also used significant principles and background taken directly from Professor Antony Anghie’s International Law course and Professor Wayne McCormack’s International Criminal Law course where the concepts of International Human Rights, torture, and state responsibility were routinely discussed and debated. In general my legal education has empowered my critical thinking and analysis throughout the drafting process.
What was Professor McCormack’s role?
Professor McCormack was instrumental to this project. HAI first contacted him and sought his help with the anti-torture legislation. Additionally his scholarship and previous experiences working on rule of law projects in Iraq were invaluable. I appreciated his patience and his time as we sat in his office thumbing through books and papers on the Iraqi Federal Government system and particularly its judicial branch, which would be an essential piece of the model legislation. Professor McCormack e-mailed experts on the Iraqi judicial system that he has previous professional and personal contacts with, and their information informed our understanding of how to structure the skeleton of the proposed legislation. In short, I do not think it is too much to say that Professor McCormack was an amazing leader, educator, and mentor throughout the process and I would highly recommend to any student with an interest in international law to work with him through the Global Justice Think Tank, which will provide amazing opportunities to apply the knowledge that one learns as a student to real world problems of merit and value.
What did you learn in drafting this legislation? Do you believe it will help when you enter practice?
In this process I think I learned a lot about the governmental structure of Iraqi, the gaps in state compliance with international norms, and the realities of implementation of international law to real world situations. My communications with HAI were enlightening because they were (and still are) facing the very real threat of ISIS on the Kurdish border, a situation that is evolving and requires extreme diligence. I am not sure that there is a professional niche to fill that involves drafting national legislation for compliance with international treaties and international norms, but there is a need for law students to participate beyond the classroom in the specialties of their courses. I think that my participation with this project has been a great opportunity to contribute to the global community rather than simply study abstractly. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and honored and humbled by the response to my work.