Professor Pablo Rueda-Saiz: Bringing a Latin American Perspective to International Law

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Professor Rueda-Saiz

Associate Professor Pablo Rueda-Saiz (photo by Joshua Prezant)

Whether striving to advance social justice initiatives, broaden an understanding of constitutional law, or learn about the development of international treaties, Miami Law students can learn from the real-world experiences of Associate Professor Pablo Rueda-Saiz.

Before joining the faculty last year, Rueda-Saiz served as a government attorney and deputy justice in his native Colombia, working tirelessly to advocate for Indigenous people in rural communities and other victims of the nation’s internal armed conflict.

“While the U.S. is often compared with European countries, its history of slavery and treatment of Indigenous peoples is similar to the experiences of other nations in the Americas,” he said.

“One of the takeaways of international law in the Americas is that regardless of a country’s racist colonial history, there are great possibilities to use the law to produce effective social change. That was certainly a big part of my experience in Colombia.”

Becoming an Advocate

Rueda-Saiz was born and raised in Colombia, where his grandfather was a law professor and a senator. He graduated from high school at a time of great violence in his homeland as the government fought FARC and other guerilla organizations as well as drug cartels that produced cocaine and transported the drugs to other countries.

In 1998 he graduated from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá with an LL.B. (J.D. equivalent). “One of the things that motivated me to go into law was anger with social injustice in Colombia,” he said. “Another factor was that four of the guerrilla groups had decided to stop using arms, went back to civil life, and helped to draft a new constitution in 1991. That was a very significant decision for my generation, supporting our belief in the law as a means to achieve social justice.”

Deciding on a career in academia, Rueda-Saiz completed a clerkship and joined the faculty at Universidad de los Andes. He continued studying Colombia’s challenges while seeking a wider international perspective. In 2006 he earned a master’s degree in jurisprudence and social policy from University of California Berkeley, followed by a Ph.D. in 2012.

Through the years, Rueda-Saiz has taught law at the University of Wisconsin, at the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, and at the Universities of El Rosario and Los Andes in Colombia.

He has published articles in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters, both in Spanish and English, on comparative constitutional law and international law. His work has received awards and honorific mentions from the Latin American Studies Association and the Law and Society Association.

Leadership in Colombia

When Rueda-Saiz was finishing his doctorate in California, he was invited to join Colombia’s new National Land Restitution Program under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture.

The goal was to recover the land that was taken from victims of the nation’s long-running armed conflict. Most of the victims are people in rural communities, including Indigenous groups and communities of African descent, which amount to about 20% of the country’s population. Overall, Colombia has the third largest Black community in the hemisphere after the U.S. and Brazil.

Rueda-Saiz accepted the position, leading a team that filed lawsuits to return the land to the people in these communities, mainly in the river basins and along the northern Caribbean coast. “This was a consensual process, as both Indigenous and Black organizations provided input into the cases along with an agreement regarding what communities were affected the worst, and which lawsuits should be filed first,” he said. “I designed the structure and functions of the unit, which represented the interests of the victims.”

Soon afterward, Rueda-Saiz was asked to take a different position in the program to drive the process of providing land titles to the people in the communities. Complicating the process was that residents in many rural areas did not have the titles to their land, which he then had to purchase. “Providing titles to the residents was an exhausting process, as I was moving from one city to another, purchasing the land for them,” he said.

Protecting Indigenous People

After a year in that position, Rueda-Saiz was contacted by Peru’s Minister of Culture to be a consultant on the implementation of the International Labor Organization 169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, a transnational treaty involving global energy companies. “The treaty requires that party states consult with indigenous authorities whenever they want to extract natural resources located on Indigenous lands,” he said.

Rueda-Saiz had written his Ph.D. dissertation on that transnational treaty, tracing how Indigenous peoples had forged alliances in the U.S. and Europe and designed a strategy to prevent oil extraction from their lands. Moreover, he had also worked on the implementation of that treaty in Colombia as a director in the Ministry of the Interior. However, his interest in constitutional law soon took his career in a different direction, as Rueda-Saiz was appointed deputy justice at the Colombian Constitutional Court, where he served for four years.

After this, he worked as a legal adviser to the president of Colombia. In that role, he led a team analyzing the constitutionality of the laws that implemented the peace accords with the FARC guerrillas.

“As you might expect, this was a very complicated situation with very interesting legal and political challenges. We had to negotiate any changes in these draft statutes both with FARC and with multiple government agencies.”

Coming to Miami Law

On June 8, 2020, Rueda-Saiz flew to Miami during the pandemic with his wife Natalia and sons Jacobo and Martin on one of the last humanitarian flights from Bogota. “I was excited to join Miami Law,” said Rueda-Saiz, who teaches international law, constitutional law and torts.

“Miami Law has historically been a vibrant scholarly community committed to the investigation of how the law works in society and the active engagement with using law as a tool for social change,” he added. “The law school and its unique setting constitute a fantastic place for someone like me who is interested in investigating the interplay between law, globalization, and social change.”

Students of comparative law can gain perspectives from different countries, policies, customs, and legal systems. They can better understand the past, present, and potential future of practices in their chosen fields, according to Rueda-Saiz.

“Comparative law is a natural complement to the international field,” he said. “It helps to balance inherent tendencies toward parochialism. For example, the U.S. has a long and important constitutional history, and because of this, students and attorneys tend to look inward,” he said.

“But there are advantages to looking outward and seeing how things are done in other parts of the world. It allows you to look at your own field in a different fashion. Opening your mind to new ideas is one of the lasting benefits of a law school education.”

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