Jared Genser, president of Freedom Now and partner at DLA Piper, sees the promotion of human rights as a prerequisite for effective development.
“There is a major overlap between countries with a need for development support and expansion and those that fail to provide the most basic respect for human rights,” he said.
Genser has set up an innovative practice focused on that very intersection. He serves as outside counsel to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Freedom Now, Genser’s non-governmental organization, meanwhile, works to free prisoners of conscience worldwide, such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar.
“There are a number of cases where I’ve represented prisoners who were promoting international development activities so they could return to the work they’d undertaken,” he said.
Genser co-founded Freedom Now after witnessing a client, James Mawdsley, a British national imprisoned for disseminating pro-democracy leaflets in Myanmar, reunite with his family.
“The major challenge that Jared has had to overcome has been to exercise global influence as a single individual,” said Carl Gersham, president of the National Endowment for Democracy and one of Genser’s mentors. “Essentially, he has managed to enlist the readiness of his global law firm, DLA Piper, to contribute significant amounts of pro bono legal time and resources to the issues and projects he has identified. And he has also built Freedom Now, an NGO that has recruited paid professional staff to carry out campaigns that Jared has conceptualized and orchestrated.”
With a foot in both the human rights and international development camps, Genser hopes there will be greater convergence between the two fields in the future.
“Development organizations can do more to preserve and protect human rights while helping others,” he said, “and human rights organizations can realize that development organizations bring basic needs to communities they serve.”
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