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Tuesday July 29, 2014

Fighting for Human Rights in Afghanistan

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Friday May 30, 2014

Fighting for Human Rights in Afghanistan

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Joseph Federici credits two international law classes in his last year at Rutgers-Camden with setting him on the path as a human rights advocate.
Joseph P. Federici ’08, general counsel at the American University of Afghanistan, credits two international law classes in his last year at Rutgers University–Camden with setting him on the path as a human rights advocate.

Now co-chair of the International Human Rights Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of International Law, Federici has been living in Kabul since the fall of 2013.

In Afghanistan, Federici teaches classes in addition to serving as general counsel and monitoring and evaluation specialist. Since opening in 2006, the university has grown from an initial enrollment of 50 students to more than 1,700 full and part-time students in 2014.

Though classroom teaching is new to him since reaching Kabul, Federici coached rowing teams at the University of Delaware and the U.S. Naval Academy before launching his international career. He says that teaching law in an embattled nation is meaningful for a number of reasons.

“Afghanistan has been embattled for the better part of more than 30 years,” he says. “In a lot of ways, law can be the antithesis of violence and one of the principal engines of economic growth. Being able to convey those ideas and have those discussions is very rewarding. During the civil war and the Taliban regime, women faced an oppressive structure on an immense scale. The university provides them an opportunity that did not exist in Afghanistan in the 1990s. In my classroom teaching experience, it is great to see female students voice their opinions and provide answers to fairly complex civil law questions.”

With almost 70 percent of Afghanistan’s population under the age of 25, Federici says when he steps into a classroom, “you really get the sense that you are helping to educate people who will be leading this country in the next 10 to 20 years.”

While he regrets not having the time to take more international law classes at Rutgers-Camden, he says the two classes he took in his third year – international law with Prof. Roger Clark and a seminar in international human rights advocacy with Prof. Beth Stephens – sparked his interest and led him to be involved with the bar association's Section of International Law, International Human Rights Committee. 

“The bar association provided me the platform to get involved in a number of really great projects,” he says. “In 2011, I began volunteering with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Baltimore, Maryland, where I worked with an Iraqi refugee family. In 2012, I began volunteering in their office three days a week. I think working in the human rights field via the associaiton and working with refugees from this particular part of the world led to me really wanting to go to the Middle East. After a few false starts, I was lucky enough to find a position at the university.”

Since moving to Kabul, the similarities between the U.S. and Afghanistan have come as a surprise, he says. Though, of course, there are many differences. “The clothing is different, the food is different, the architecture is different, and of course the security presence is very different. However, at the same time, at least in Kabul, the Internet is widely accessible, thousands of vehicles come in and out of Kabul on a daily basis, and U.S. consumer products are widely available. From time to time, it is easy to forget that you are almost 7,000 miles from home. You really get this sense of things being so different, yet so similar when you see an Afghan in very traditional dress using an iPhone.”

Federici also serves as of counsel for RJ Gaudet & Associates L.L.C., and is a senior legal fellow at the Syria Research & Evaluation Organization.

Rowing remains a part of his life.  He is currently helping start a national rowing team in Kabul.


Cathy K. Donovan 856-225-6627 catkarm@camden.rutgers.edu

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