Law student performs nonprofit research in Colombia

Natali Segovia
Natali Segovia, a second-year law student, spent her summer alongside victims of state violence in Colombia. 

As a research fellow in the Center for Law and Global Affairs, Segovia was awarded one of the highly competitive 2011-2012 Transnational Law Summer Fellowships, which granted her the funding to work with the non-governmental organization, private firm or government office of her choice.

Segovia chose to work with Movice, a nonprofit group that documents and analyzes human rights violations resulting from the violence between paramilitary and guerrilla forces in Colombia.

Movice is dedicated to helping victims tell their stories in a process it calls “Memory Sharing.” In these “Galerías de Memoria,” family members can go into public spaces and show pictures of lost loved ones.

One mother, Segovia recalled, lost her 15-year-old daughter, who was raped and quartered. Since then, the mother has devoted her life to Galerías de Memoria.

“We have a responsibility to translate these experiences,” Segovia said. “Once their personal grief becomes collective memory, it becomes easier to bear.”

It also creates a stronger voice, according to Segovia, who spoke of the poor in rural Colombia coming together with the help of Movice and other organizations that listen and give free legal advice.

“It’s so easy to be written out of the historical narrative if you aren’t part of the mainstream,” Segovia said.

The conflict began with a 10-year civil war known as La Violencia in 1948, and has continued to plague civilians with death and displacement. Over the past two decades, more than 3.7 million Colombians have been forcibly displaced by paramilitaries, guerrillas and state forces, leaving behind an estimated 16 million acres of land.

“We build the bridges to give these people legal recourses,” Segovia said. “One thing I learned is that everyone has an opinion on the law, when it is no longer a luxury.”

In addition to her work with Movice, Segovia performed research for Professor Aaron Fellmeth, Faculty Fellow in the Center for Law and Global Affairs, on International Humanitarian Law within the context of the Colombian conflict.

“Natali’s research is a unique and valuable contribution to seeing irregular conflict through the eyes of its direct participants,” Fellmeth said.

This research allowed Segovia to work with individuals in governmental roles, as well as the paramilitary and guerrilla forces.

It is important to understand how attitudes toward civil society and the opposing forces exacerbate the violence and traumatize persons caught in the middle, according to Fellmeth.

Segovia explained that a lack of communication between opposing sides and poorly documented legal history has kept the average Colombian in the dark about their options.

“It’s a very multitiered conflict without a clear way to resolve it. I found passion in both sides,” she said. “The problem is coming to a consensus.”

As an undergraduate student at Columbia University in her hometown of New York City, Segovia double-majored in political science and Latin American studies and participated in a variety of clubs, organizations and publications. In 2006, she became president of the university’s Student Organization of Latinos, and in 2007, she founded and managed Our América magazine. In addition to several other student awards, Segovia received the Latino Trailblazer Award in 2008.

During her two years at the College of Law, she has served as president of the Chicano Law Students Association, and co-president of the International Law Students Association.
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