Fighting to End Corruption: Undergraduates in Notre Dame’s Washington Program investigate crimes and build a case for international sanctions

Author: Arts and Letters

At Notre Dame, students in a course called the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act Clinic have drafted dossiers to the U.S. government to request sanctions against the perpetrators of those crimes.

Led by faculty member Thomas Kellenberg, the practicum course is framed around the Global Magnitsky Act, a federal law that allows nongovernmental organizations to request U.S. sanctions against foreign persons who have committed serious human rights abuses or corruption. Originally enacted in 2012 and focused on Russia, the law was expanded to apply to all countries in 2016. 

Typically offered as part of the Washington Program — a semester-long immersion program in the nation’s capital — students who take the course gain valuable experience that prepares them for careers in human rights or anti-corruption, and several have now founded a student group to continue the work they started in the class.

Each semester, Kellenberg’s class selects a case involving human rights or corruption and works with the nonprofit Human Rights First to prepare a dossier for the U.S. Treasury and State Departments. The spring 2020 course focused on human rights relating to the assassination of a Maltese journalist, while the more recent winter session class chose to focus on kleptocracy and corruption in the Congo Republic.

Notre Dame is one of more than 250 consortium members that Human Rights First partners with — but the only one that involves undergraduates. The others are comprised of law school students, pro bono attorneys, and nongovernmental organizations.

After taking the course, economics major Greg Miller founded the Student Policy Network with his Washington Program roommate, political science major Patrick Aimone. The student-run initiative is based on their time in the classroom with Kellenberg. 

In addition to the Global Magnitsky Act, SPN aims to tackle a wide range of public service issues, such as the housing problem in South Bend and the need for undocumented immigrants to have driver privilege cards. Students in the initiative suggested a slate of policy proposals to the South Bend mayor’s office and drafted a white paper for undocumented immigrants that is currently being passed around the Indiana State Legislature and has been cited by news outlets. 

Originally published by Arts and Letters at al.nd.edu on October 17, 2022.