Law Professor Jonathan K. Stubbs traces his interest in human rights law to the mid-1970s when he studied law at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Two of the big issues he focused on back then were the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the struggle for independence in Rhodesia.

Today, Stubbs works to stop the global human rights problem of genocide, including the mass killing that took place in Rwanda in 1994 after long and bitter fighting between the Hutus and the Tutsis.

Stubbs was invited to Rwanda in January for an international conference on human rights sponsored by UNESCO and the Rwanda National Human Rights Commission. About 90 people from 40 different nations heard from Rwandan government leaders and others about broader, more inclusive policies and plans in education, health care, and citizenship that officials hope will prevent such internal violence from recurring.

“If Rwanda can emerge from a genocide in which between 500,000 and a million people were brutally killed, and create a society in which those who were involved in the atrocities can live in the same communities as people whose lives were devastated, and find a way to live in peace, then what kind of example does that set for the rest of us?” asked Stubbs, who also is an associate minister at Bethel Baptist Church in Gloucester, Va.

“[This kind of conference] provides an opportunity for us to make a small, constructive contribution—to both lend a hand and to be lent a hand.”

Toward that end, Stubbs wants to establish an externship program in Rwanda that would give University of Richmond law students and undergraduates hands-on experience in that nation’s efforts to move forward. He envisions UR students promoting the transformation by working with Rwandan government and non-governmental organizations.

“Human rights work does a lot for people who are lacking access to education, or health care, or justice, or housing, or an opportunity to express themselves and have some say over what happens to them,” Stubbs said. “To open up opportunities for students to participate in activities related to those types of concerns is something I feel called to do.”

While plans for such a program are still taking shape, Stubbs has had meetings in the United States and Rwanda with chief officials from the Rwandan Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion. All are excited about the possibility of collaborating with UR.

“I am eager—and the other people in Rwanda are eager—to see the partnership bear fruit,” said Dr. Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, Rwanda’s Minister of Gender and Family Promotion.

Mujawamariya said she was impressed with the University of Richmond and its leaders after a two-day visit in early March. With Stubbs as her host, she met with President Edward L. Ayers, Law School Dean John G. Douglass, faculty members, and law students.

“What is important is that [Stubbs’ proposal] has garnered support and interest from a number of other faculty members,” said Dr. Uliana Gabara, dean of UR’s Office of International Education, following Mujawamariya’s visit. “It’s a fascinating project and it’s a visible example and proof that the Richmond Promise, which focuses strongly on collaboration between the various schools of the University, is happening very organically.”

An informal group of roughly 15 faculty, staff, and students are interested in the Rwanda initiative and have been working with Stubbs to turn it into a reality.

Mujawamariya said through an externship program, Richmond Law students could assist her office with legal research and by aiding with the drafting of memoranda, instructions, and laws in areas of women’s rights, children’s rights, and family responsibility.

The Rwandan government has an initiative to provide universal primary education to students without charge, Stubbs said. Similarly, it also is working to ensure all Rwandans have access to health care. Education is key, he said, to avoiding another genocide in Rwanda.

Since coming to Richmond Law in 1989, Stubbs has taught human rights and international law. He said he is routinely peppered with questions from students interested in exploring career options in those fields.

“There is a lot of student idealism when folks come into law school,” said Stubbs. “They want to have careers or live lives that help people who may be the more vulnerable persons in society. Students often ask what type of work is out there for persons with this interest who want to make it a career. It occurred to me that maybe more could be done. As a teacher, I felt that I should lend a hand to address this student interest.”

By setting up an externship program, Stubbs said, “We would probably learn much more from this experience than the other way around.”

Healing in Rwanda originally appeared in the University of Richmond School of Law Alumni Magazine in summer 2010.