History and Politics

Professor Sharon Weill Receives Grant to Study French Asylum Courts


Professor Sharon Weill

At The American University of Paris, small class sizes and an emphasis on faculty mentorship alongside teaching combine to make the perfect environment for student–faculty collaboration. Professor Sharon Weill’s research, which regularly sees students conduct empirical studies on location in law courts as part of AUP’s Justice Lab, is the perfect example of such a project in action.

Sharon Weill is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and Politics and a coordinator of AUP’s Justice Lab. She has recently received a grant from the Institut des Etudes et de la Recherche sur le Droit et la Justice, which is financed by the French Ministry of Justice and the national scientific research center (CNRS), to direct an empirical study in French asylum courts, working with a cross-university team that includes sociologists, jurists and a historian.

Weill worked for two years as an asylum judge, appointed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She explains that France’s 23 asylum chambers have, in recent years, heard around 65,000 cases annually. “Our research looks at how the courts deal with such an increase,” says Weill. “How can we balance the demand for efficiency with the need to provide justice?” The project is also examining the impacts of a government proposal to reduce the number of asylum-court judges from three to one, which would further increase pressure on the courts.

The two-year research grant allows students from the Justice Lab to attend court proceedings and conduct ethnographic observations. They have developed an observation grid to collect relevant data, which will contribute to Weill’s multidisciplinary research collaboration with other CNRS academics. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for students to put theory into practice in the courtroom,” says Weill. “We’ve obtained unprecedented access for students to meet and conduct interviews with lawyers, judges and interpreters.” This collaboration builds on the Justice Lab’s previous work with students, which focused on observation of French terrorism trials.

Johan Sebastian Febres ’22, a recent graduate majoring in international comparative politics with a minor in international law, is taking things one step further by conducting a research internship with Weill over a three-month period. “Refugee studies and the asylum processes in different regions of the world play a crucial role in the impact and development of human rights,” says Johan. “For me, understanding the law, as well as the functionality and flaws of the legal system, is beyond interesting, and I know it will be one of my most powerful tools during my master's studies and future career.”

The Justice Lab falls under the umbrella of the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, a research center at AUP dedicated to promoting innovative research, curricula and pedagogies leading to the deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of genocide and mass violence.