North Gauteng High Court: Rivonia Trial and Judge Cynthia Pretorius by Molly Schmiege, 16 March 2011

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

These were the final words that Nelson Mandela spoke during the course of the Rivonia Trial. Nelson Mandela and ten others were charged with sabotage, and the trial lasted eight months. All but two of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on June 12, 1964.

On Tuesday, March 15 we visited the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria where the Rivonia Trial was held. It was a beautiful, old building on historic Church Square. While there, we met with Judge Cynthia Pretorius, who serves on the High Court.

We had the extremely rare privilege of entering the cell where Nelson Mandela and the other defendants were held during the course of the trial. It was absolutely amazing to be in a place that has so much historical significance. The cell was in the basement of the courthouse, and there was only one small window. The walls were covered with graffiti written by former occupants, including the defendants in the Rivonia Trial. These very words were used in the Freedom Charter and the South African Constitution. The first draft of the Freedom Charter appears on one of the walls and the first words state: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White and no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.”

To see these words written on the walls was incredible, and will be an experience that none of us will forget.

After viewing the cell, Judge Pretorius took us on a tour of the rest of this courthouse that was used as a hospital during World War II. She told us about her experiences as a judge, and how things had changed since the end of apartheid. In 1993, there were fifty-two judges in North and South Gauteng High Courts and all but one was white. Today, there are seventy-two judges and minorities represent fifty-seven and women represent fourteen of the judges. Judge Pretorius also emphasized the importance of not shying away from South Africa’s history, but instead consider it while deciding cases.  Additionally, she told us how she always looks at what has led a person to commit a crime because everyone has their own story. She also acknowledged that until there are enough jobs in the country, there will be a high level of violent crime. I found this acknowledgment remarkable, because this was another example of the individuals we’ve encountered recognizing the country’s current problems and that it is most likely related to their past. They will never forget what their country has gone through, and will continue to use it to improve as they move forward.

This visit was an amazing opportunity, and we’re so appreciative to Judge Pretorius for accommodating us and letting us tour this incredibly historically significant place.

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South African Law Reform Commission by Danielle Dombrow, 15 March 2011

We began our first day in Pretoria with a visit to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development with a representative from the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC).  The Commission was established in 1973 by public act for the purpose of promoting law reform on a variety of issues and submitting draft legislation to Parliament.  Roneal van Zyl, researcher and Acting Assistant to the Secretariat of the SALRC, greeted the John Marshall delegation warmly and eager to share information about their organization.
The SALRC researches a variety of legal issues with the objective of the development, improvement, modernization, and reform of South African laws.  It is an interdepartmental, semi-governmental organization whose reports and draft legislation are submitted to parliament for review.  Members of the Commission are appointed by the President of South Africa to serve for a period of five years.  One of the first questions that arose from the John Marshall delegation was whether issues such as political clout had an impact on the selection of appointees.  Ms. van Zyl replied, “that’s one of those questions you shouldn’t ask a public servant like me!” which garnered much laughter from the group.  She proceeded to explain that, like any organization with appointees, such politics are inevitable; however, the body itself is objective and comprised of a diverse group of Judges, attorneys, advocates, and academics.  For example, one current member is the Dean of Law at the University of Cape Town.

One of the most interesting aspects of SALRC’s program is that they elicit public participation throughout their process, including the decision about which issues to research and report on.  They create a program which prioritizes which issues to research, including those submitted by the public.  In contrast, our comparable U.S. counterpart, the Congressional Research Service, is not open to public participation and their reports and documents are classified as private (although they are often linked).

SALRC has been successful in eliciting public participation in the law reform process.  Interestingly, we learned that one of their recent research projects came from a suggestion from a citizen who had a wife with Alzheimer’s disease, which prompted an investigation into law reform regarding assisted decision making for persons with impaired decision making abilities or legal incapacity.

The most striking theme of the presentation about the SALRC’s work was the focus on ensuring that the law in South Africa protects the rights of the people enshrined in their Constitution.  Human Dignity is the pinnacle of such rights in South Africa, and the fact that the Commission actively engages the public in law reform is just one example of how South African organizations promote human rights.  All of the SALRC’s Reports are available on their website at:

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President Elected by Parliament – Problematic or Not? by Winnefred Monu, 14 March 2011

Sign Outside Parliament

“In democratic countries such as South Africa, the legislature or Parliament plays a vital role. The members of Parliament are elected to represent the people of the country.” “They also act as the voice of the people. Parliament, therefore, is accountable to the people of South Africa.”
Our very first visit in Cape Town, South Africa was to the South African Parliament. The buildings of the Parliament were breathtaking but the history behind the formation of the Parliament was even more fascinating. Our tour guide informed us that the Parliament consisted of two Houses, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. The National Assembly is the House directly elected by the voters, while the National Council of Provinces is elected by the provinces and represents them to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government.
The National Council of Provinces has 90 seats and 10 members are elected by each of the nine provincial legislatures for five year terms; while the National Assembly has 400 seats and  members  are elected by popular vote under a system of proportional representation to serve five-year terms.  The parliament is responsible for making and passing laws. The National Assembly also chooses the President and is a national forum where issues are debated publicly. The African National Congress is currently the majority party in the National Assembly. Before the Apartheid, the ANC did not have a vital role in the functions of the South African parliament.
As mentioned, the National Assembly chooses the President and from how I believe our tour guide explained it, whoever the majority party is of the National Assembly, the president of that party is elected President of South Africa. Basically, the citizens of South Africa do not elect the President of South Africa; they indirectly elect the President by voting for one of the parties during the National Assembly election. My only critic of this type of system, where the President is chosen by the National Assembly and not elected by popular vote is that the people of South Africa have no direct influence in who is elected or chosen to rule their country. Does this system reflect the will of the people? Is the ideology of a party representative of the ideology of every single member of that party?  On different types of issues each member of a party may have radical or moderate ideologies on these issues. I find it a bit problematic that South African citizens do not have the chance to question or challenge the member of a party who is chosen to be President of South Africa before he is elected.

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South Africa: Robben Island by Tiffany Kay, 11 March 2011

On March 11, 2011, our second excursion included travels across the Atlantic Ocean by ferry to Robben Island, located in Cape Town, South Africa. Robben Island is most famous for its imprisonment of Nelson Mandela (South Africa’s

Walking back to the ferry on Robben Island

Walking back to the ferry on Robben Island

first democratic president) during the Apartheid Republic of South America. Although Nelson Mandela was imprisoned at Robben Island there were also 100’s of other anti-apartheid political activist there as well. During 1961-1996 the prison housed indigenous African leaders, Muslim leaders from the East Indies, Dutch & British soldiers and civilians and anti-apartheid activists. Robben Island has been inhabited since the 1600’s. In World War II it served as a training and defense station as wells as hospital isolating people suffering from leprosy.

During the period of 1961- 1996 the prison held maximum security prisoners of political as well as criminal crimes. Although Apartheid officially ended in 1994 all of the political prisoners were freed in 1991. Today during a tour of the island a visitor has the opportunity to meet and discuss with former prisoners (now guides) of the prison the day to day struggles of their lives there. Several of the former political slaves have returned to the island to live in co-existence with their former oppressors, the guards of the prison. The small community of individuals live and work at the prison with their families.

The prison currently houses a museum, the Robben Island Museum created for the purpose and vision of developing the island as a national and International heritage ad conservation institution. One of the biggest challenges the islanders are facing today is the ability, in regards to resources to keep the island up to the expectations of the State to ensure it is allowed to continue to educate individuals. Robben Island was known best for its ability to isolate and imprison so many of South Africa’s most prominent anti-Apartheid leaders. However, today it embraces the legacy of educating the public on not only the struggle of the aforementioned but the incredible strength of the leaders who fought to end the era of Apartheid. The museum is a living reminder of how far South Africa has come in regards to its anti-Apartheid efforts and many of the challenges it will face and conquer in regards to the rights developed and implemented in its Constitution.

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Photo Exhibition and Auction to Benefit Cotlands Orphanage

The 2010 South Africa Photo Exhibition and Auction September 16–24, 2010 • Second Floor Student Lounge

All Proceeds to Benefit Cotlands Orphanage in South Africa

photo by Vince Deligio

In 2010, John Marshall students visited South Africa as part of the Comparative Human Rights: South Africa and the United States course. During their travels, they visited Cotlands Orphanage, delivering an unprecedented donation to the orphanage and the children living there. Moved by Cotlands’ mission, and inspired by South Africa, students have organized a photo exhibition of more than 150 images from their travels and a silent auction to raise awareness and additional aid for the orphanage. While the primary goal of the auction is raise money for Cotlands, students hope the images will awaken the John Marshall community to the need for immediate, specific assistance.

The exhibition will be held in the second floor student lounge, and will begin on Thursday, September 16. Bids for each photograph will be accepted anonymously until noon on Friday, September 24. Winning bidders will be notified to claim their photograph and to make the corresponding payment.

While more than 150 images from South Africa are set for auction, only a small selection are viewable online.

Flickr Video
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South Africa: Human Rights 2010 Itinerary

Monday, March 15, 2010

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Mediation Evaluations

Friday brought our assessed role-play mediations. This was the equivalent to a final exam for the course. The class was split into three large groups, and everyone was given a chance to act as mediator for the problem given, with the three instructors overseeing and evaluating the mediations. After the mediations were finished, the instructors gave feedback to each student on what they did well and identified areas in which they needed improvement.
Following the evaluations, each student gave a short, three-minute presentation on what they had learned in the course and how they intended to apply the knowledge.

After we returned from breaking for lunch, we reconvened for a short presentation by Charlie on social norms and procedural justice. Finally, a certificate was presented to each student for completing the course.

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A Day of Rest

For some of us, those from John Marshall, Thursday was a day off. Sadly, Prof. MacLachlan had to spend the day teaching negotiation. :(

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Small Group Mediation Practice

Wednesday brought more small-group mediation practice. By this time, due to the intensity of the class and the class size, most people were showing great improvement in their mediation skills. We focused on issue identification, separating the issues from the people, and more emphasis on remaining neutral as a mediator.

The class was made up of 27 students: nine students from John Marshall; several from Nigeria, Congo, and Ireland; one from Latvia; and the majority were from Scotland. For the most part, the John Marshall students were the only ones with mediation experience, which we gained in class sessions throughout the normal term. Having this experience helped both the students individually and the class as a whole; John Marshall students were able to use their experiences in the small group sessions as a demonstration to the less experienced students, as well as using those experiences as a baseline to help others by offering feedback and helpful tips.

Late in the afternoon, we had a special guest speaker, John Sturrock. Mr. Sturrock is the founder of Core Solutions Group, Scotland’s pre-eminent provider of commercial mediation services. His presentation reinforced to the class the importance of mediation, and he spoke about how it is being recognized more and more as a method of dispute resolution.

Wednesday Night Dinner

After the presentation, we all went out to dinner, hosted by the University of Strathclyde. It was a wonderful dinner and an excellent experience to get to know everyone a bit better outside of the classroom.

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Transnational Mediation & Roslyn Chapel

Transnational Mediation

We began Tuesday with a short review of the previous day’s activities, followed by a group activity. As the class was focused on Transnational Mediation (not just mediation, in general), the group activity emphasized the extent to which cultural differences exist, even just within two english-speaking countries (Scotland and the U.S.). For this activity we broke into small groups of students from more than one culture, and our task was to list cultural aspects that are associated with those cultures under topics such as government, popular culture, music, etc.

These lists were placed on the wall, and a discussion commenced that was focused on how differences influence our perspectives and how we need to be aware of this when mediating, so as not to form a bias toward one party or the other. This took most of the morning.

After coming back from lunch, we broke into small groups of four people to work on and practice our own mediating, aided by either Charlie, Brian, or Prof. MacLachlan if any difficulties arose or if anyone got stuck or needed guidance.

When there was about an hour left for the day, we reconvened in the large classroom to discuss how people felt about the day’s activities. We discussed things such as challenges that arose during the small group sessions and things that people thought were helpful in mediating. Charlie wrapped up the day with a short preview of the next day’s activities.

Roslyn Chapel

Mid-afternoon Tuesday, we had a trip arranged by Mike to visit Roslyn Chapel, which was made famous by the DaVinci Code movie (maybe the book too, I didn’t read it). It was much smaller than I expected, though its size did not detract from the grandeur of some of the architecture, especially what was inside – the arches and three pillars.

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