Law Professor Jennifer Moore’s interest in Africa dates back to her childhood. Her godfather is a Tanzanian who came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship and struck up a lifelong friendship with her father. Her parents lived in Liberia and she grew up with stories of their experiences in Africa.
She went to Kenya while in college. Africa found a place in her head and her heart and was often the destination stamped on her airline ticket.
The United States’ Refugee Act of 1980 established a procedure to grant asylum for refugees. Refugee camps needed people to dig ditches, develop infrastructure or provide medical care. “I couldn’t serve in that capacity, but I did see a need for advocates for refugees to help them get the legal protection they needed to prevent their forced return,” Moore said. As an attorney, she thought, she would be able to aid the vulnerable immigrants and refugees.
Moore earned her law degree from Harvard in 1987. Four years later, she was working as a protection officer with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, UNHCR, in Guinea, West Africa. After she joined the UNM law faculty in 1995, she served as a consultant with UNHCR. “We were looking at how refugees who fear rebel movements could achieve refugee status,” she said. This was a change from refugee status given to individuals fearful of actions of a government.
Her work with the UNHCR has extended to her students. “Some of my students have done internships with UNHCR. Part of being a teacher is helping students be creative in putting their values to work,” she said.
She said modern international conflicts bring about massive civilian casualties and massive population displacement. “We use humanitarian law to alleviate mass suffering of refugees caught up in political oppression and the widespread unrest of armed conflict.”
Moore’s forthcoming book, “Humanitarian Law in Action within Africa” (Oxford University Press) looks at how international law can help countries rebuild following war and conflict. “I look at several countries – Uganda, Sierra Leone and Burundi. They have refugees fleeing internationally and others fleeing and seeking safety within their borders,” she said.
Moore explores models of conflict resolution between the three countries, all of which she visited in 2010. She also draws upon the post-conflict experiences of Liberia and Rwanda.
Transitional justice takes on criminal, social, cultural and historical aspects, Moore said. “We must account for what happened to honor what the survivors experienced while also giving them the chance to rebuild.”
In Uganda, conflict in the north displaced 1 million people, but tens of thousands were killed. “Citizens were looking for accountability for the leaders of armies that attack civilians.”
Moore said that in Uganda, people were less interested in seeing perpetrators behind bars than they were in improving their lives and meeting their needs. “They were interested in restorative as well as retributive justice. They aren’t mutually exclusive. One doesn’t have to be at the expense of the other,” she said, adding that people wanted to see that the causes behind rebel movements were addressed.
“Problems in education, access to land, health care and employment were at the root of the conflict,” she said.
“African countries struggling to emerge from armed conflict are among the least developed in the world with low literacy rates, low gross domestic product – there are strong links between war and underdevelopment,” Moore said.
“Richer countries need to prioritize developmental aid. It is not just the right thing to do, but in our own enlightened self-interest.”