Maria Dinard ’18 LL.M.
2017 – 2018 Human Rights Fellow
As an attorney at the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), an NGO that works to protect human rights and strengthen Argentina’s democratic system, María Dinard ’18 LL.M. worked on cases related to prisons, criminal justice, and human rights violations. She represented the family of Luciano Arruga, a 16-year-old who disappeared after severe police harassment, including torture. She assisted in the quest to find his body (in an unmarked grave) and later won the conviction of the police officer responsible for his treatment in custody. She faced challenges such as lack of effective investigation, delayed judicial response, and the mistrust of the victim's family.. Arruga’s case, she said, represents many of the human rights violations that can occur in the Argentine criminal justice system—a system she hopes to improve through her work as an advocate.
Dinard has worked on both sides of the criminal justice system. Before taking a job at CELS, she was as an assistant in a prosecutor’s office while in law school at the University of Buenos Aires, where she graduated in 2012. “I learned how the criminal justice system worked from the inside,” she said. “I realized I didn’t want to stay at the edge of the injustices I saw, I wanted to fight them.”
Working as a human rights advocate, she feels she's had the most impact. “You can shed light on things that are not working,” she said. “During these years I’ve learned to use strategic litigation as a way to take action against the abusive practices that take place on a daily basis in the criminal justice system.” Nevertheless, she said she may eventually return to the public sector to build state legitimacy and a fairer justice system.
As an LL.M. Human Rights Fellow at Columbia Law School, Dinard is taking several classes on criminal law and procedure, including a seminar called Science and the Courts with Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The course addresses the difficulties courts encounter in dealing with forensic evidence, such as eyewitness identification, among other issues.
While she was earning her first law degree in Argentina, Dinard studied criminology for several months in Paris and later completed a criminal law specialization in Spain. “I’ve always been interested in learning from other models of legal practice,” she said. “Argentina has a solid structure of fundamental rights foreseen by our constitution, which is supposed to be respected.”
However, she added, “there is a lot yet to be done, especially regarding vulnerable populations. My aim is to reflect on the problems in the criminal field and learn from the challenges of the adversarial system in the U.S. in order to strengthen a fair justice system and promote the rule of law in Argentina.”