Law school’s Altholz wins 2013 Yamashita Prize

This year’s Foundation for Change: Thomas I. Yamashita Prize has been awarded to Roxanna Altholz, an assistant clinical professor of law and associate director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Berkeley Law. Awarded under the auspices of the campus’s Center for Research on Social Change, the $2,500 prize honors “a person whose work transforms the existing landscape,” and “serves as a bridge between the academy and the community.”

Altholz with Allison Davenport and Laurel Fletcher

Prize-winner Roxanna Altholz is flanked by Allison Davenport, IHRLC clinical instructor, on left, and IHRLC director Laurel Fletcher. (Hector Martinez photo)

Margaret Rhee, a doctoral candidate in the ethnic-studies department, received honorable mention. She co-leads From the Center, a collaboration of health educators, academics, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women working to “reimagine education, research and advocacy through the power of digital storytelling.”

Speaking at a campus ceremony at the Women’s Faculty Club, Altholz expressed her “great joy and pride to be honored with a prize that bears the name Thomas Yamashita,” a Class of 1942 Berkeley student who never graduated due to the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast. (He later received his engineering degree from the University of Nebraska, and went on to work as a civil engineer in Hong Kong.)

“For me,” she said, “it is enormously meaningful that Mr. Yamashita was, like many of the survivors I have represented during my career, a victim of the discrimination, the fear, the violence generated by the machinery of war.”

Altholz, a Berkeley law-school graduate herself, successfully represented 127 family members of 28 individuals who were forcibly “disappeared” between 1983 and 1985 by Guatemalan security forces. In December 2012, the Inter-American Court ruled that upper echelons of the military had conspired with politicians and police to target and eliminate the victims due to their perceived political and social views. The court ordered the Guatemalan government to prosecute and punish those responsible, recover the victims’ remains, build a national park dedicated to their memory and pay more than $8 million in damages to the victims’ families.

Berkeley Law students enrolled in the International Human Rights Law Clinic, Altholz said, “were involved in every aspect of the case, from the meticulous task of organizing evidence to the intellectual work of drafting novel legal arguments to the engrossing challenge of deposing witnesses. The students’ contribution to the litigation was extraordinary.”