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As part of its efforts to keep its pro bono program fresh and responsive to the needs of the community, the D.C. office of Howrey has formed a partnership with the organization Human Rights First to represent victims of persecution and torture applying for asylum in the United States. This partnership is part of a larger initiative the firm began in 2003, in which each first-year associate, in every office, supervised by a partner, represents pro bono clients in a variety of cases. In 2004, Howrey lawyers and staff in the Washington, D.C., office spent more than 4,200 hours on asylum cases, representing refugees fleeing from political, religious, ethnic, and gender-based persecution in countries plagued by human rights violations. Many of these refugees were activists and opposition leaders fighting for democratic change in countries that have been ruled by harsh dictators for decades. Some were teachers advocating for small changes in their region. One client fled her native country because she feared having female genital mutilation imposed on her. Many of these clients were harassed, detained, interrogated, tortured, and sexually assaulted because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group. Many have lost family members, and some have been forced to flee their countries without their families because of the persecution. The firm has had a number of successes in these cases. In 2004-2005, for example, Howrey represented seven asylum seekers; six were granted asylum, and one is waiting for the immigration officer’s decision. Through this initiative, Howrey lawyers have been successful in gaining asylum for clients from Tibet, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Togo, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here is a sample of their stories… THE CONGO The firm successfully represented one woman who fled the Congo after being persecuted because of her ethnicity. She is a Nande, part of an ethnic group hailing from the Kivu region in eastern Congo. Kivu has a diverse mix of Congolese ethnic groups along with Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis who fled for neighboring Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Because of her Nande ethnicity, the client was raped and beaten by rebels in Kivu. In addition, her father, two brothers, and youngest sister were murdered. The client fled Kivu in 1998 in the hopes of finding safety in the Congo’s capital city, Kinshasa. Instead, she encountered more persecution. By the time she arrived in the capital, the government had expelled all Tutsis from the Congo, and the citizens were authorized to murder any Tutsi they encountered. Unfortunately, the client has typical Tutsi physical features, as she is on the taller side for a Congolese woman. She was mistaken for a Tutsi and attacked when she left her home. Her life was threatened. Her husband was arrested on unsubstantiated charges of treason, and she went into hiding with a family friend. With the help of a British family visiting the Congo, she finally escaped to the United States in December 2001. Her application for asylum was denied in September 2002 because she was unable to present evidence that she had filed for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States. In preparation for the hearing, the team subpoenaed airline travel records, secured supporting affidavits, submitted supporting country condition documents, collaborated with an expert, and prepared multiple witnesses. At trial, the team presented testimony from the airline representative, the client, and the client’s sister regarding the one-year issue. After this testimony, government counsel withdrew his opposition, and the judge ordered a grant of asylum. It was an extremely emotional day for the client and the lawyers. CHINA Howrey successfully represented a Chinese national of Tibetan heritage and a practicing Buddhist who was seeking asylum. The client currently is a student at George Mason University. Before coming to the United States in early 2004, she was a middle-school teacher and a tutor in China. She was persecuted for her pro-Tibetan political and pro-Buddhist religious views. Her persecution included police detainments, physical abuse, and threats to her safety. The Chinese government initiated its close scrutiny of the client after she spoke to students in her home about Buddhism and the pro-Tibet movement and after she was caught searching the Internet for information on these topics. After this persecution she fled to America, seeking safety. The client plans to continue her studies at George Mason University and then teach in the United States. COTE D’IVOIRE The firm won asylum for another client, a scholar, political candidate, and civil servant from the Ivory Coast. He fled to the United States with his wife and daughter in early 2003 because Ivorian government officials persecuted him for his outspoken support of open and democratic elections and for his harsh criticism of the government’s policies. During and after the 1999 coup d’etat in the Ivory Coast, the client endured beatings, interrogations, harassment, accusations of treason, and physical threats. He continued to run for public office, to use his appointed government post to push for democratic reform, and to speak out in favor of peaceful political transition and inclusive, representative governance. When government death squads began to threaten his wife and daughter, he realized that if he didn’t leave the country, his family would be in serious danger. The favorable decision in this matter brings welcome closure for the client and his family and will allow them to live and work in the United States for as long as it is unsafe for them to return home. UGANDA Howrey helped gain asylum for a Ugandan national who fled Uganda in the face of continued government persecution. The client is part of a prominent Ugandan political family that opposes the current regime. Members of her family and followers of their opposition political group have been harassed by the government; this increased when the client’s cousin-in-law ran for president in 2001. The client’s boyfriend, who campaigned for the cousin-in-law, was arrested and tortured by Ugandan security forces that year. The client has not heard from her boyfriend since the arrest and believes the security forces killed him. One night, in December 2003, government forces broke into her house and interrogated her. The group of men beat her severely and left her bleeding and tied to her bed. As a result, the client spent two weeks in the hospital and has permanent scars. After she fled Uganda under an assumed name, she received word that government forces were searching for her. While nothing can change what happened to her in Uganda, at least she can feel secure that she won’t be persecuted again. TOGO In another case, Howrey won asylum for a Togolese national who was persecuted and tortured in Togo for her and her family’s political opposition to the dictatorial government of President Gnassingbé Eyadema. Eyadema was in power from 1967 — after a military coup — until his death in February 2004. While in power, Eyadema banned all political parties except his own. Under this system, Eyadema and his Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (RPT) thwarted any manifestation of democracy. Consequently, all of the efforts by the client and her family to campaign for independent candidates or to increase voter turnout by door-to-door canvassing resulted in detentions and beatings. Such treatment forced the client and her family to flee Togo for the United States, where they sought — and were granted — asylum. The cases are complex and heartwrenching, but also incredibly rewarding. Because the firm is able to help clients escape a life of torture and begin anew in this country, associates and partners who have worked on these asylum cases have said that it is some of the most rewarding work they’ve ever done.
Rachel Strong is a pro bono partner for Howrey in Washington, D.C.

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