Law, Ethics, and Policy in Humanitarian Crises: A Student Perspective on New Simulations

New Products: Somalia in Crisis: Famine, Counterterrorism, and Humanitarian Aid

By Danae Paterson

In the fall of 2014, the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (PILAC) offered prototypes of two case studies under the thematic umbrella of Somalia in Crisis: Famine, Counterterrorism, and Humanitarian Aid. The first case study focuses on an NGO General Counsel simulation, and the second centers on a National Security Council simulation. Both simulations entail a nuanced fact pattern based on the humanitarian crisis of the 2011 Somali famine, which presents a variety of complicated tensions and dilemmas. I took part in the prototypes of both case studies, which were facilitated by PILAC Director and HLS Lecturer on Law Naz Modirzadeh and Senior Researcher Dustin Lewis. Revised and published in February 2015, these case studies are now freely available for use in classroom study or professional instruction.

somalia2The NGO General Counsel simulation asks students to assume the role of general counsel to a U.S.-based and U.S.-funded international nongovernmental organization (INGO) conducting humanitarian aid work in the context of the Somali famine crisis. The quintessential tension of the case study rests on the professional aims of the INGO to provide relief to targeted Somali populations, on one hand, and U.S. counterterrorism laws, which may prohibit the work of the aid groups in portions of the territory controlled by a listed terrorist organization (al-Shabaab), on the other. The general counsel must navigate the complicated legal, policy, and ethical tensions at the intersection of counterterrorism agendas and international humanitarian aid, and ultimately advise the INGO President on the matter. The simulation allows the student to engage with and interview key INGO actors (the INGO’s Regional Director, its Senior Policy Advisor, and the Chairwoman of its Board), produce a written memo, and conduct a final presentation.

whitehouse_historypgThe National Security Council simulation incorporates the same fact pattern but asks the students to assume very different roles. Students may be assigned to represent actors organized into five teams: 1) the National Security Council Staff; (2) the Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of the Treasury; (3) the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security; (4) the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Office of the U.S. Representative to the United Nations; and (5) the Office of he Vice President. These respective teams represent different interests and goals, and the ultimate task of the simulation requires the five teams to work collaboratively to develop consensus on policy recommendations in relation to humanitarian aid and counterterrorism in Somalia. Students are asked to facilitate, give verbal presentations, and/or draft memos, depending on their assigned teams.

Ultimately, both simulations present unique and challenging opportunities both to grapple with the law and to engage in a professional application of legal, facilitative, and client-attorney skills. These experiences are especially valuable in terms of interviewing diverse stakeholders and presenting complex legal concepts to non-lawyers. These are critical skills in the practice of law, but a mode of experiential learning that is often absent from the traditional legal classroom. A particularly challenging exercise in this general skillset is the presentation in the NGO General Counsel simulation, which requires students to synthesize the legal arguments made in their written memos in a fashion that is simultaneously informative, accurate, and persuasive, as well as sensitive to the different interests at stake and accessible to a non-lawyer. This means that the student must not only understand deeply his argument to identify the key points and articulate them but also anticipate the priorities and interests of his audience. The student must also be prepared to adequately answer questions from the varied group of stakeholders.

These simulations take the student far beyond the requirements of a typical law school assignment, which ends at the submission of a written work product. In actual legal professional settings, a lawyer will, after producing the formal legal advice, often have to continue to engage in a sophisticated, responsive, assuring, and competent manner with a client. In certain respects, these skills may be what matter most to a client, beyond the sophisticated legal argumentation a lawyer develops. In these ways, the simulations add incredible value to the traditional legal educational experience by creating the space to develop a more critical legal and professional skill set.

Danae Paterson, a J.D. candidate at Harvard Law School, has been a research assistant at PILAC since December 2014, contributing to its case studies portfolio.

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