Determining how to assist countries with critical
“It was a humbling opportunity to work with
justice sector needs, broadly defined, is a big
South Africans who had lived in oppression for
part of the job she took on when she joined ABA
so long and see how forgiving they were of the
ROLI in May 2009, after two years with Dorsey &
past and how motivated they were towards a new
Whitney in Seattle practicing international law.
beginning,” she said. She was particularly moved,
The ROLI program, which the ABA launched after
while working with the South African Truth and
the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, supports a wide
Reconciliation Commission, listening to an elderly
range of rule of law reform programs in more than
woman’s heart rending testimony of the murder
fifty countries around the world.
of her three young children by soldiers of the
As a woman from the developing world, “she approaches the work from the perspective of women in these countries – how to make a
apartheid regime. During the emotional hearing, two of the officers involved tearfully apologized for their involvement in the heinous crime.
difference in the day-to-day lives of women and
The young Brandeis student had a hard time
girls,” said Natacha Thys, Deputy Director of ABA
accepting the soldiers’ contrition. But in a journal
ROLI’s Africa division.
account she wrote after returning to the U.S., she
Poologasingham got her start in human rights and international development work during her life-changing four-month internship in South Africa in 1998 while she was an undergraduate at Brandeis University. She had been interested in South Africa since her father, a Sri Lankan
credited the non-judicial truth and reconciliation process as a powerful force for healing, quoting the chairman of the South African Human Rights Commission: “To understand human rights you must understand human wrongs, and to recognize justice you must recognize injustice.”
diplomat, was posted to Kenya when she was
While in South Africa, she also worked with lawyers
young; her parents, both strong social activists,
from many countries on drafts of the country’s
talked a lot about the injustice of apartheid.
new constitution. “I was very impressed by how lawyers and social activists looked at the country’s foundation from the critical perspective of the rule of law,” she said. “At that age it made me realize that the legal profession is a noble endeavor.” Wanting to practice law in the U.S., Poologasingham attended the University of Washington School of Law, and became involved in the Innocence Project Northwest, investigating inmates’ wrongful conviction claims on the basis of untested DNA evidence. She said Jacqueline McMurtrie, who heads the clinic, inspired her, “to always be vigilant when it came to issues of social justice.”