History and healing

April 28, 2023

Justin Loveland ’20 helps Seychelles reconcile its brutal past

This story originally appeared in Lawyer, Spring 2023.

Justin LovelandJustin Loveland ’20 has traveled far and wide as an advocate. He has promoted human rights at the Inter American Court in Costa Rica. He’s traveled to Lebanon to help refugees. And he has assisted the Committee against Torture at the United Nations in Switzerland. But his most significant work so far has been for a country he’s never seen in person — an idyllic archipelago 1,000 miles off the coast of east Africa called Seychelles.

The country’s 115 tropical islands draw more than 350,000 tourists every year with white-sand beaches, giant tortoises, majestic granite bluffs, and lush nature preserves. Less obvious to visitors is the country’s troubled political history. A coup in 1977 was followed by a long period of autocratic rule, human rights abuses, killings, and land seizures by the ruling party.

In 2019, Seychelles launched the Truth, Reconciliation, and National Unity Commission to investigate and heal its past political wounds. For Loveland, who joined in the second year as one of only a few full-time lawyers, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

“It was a dream of mine to do this kind of work. I felt so honored and humbled to be able to do it right out of law school,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see in these post-conflict, post-transition settings how the rule of law becomes a building block for society.”

For two years (one of them spent working pro bono), Loveland drafted case determinations based on testimony from island residents about the atrocities that they or their family members suffered. By navigating a complex protocol of domestic, international, and treaty law, he assisted the commission in recommending reparations or even, in some cases, the granting of amnesty to perpetrators.

He also trained legal volunteers from law schools and advocacy organizations around the world and lobbied diligently for funding and resources from other countries and international organizations.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all his work was done remotely, partly from Seattle and partly from New York City, where he now lives. The commission was mandated to wrap up its work in August 2022, though it has since had extensions to complete some outstanding cases. Ultimately, the five-volume report of its findings will contain around 350 case determinations.

Professor Ron Slye, who mentored Loveland as a student and served on Kenya’s Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, said the hardest part of starting a career in international human rights law is developing relevant experience. When colleagues alerted him to the Seychelles opportunity, he didn’t hesitate to recommend Loveland.

“Because of his work at the commission, Justin is one of a handful of people in the world who has a mastery of the doctrine and practical aspects of transitional justice processes, including the international law of amnesties, accountability, and reparations,” Slye said.

Loveland grew up in Portland, Oregon, with a family that encouraged travel. As a teenager, his love of fantasy fiction drew him to the beauty of unfamiliar worlds and dialects. In college, he studied both Spanish and French to prepare for an international career. It was also there, participating in Model United Nations and interning for the ACLU, that his human rights focus started to take shape.

After the close of his Seychelles work, Loveland joined a small general practice law firm in New York to build his litigation skills for an eventual return to international practice. Regardless of whether he ever makes it to Seychelles, he hopes his work with the commission has a lasting impact.

“Under the dictatorship, the government turned neighbor against neighbor, like a network of informal spies. People lived in fear for a long time,” he said. “This is just the beginning of a transitional justice process, but now that some have been able to tell their stories and hear that human-to-human message, I hope people have some sense of reconciliation.”

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