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Student Highlight: Brooke Hamilton Provides Legal Services in Iraq

March 11, 2019
brooke-hamilton

Law student Brooke Hamilton took a brief interlude from her legal education to travel to Baghdad, Iraq, where she served as the Executive Director for the Legal Clinic Network.

The Legal Clinic Network (LCN) is an Iraqi network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). It helps indigent and vulnerable Iraqi citizens to obtain access to legal rights and government benefits.

While pausing law school is typically a little unorthodox, Hamilton felt that the opportunity to utilize her education thus far and make a real difference in people’s lives was too good to ignore. The law school was extremely supportive of her pursuing the opportunity.

Hamilton initially went to Baghdad for the summer after her 2L year. Her work focused on providing legal services to both internally displaced persons and refugees. She performed services such as providing legal documentation for divorce proceedings, birth and death certificates, alimony issues or other issue that someone would need to start migrating back to their area of origin.

“Because of the war, homes and towns were destroyed for many people that relocated to other parts of Iraq,” says Hamilton. “While fleeing, many of their documents were destroyed, and people would die, martyr, give birth, and get married without any way to properly document any of their vital records.”

The work that Hamilton was doing was a critical piece in helping the displaced populations restore some semblance of normalcy after their lives had been completely uprooted.

“Now that Iraq has been “officially liberated” from ISIS, it is in a phase of rebuilding,” she comments. “Those missing documents are more important than ever for helping people rebuild their lives.”

After seeing how much work needed to be done, she decided to extend her stay, at which point the scope of her worked expanded on a much broader scale. In addition to offering documentation services, she worked on bigger projects such as advocating to the government to refund any damages caused during war on behalf of their clients. Specifically, she worked to apply Iraq’s 2009 Law No. 20 on Compensation for Victims of Military Operations, Military Mistakes, and Terrorist Actions to help people seek reparations for homes lost during the war on a case-by-case basis.

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A secondary branch of service in which Hamilton became involved, was with the non-Iraqi refugees she encountered.

“In addition to helping the local refugees, we worked in refugee camps that contained Palestinian refugees that have been in the camps for generations, as well as more recent refugees fleeing Syria,” she explains. “Each group came with it’s own set of complex issues and legal needs.”

Inside the refugee camps, Hamilton offered monitoring services and logistical support, as well as on the ground assistance. She also focused on helping particularly vulnerable populations subjected to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) to make sure that they were not only represented, but that their safety was also considered during camp management and relocation.

The reaction from Hamilton about the overall experience is one of mixed emotions. It proved to be a formative experience for her – igniting a passion in international work, and one of gratitude for the legal profession and her own background.

Hamilton’s legal experiences at the College of Law were vital to her ability to serve in Iraq. During her 1L and 2L years at the law school, she served on the Potter Law Club, competed in the Voir Dire Competition, and most importantly, gained valuable skills working in the Defender Aid Clinic.

“Working in the Defender Aid Clinic was particularly useful for me, because it really prepared me to work with people from any sort of background,” she says. “I also came to have a deeper appreciation for the law because though we have imperfections in our system, we certainly don’t experience the corruption that I witnessed in a conflict zone.”

Originally from Adams, Minnesota, Hamilton earned her undergraduate degree in Applied Studies from the University of Minnesota – Crookston. She came to law school to make a difference, and the combination of her legal education and her experience abroad has shaped her plans for the future.

“This experience has made me want to go into international law without a doubt,” she says. “I want to switch gears though and focus more on international business because I got to see the benefit of teaching people about economy and financial strategy at the grassroots level, and I think there is an important dynamic between economy and human rights.”

Resuming her legal studies at the College of Law, Hamilton is currently enrolled in the International Human Rights Practicum, and is focusing on making the most of the academic opportunities she has left.

“I am so fortunate that I came to the University of Wyoming for law school,” she says. “The fact that the college allowed me to take this opportunity and come back and finish my degree is more valuable than I can put into words. With the law schools blessing, I got to do something truly extraordinary and I would encourage others to do the same.”

With a new direction and an abundance of possibilities before her, Hamilton offers some parting advice for her fellow law students.

“Your law degree is meant to boost your life and where you want to go in life, so take advantage of opportunities that come your way,” she says.  “Work with the law faculty because they are often willing to help you get to where you want to go. This is your life and your degree. Make the most of it.”

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