From Suaad Allami,
October 12, 2013
When I was chosen in 2009 as one of 187 Humphrey Fellows from 94 countries, I had never heard of Minnesota. I am now a proud alumna of the University of Minnesota Law School—which, I learned upon my return to Iraq, is the most widely accessed source for the Human Rights Ministry in Iraq on human rights issues. This comes as no surprise, because the Law School's programs in human rights are among of the world's most respected.
During my two years in Minnesota, I gained the technical knowledge and international perspectives on human rights and women's rights that have helped inform my activism in my country. The lessons I acquired during my two professional affiliations—the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, and BlueLaw International in Washington, D.C.—helped round out my experience.
After returning to my native Iraq, I blended the LL.M. knowledge with my years of practical experience as a grassroots activist to guide me in my new role as consultant and national project officer in the Human Rights, Rule of Law and Access to Justice Project for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Iraq. I am in charge of Iraq's Family Protection Units. These are the culturally sensitive Iraqi equivalent of domestic violence shelters; they provide access to justice for victims of gender-based violence, a very sensitive and provocative issue in conservative and tribal Iraq.
Upon my return to Iraq I was one of 3,085 applicants for Iraq's first human rights commission. Despite a United Nations-monitored objective scoring process, where I placed second among all women applicants and third overall, I was excluded from a position on the commission because I do not belong to any political party, and party politics prevailed over best qualifications.
Based on my women's rights involvement and the credibility I have earned here in Iraq, which permits me access to top leaders and decision-makers, an article I co-authored was published in the 2012 Women Lawyers Journal, published by the National Association of Women Lawyers. The article, "The United States and Women's Rights in Iraq: Legacy Interrupted," talks of the United States' efforts to empower women in Iraq and the results thus far.
While my country was occupied by U.S. forces from 2003 until 2011, many Iraqi people saw only the face of occupiers. I consider myself a messenger to let my people know of the kindness and passion to help international students I felt while in Minnesota, and how the University community provided me the familial atmosphere to encourage my study and accomplish my degree in law. This was especially important to me, so far from home, having only begun to speak English in 2007. I will always be grateful to the University for your open hearts, and I hope to make you proud of me.