As an undergraduate at Brown University, Izza Drury ’24 learned from a friend about “the Jungle,” a vast unofficial refugee camp in northern France.
She remembers feeling a very profound sense of shock. “It was hard to comprehend that there was a refugee camp of 10,000 people in northern France,” she said. “I became fixated on this camp, and on trying to understand where it had come from and why it was there. This inevitably led me to question the geopolitical decisions and structures of oppression that enabled the camp to exist, and why certain populations are not afforded the most basic necessities that they are entitled to.”
Drury traveled to France the following summer, expecting to spend 10 days helping out at the camp. As it turned out, she would stay for five months, co-directing operations for a small community kitchen, until the camp was closed by the French government in late October 2016. Her time there “was a very compelling illustration of what human beings can do to support each other, and how people in positions of displacement are systemically marginalized,” she recalls. After college, she spent four months on the Greek island of Chios, as a volunteer coordinator at a women’s refugee center.
Drury’s growing interest in migrants’ rights and international law would eventually lead her to Harvard Law School, and to her work this past summer as a Chayes International Public Service Fellow. The program, dedicated to the memory of Professor Abram Chayes ’49, provides Harvard Law School students with the opportunity to spend eight weeks abroad during the summer, working with governmental or non-governmental organizations concerned with issues of an international scope or relevant to countries in transition. In 2023, 19 fellows undertook placements with organizations based in 14 countries.
Like all Chayes fellows, Drury was able to identify the organizations she wanted to work with, and to collaborate with Harvard Law advisors and supervisors at her placement to ensure that she undertook a meaningful project that aligned with her interests. Her goal for the summer, she explains, was to work at the intersection of international law and migrants’ rights, and to explore the ways in which “public international law can be used to expand the framework of migrants’ rights, or at a minimum, to ensure that existing protections are adhered to.”
In her second year of law school, Drury studied International Criminal Law with Visiting Professor Ioannis Kalpouzos, a Greek lawyer who introduced her to the Global Legal Action Network, or GLAN, an NGO with offices in Ireland and the United Kingdom that he co-founded to “pursue innovative legal actions across borders to challenge powerful actors involved in human rights violations and systemic injustice.” He also connected her with Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid, an organization based on the Greek island of Lesbos that offers legal services to displaced individuals. With her supervisors at both organizations, she crafted a detailed 13-week summer plan, involving stints in both Greece and Ireland. Her project focused on drafting a complaint against the Greek state to the Committee against Torture, on behalf of one of Fenix’s clients, an individual seeking international protection in Greece.
The committee was established under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to oversee and ensure compliance with states’ human rights obligations under the treaty. Greece has not only become a signatory to the treaty but has taken the extra step of recognizing the capacity of an individual to bring a complaint against a state. In this case, the complaint focused on the duty of states, under Article 14, to provide rehabilitation and redress to survivors of torture.
Recognizing that many people who are seeking asylum are not only in need of legal advocacy but also housing, psychological support, and medical care, Fenix provides “holistic legal aid” to its clients. As a result, Drury explains, “attorneys and protection officers at Fenix can see patterns and trends, enabling them to identify rights violations to focus on.”
When she arrived at the beginning of the summer, the organization had recently published a report highlighting Greece’s failure to recognize and support the rights of survivors of torture. “The advocacy team had already done a lot of important research when drafting their report. I came on because there was a client whose rights had been violated in a similar manner, to help synthesize all this legal research into a complaint.”
Drury drew on her experience working on an asylum claim in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Clinic, noting that many of the same skills — “drafting a legal brief, compiling extensive supporting evidence of country conditions and documents to support and add credibility to an individual’s claim” — were relevant for her efforts this summer.
It was especially interesting, she observes, to address the issue of admissibility — “proving that our client had exhausted all of the available domestic remedies under Greek law, which required a lot of collaboration with some really brilliant Greek lawyers and digging into Greek administrative law.”
GLAN’s focus is on “challenging injustice through international legal action,” and much of its activity is transnational. Engaging with Kalpouzos and other lawyers there enabled Drury to connect with people and resources who could support her work on the complaint; for example, a lawyer in the U.K. pushed her to figure out how to best describe Greece’s complicated domestic law to a non-Greek lawyer.
“There were Greek migration experts, and international law experts, practicing in many different jurisdictions, and drawing from such a robust network of backgrounds was so helpful in refining our arguments,” she said.
One of the most satisfying moments this summer came when Drury was writing the legal brief addressing Article 14. “The claim we’re making isn’t necessarily novel, but there’s very limited committee jurisprudence to support this idea of transnational redress obligations,” she explains. As a result, Drury essentially completed a conventional treaty interpretation, drawing on the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. She had studied treaty interpretation in Public International Law, but had never actually completed the process. “It was a valuable experience, to draw so directly from the concepts I had learned in class.”
On campus this fall, Drury is still involved with Fenix, the legal aid organization, in her role as a project leader with Harvard Law School Advocates for Human Rights. One of the functions of the committee, she explains, is to conduct periodic reviews of the parties to the convention, with the states, NGOs and civil society having an opportunity to respond. Her team is drafting a report about Greece’s systemic failure to satisfy some of its obligations, with a focus on rehabilitation and the recognition of specific vulnerabilities in the migrant population. Drury is quick to note that her experience with GLAN and Fenix over the summer was critical in fully understanding these issues.