Our pro bono work increasingly involves assistance to NGOs and governments seeking to bring their domestic human rights legislation into alignment with international norms. Our work on behalf of children, LGBT individuals and Roma illustrates this trend.
Protecting the next generation
Child Rights International Network (CRIN) promotes and protects children's rights around the world by drawing the attention of governments to their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To do so effectively, CRIN needs to understand the interplay of local legal regimes with the provisions of the CRC and identify ways to enforce them wherever possible.
In our largest pro bono project to date, our lawyers and legal staff researched the jurisprudence of 172 countries to build a comprehensive database on how children, their families and legal service organizations can challenge violations of children's rights using national, regional and international legal systems.
In our largest pro bono project to date, 285 White & Case lawyers and legal staff in 32 offices researched the jurisprudence of 172 countries to build a comprehensive database covering the ways that children, their families and legal service organizations can challenge violations of children's rights using national, regional and international legal systems. Each country profile includes information on whether the CRC can be enforced directly in that system's courts, explanations of children's access to courts and complaints mechanisms, legal aid, representatives, evidence, appeals and more.
The CRIN/White & Case database represents the first time that this kind and volume of information has been gathered in one place. It will have significant practical application in advancing children's rights. For example, the database will provide tools and templates that governments and NGOs can use to bring more countries into alignment with CRC principles or that individuals can draw on to initiate an action to enforce children's rights.
To shine a spotlight on the issue and encourage wider compliance with accepted norms, CRIN will also create a global ranking of countries by the quality of their provisions for access to justice for children. The project will also create customizable model legislation and guidance on the best legal practices that would underlie a "perfect state" with regard to protecting children's access to justice.
As the database is being finalized, White & Case's country reports are already yielding dividends. For example, the East African country reports were used to inform CRIN's recent legal advocacy workshop in the region, where experts addressed persistent violations of children's rights there, examined options for challenging violations, identified legal blockages and created an advocacy plan. And in 2014, when the UN Human Rights Council dedicated its Annual Day on the Rights of the Child to the theme of access to justice, CRIN used our reports as the basis for its presentations, advocacy and comments on the resolutions debated during the session.
A spectrum of rights
Building on our victory in the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" litigation that overturned the US government's policy that banned openly gay individuals from serving in the military, White & Case now handles an array of matters related to protecting the rights of LGBT individuals.
Tackling tax time
The US Supreme Court's grant of federal recognition to same-sex marriages introduced a hefty dose of confusion into the filing of tax returns for LGBT couples. They could now file their federal taxes jointly, but still had to navigate the complexity of 50 different state-level tax regimes and faced contradictory requirements in the majority of states that did not recognize their marriages.
White & Case joined with the National LGBT Bar Association and investment bank BNY Mellon to assist. Each of the three deployed its unique capabilities to build a website—the Online LGBT Tax Resource—that guided taxpayers and their tax advisors through this quagmire of legislation in an accessible and easy-to-understand way.
Under severe time pressure to publish the findings so that they could be used during the tax season, a White & Case team led by tax partner John Lillis in New York built the first and only comprehensive resource that lists state-by-state reporting regulations for same-sex couples, highlights the discrepancies between federal and state tax law and walks through the correct course of action in each state through a series of branching yes/no questions. Links to all relevant tax forms, statutes, administrative guidance and regulations are provided. Guidance is also given for states where same-sex marriages are now recognized and previous years' tax returns were eligible to be amended.
Because the tax landscape for LGBT couples is rapidly evolving, White & Case and BNY Mellon will update the Online LGBT Tax Resource regularly to ensure that it remains relevant and useful.
Salvadoran rights reform
In recent years, there has been a marked rise in the number of murders of transgender women and other sexual minorities in El Salvador. Investigating these murders is considered low priority because of the marginalized social status of LGBT people, and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.
Working with the human rights organization Asistencia Legal para la Diversidad Sexual de El Salvador and the International Senior Lawyers Project, a White & Case team comprising lawyers from Mexico City, Miami, New York and Silicon Valley prepared a comparative analysis of anti-discrimination and hate crime legislation throughout Latin America and the United States. The report identified the strategies that were most effective in each country's attempts to combat anti-LGBT discrimination and violence.
The team then worked to customize its findings to the realities in El Salvador. White & Case associate Brandon Freeman traveled to El Salvador to brief government officials and assess support among political leaders for anti-discrimination legislation. Freeman also presented White & Case's research and recommendation on the anti-discrimination legislation at a major conference in El Salvador. We are continuing to work with the Salvadoran government and NGOs to advance legislative reform.
OTHER LGBT RIGHTS PROJECTS
Since 2008, we have won 13 LGBT asylum cases for Immigration Equality and eight cases for Whitman Walker Health.
In Germany, we advised Transgender Europe on employment law and assisted the PrOut @Work Foundation with data protection and general corporate issues.
We conducted research to inform efforts to challenge the Republic of Georgia's ban on blood donations by gay men.
Lawyers in four offices drafted anti-discrimination reform proposals for Common Language, a Chinese LGBT rights group, to present to the National People's Congress.
STRENGTHENING ROMA RIGHTS
Roma people face significant individual and institutional discrimination across Europe. Lawyers in six White & Case offices took on two matters for the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). The first addressed a recent case holding that the EU Race Equality Directive does not apply to racial profiling by the police, along with its disproportionate effect on Roma people. We researched the incidence and patterns of Roma racial profiling by police to inform ERRC's advocacy and litigation strategies. Second, lawyers in Bratislava, Istanbul, London and Paris researched what seem to be inadequate eviction appeals processes, putting great numbers of Roma at risk of losing their homes. ERRC is using our work to argue that strategic eviction test cases should proceed directly to the European Court of Human Rights.