Justice lawyer speaks to folklore students
James Goldston has devoted the majority of his life to promoting justice worldwide using law.
Goldston spoke to about 15 professors and students Monday in Dey Hall about his life as a leading international human rights and criminal law practitioner.
Among other cases, he described how a German citizen he represented was wrongly detained for a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, and tortured by the CIA after he was mistaken for a terrorist on the basis of his name.
“We all have to fight terrorism,” he said. “It’s a terrible evil. But dealing with it in a way that so exploits people is wrong.”
Robert Cantwell, an American studies professor, brought Goldston to UNC to speak in conjunction with the folklore program because of the connection between oral traditions of marginalized communities and human rights issues.
Goldston has been a prosecutor in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern district of New York, a federal prosecutor in Romania and director of the Roma Rights Centre in Budapest, Hungary.
Now he is executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which promotes legal representation and reform worldwide.
Goldston told the audience how as a younger man he became motivated to undertake human rights work by his travels and involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, as well as start-up migrant farmworker rights campaigns.
He said he attended Harvard Law School before he developed a clear career goal.
“I thought it would somehow be consistent with my notion of good,” he said.
But Goldston’s true inspiration came from his experiences in South Africa and Latin America during and immediately after school.
In El Salvador, Goldston began to work for what became Human Rights Watch after encountering gross injustices and human rights violations indirectly sponsored by the United States.
Goldston also discussed the importance of bringing legal assistance to disempowered people, talking about his role representing the Roma in Hungary.
“It was important to them that an authoritative voice had validated their sense of being wronged,” he said.
In the question and answer session, folklore graduate student Laura Pearce addressed Goldston’s work representing the German citizen at the European Court of Human Rights, which eventually ruled in favor of him.
“(The War on Terror) is an idea. And you can’t wage a war on an idea,” Pearce said.
“These are individual criminal actions, and the idea of conducting a war against them creates this sort of military state.”
Folklore graduate student Kiran Singh Sirah said he left the lecture and discussion having been moved by Goldston’s life work.
“There’s certainly a lot of avenues to explore, potential to work with people such as James Goldston in documentation and evidence gathering and collective education,” Sirah said.
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