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By Lori AthertonAugust 6, 2013
Jared Genser, '01, was a Michigan Law student when he helped to free a British national who had received a 17-year prison sentence in Burma for distributing pro-democracy leaflets. Since then, he's helped secure the release of more than 25 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Egypt, and elsewhere in the world through his work with Freedom Now.
Genser's contributions to human rights will be recognized Aug. 9 when the American Bar Association presents him with its International Human Rights Award during its annual meeting in San Francisco. William R. Bay, '78, chairman of the ABA Section of Litigation, which sponsors the award, calls Genser's work on behalf of human rights "a beacon of light in some of the world's darkest places."
"I was really floored," Genser said of the honor. "When you look at past recipients, it's truly humbling to have been selected." Past recipients of the award include former Senator George Mitchell, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, and former South Africa Supreme Court Justice Albie Sachs.
Genser's path to law school began at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he was a graduate student in public policy. Genser was part of a core group of students that led a protest of then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to the school in 1997—the largest protest at Harvard since the Vietnam War, according to the Boston Globe. The experience proved to be a defining one that led to his decision to attend law school and focus on human rights.
It was at Michigan that Genser, through an externship at a human rights organization in London, learned about the case of James Mawdsley, the British national he would later help to free. It, too, was a defining experience for Genser and planted the seeds for Freedom Now, the nonprofit he cofounded in 2001 whose goal is to free prisoners of conscience through focused legal, political, and public relations advocacy efforts.
"Jared started Freedom Now while he was in law school, so that was quite an extraordinary beginning for us," said Maran Turner, executive director of Freedom Now. "He's had an interest and a passion for human rights going back to his college days and, since then, he's shown no signs of wavering in that pursuit."
Genser, who now serves as a board member for Freedom Now, represents several clients, including 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese scholar and dissident who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power," and his wife, Liu Xia, who has been placed under house arrest. Previously, he led the organization's representation of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during the latter years she served under house arrest in Burma.
In addition to his work with Freedom Now, Genser is the managing director of the Washington, D.C.-based Perseus Strategies LLC, a law and consulting firm he founded that serves clients in the areas of human rights, public international law, and corporate social responsibility. He is also an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and has authored The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Commentary and Guide to Practice (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2014) and co-edited The UN Security Council in the Age of Human Rights (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2013) and The Responsibility to Protect: The Promise of Stopping Mass Atrocities in Our Times (Oxford University Press, 2011). In addition, he has authored several reports on human-rights abuses in North Korea and Burma.
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