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Jason Gelbort, a 2L and dual degree student with Fletcher, spent his summer working with lawyers in Sierra Leone. He found the placement through the U.S. NGO International Professional Partnership for Sierra Leone, who then arranged a placement in the Sierra Leonean government for him with the Law Reform Commission (LRC). Working primarily in Freetown, Jason said that he loved his summer and enjoyed the laid back atmosphere combined with important work related to Sierra Leone’s constitution and legislation.
The only expat at his organization, he spent his time in a room with three local lawyers doing comparative research looking at other African countries, doing legal and policy analysis, and making recommendations to Sierra Leone’s Department of Justice that would ultimately go to the cabinet and parliament. Committees at the LRC were headed by a mix of LRC staff, commissioners, or judges and included chiefs, private lawyers, UN mission representatives, government representatives, and members of civil society groups.

With a background of banter in Sierra Leonean Krio, Jason helped his committee host meetings, recommend new legislation and recommend amendments to existing legislation to the rest of the government. Substantively, he was working on electoral legal reform, an issue of particular importance to the country whose elections are coming up in 2012. Jason worked with the local lawyers in his office to try and fix the provisions related to the elections at least 12 months before the elections took place. He worked on issues related to petitions challenging the elections, electoral offenses like violence and fraud, qualifications for candidates to run for elected office, access to the media, and electoral monitoring and observing. Recently, there has been a major rise in economic development in the country. The UN presence in the country is also very high, having increased as a result of the war. There will be heightened scrutiny of the 2012 election because now the country is 10 years out of the war, and the election is their chance to prove an acceptable level of stability both for the UN to begin pulling out of the country and for foreign investors to safely engage in business in Sierra Leone. In light of these pressures, the work Jason was doing was incredibly important and exciting.

Jason also made good use of his Harvard connections and worked with a reference librarian here to prepare and give a training workshop for his office on computer skills and legal research, focusing on free resources. He also got to dabble in ADR, updating the 150 year old criminal code, and administrative law. And of course, Jason took advantage of his placement to do some traveling in West Africa and to relax with the expat community in the region.

Written by OPIA 1L Section Representative Becky Wolozin