Mr. Andrés Gascón-Cuenca is the Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, at the University of Valencia, Spain.
Lawyr.it: First of all, we would like to know lecturer Andrés Gascón-Cuenca better. What made you choose a legal career and how did you discover your interest in Human Rights?
A.G.-C.: Since I started high school, I felt attracted to the world of Law. Once I started the degree, Human rights was an area in which I have been always interested, as a cornerstone of any lawyers’ job is to defend the basic rights of the people, the essential threshold that must be granted to any person.
I definitely went for this area of law once I finished the legal practice I did in order to finish my law studies. I worked on it in a law firm, around 2009. By that time, the financial crisis was affecting Spain really hard, and the unemployment rate hit the 17, 4% that year. The major part of the work I performed was focused in the execution of forced evictions from usual homes from people that had just lost their jobs and were not able to pay their mortgages. In that precise moment, I realised that I had not studied law to perform the kind of job where the basic rights of the individuals were completely dismissed. Law should be used to help people solve their problems, not otherwise.
Lawyr.it: If you had to choose again the line of studies, would you still choose Law or would you like to try something else? What is more, would you still choose Human Rights as a field of interest?
A.G.-C.: Surely I would choose Human Rights and Law, but I would do a double degree in Law plus Political Science. In fact, I am now studying this degree. I like the world of Law and the research in Human Rights, and the complementary vision that the study of political science gives to whole picture is highly useful, I think.
Lawyr.it: Tell us more about your work at the International Human Rights Clinic in Valencia. Why did you start this legal clinic project and what impact does it have on students’ preparation/learning? Could you tell us a few words about the cases you have had at the clinic and how has the involvement of your team influenced the outcome of these cases?
A.G.-C.: This clinic takes cases from organisations and NGOs with which we have agreements of collaboration. Students in this clinic prepare reports to support strategic litigation in cases in which human rights have been jeopardized. They acquire multiple skills performing all the tasks that building up a strategic litigation case requires, such as performing researching into UN documents or ECtHR case law, to construct the best way to defend the rights of the people we are working with, improving their oral presentation abilities, performing interview with clients, among others.
We had multiple cases, but, if I have to underline some of them, one would be when we collaborated in helping an international organisation to sue the Czech Republic in front of the European Court of Human Rights because of the discriminatory application of the Education Act against Roma pupils. The Czech Republic was sentenced for this issue in 2007 (D.H. & others against Czech Republic), and this organization we were working with was thinking in suing again this State, because it still was applying the Education Act in a discriminatory way towards Roma pupils in 2013. The report is available in English language here.
We collaborated with another international organization doing an amicus curiae in front of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case Vélez Respeto y Familiares vs. Colombia (here), where Colombia was sentenced because of the violation of several articles of the American Convention on Human Rights.
We are working as well in a project called Crossing borders with NGOs from Morocco. In this project, we are giving legal advice to migrants that are trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in order to reach the Spanish shore before they do so. We basically inform them about what it means to be an irregular migrant in Spain, and about what are their rights, in order to provide them with the full information on our legal system.
Lawyr.it: You have recently participated at a conference, here in Cluj-Napoca, at the Faculty of Law, in order to speak about the Human Rights Clinic, at the invitation of Delia Niţă (CRJ) and Iulia Pascu (ACTEDO). Are you working on opening a line of collaboration?
A.G.-C.: We are highly interested in maintaining a line of collaboration with CRJ and ACTEDO in the different areas we are working into. The attention that clinical legal education is receiving from the University Babeș-Bolyai, the students of the School of Law, and organizations such as ACTEDO and CRJ are very stimulating. From my visit to Cluj-Napoca, I realissed that Romania and Spain share the same difficulties when it comes to the practical education of the law students. So that, having this first contact, we are willing to initiate a network of collaboration which both of us can use to exchange ideas and participate in projects to promote social justice and social values.
Lawyr.it: We are all familiar with the on-going refugee crisis and the countries’ approach to the massive amount of asylum applications. What is your opinion on the lowering of the standard at which countries guarantee the respect of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) for these people? Can this situation be described as a derogation in time of emergency, as provided by Article 15 of the Convention?
A.G.-C.: The breach of the protection given by the ECHR is not a new thing when it comes to refugee protection. Nowadays, it is more present in the media, but unfortunately this type of cases can be found since many time ago. For example, Spain has been sentenced in the case A.C. and other vs. Spain (April 22, 2014), for returning people that were applying for the refugee statue without respecting the due process of law. This situation is completely inadmissible and cases must be reported. The application of the rule of law and the guarantee of the human rights has no exceptions and it is particularly despicable when the States of the European Union close their eyes to the tragedy of the refugees.
Lawyr.it: Do you think that the Paris attack justifies a change of optics in the policy of the European states, as they tend to closely monitor the attitude of Syrian citizens who are travelling across Europe, and, consequently, are very likely to discriminate them based on religion or nationality?
A.G.-C.: People from Syria and other countries such as Iraq are trying to scape from the horrors of war. Mixing the refuge crisis with the problem of terrorism is completely unacceptable, and that kind of speech coming from politicians or other members of the society should be pointed out as racist and xenophobic. European politicians must bear in mind that these people are trying to scape from persecutions, violence, and war risking their lives, crossing, for example, the Mediterranean Sea, where hundreds of people died with the indifference and inaction of the EU. Moreover, any kind of discrimination based on nationality is against the international law.
Lawyr.it: Lastly, our trademark questions: if you have to give one piece of advice from your experience, what would you recommend to law students?
A.G.-C.: My piece of advice to future lawyers would be that they must always help to defend the rights of the people that come to them asking for help, and especially the rights of the most disadvantaged within the society. Lawyers have a key-role as watchdogs of the standards of application of the rights granted in our societies. Being a lawyer and representing people in court are jobs that will require from them a high sense of responsibility. People will come to them for solutions, and they, as professionals, must provide them with the best defense they can carry out. Lawyers, as physicians do, must focus in helping those who are in need.
This interview was originally published in the tenth issue of the magazine, which can be accessed here.