Lawyer devoted to human rights supports internship

Grace Merritt

3 min read

Two things happened at UConn that changed the course of Victor Schachter’s life.

First, at the invitation of a friend, Schachter ’64 (CLAS) ran for student government his freshman year. This led to a successful career in student politics at UConn and on a national level that opened his eyes to political activism.

Second, he won a scholarship for an internship to work on infrastructure and health projects in a small village in India. The experience opened his eyes to poverty and human rights issues.

Decades later, after he became a labor and employment lawyer, he combined those life-changing experiences to create a new foundation to promote accessible, fair, and sustainable dispute resolution worldwide—The Foundation for Sustainable Rule of Law Initiatives. The foundation assists emerging democracies with overburdened court systems to establish and maintain their own legal mediation centers.

The foundation trains lawyers and judges in countries like India, Brazil, Croatia, and Bulgaria to peacefully settle longstanding disputes that often have torn families apart and, in some cases, encompassed human rights abuses. For example, some cases have involved battered or abused women who could not get timely access to the judicial system and were being denied their property or marital rights.

“Peaceful dispute resolution through mediation often deals with human rights issues,” Schachter says. “When I go to a mediation center, for example, I might see a woman who walks in who has been abused in a household, physically and mentally. She is being thrown out of the house by her husband. If she gets divorced, she will be rejected by her own community for the rest of her life. She doesn’t want a divorce because she doesn’t want that taint on herself and her child. To me, that speaks to the heart of human rights: the right be safe, the right to housing, the right to maintain a living, and the right to have access to food.”

Hoping to give students a similar experience to the one he had at UConn, Schachter teamed up with UConn’s Human Rights Institute (HRI) to create a scholarship that allows students to intern at one of the Foundation’s supported mediation centers in India or Croatia. The Victor Schachter Rule of Law Award scholarship enables two interns—often an undergraduate and a UConn law student—to travel to one of his mediation centers to observe, study, and learn about the culture.

“I hope the internship opens their eyes to a greater appreciation of what democracy really is, and what we need to preserve it here and elsewhere,” he says. “My ardent hope is that they will develop a professional pursuit of human rights and the rule of law or at least become supporters of it, particularly now when the rule of law is more threatened than ever.”

HRI Director Kathryn Libal says the internship provides students with valuable insight and a unique travel abroad opportunity.

“Victor Schachter’s generous support for HRI’s global experiential learning efforts has provided unparalleled opportunities for students to understand and contribute to mediation as a form of human rights practice,” Libal says. “Learning about the role of mediation in reinforcing the rule of law abroad often sheds light on the role that mediation can play in the United States as well.”

Schachter, who lives in Portola Valley, California, retired two years ago from a 50-year career as an employment litigator and mediator. Most recently, he was a partner and co-chair of employment practices at the Fenwick & West law firm. He now devotes most of his time to running his foundation. He and his wife of 55 years, Janet, a well-known ceramicist, frequently travel together to oversee and evaluate the mediation centers. When he is not working, Schachter is focused on staying in shape. A black belt in Shotokan karate, he is also an avid bike-rider and swimmer.

He says he is grateful to have the opportunity to help disputing parties worldwide to peacefully resolve disputes through timely mediation, and to provide a powerful internship experience through his scholarship.

“It’s such a privilege to do this work,” he says. “I’m so appreciative in my lifetime to be able to give back in this way. And it all started at UConn.”

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