Riding with the Baroness
by Kerry Docherty (JD '09)
In mid-spring of my second semester of law school, while most of my fellow classmates had locked a summer internship, I was still struggling to secure a job. Due to my interest in human rights, I was hoping to travel to Africa for the summer. This proved more difficult than I expected, as it appeared that I would need to "pay to volunteer." Noticing my frustration, Professor Melanie Howard, the international human rights director at the time, suggested I pick up the keynote speaker, Baroness Caroline Cox, for the Genocide Conference from the airport. "She has traveled extensively in Africa," Professor Howard encouraged, "she might have some great ideas as to where you should travel." To be perfectly honest, however, I had little knowledge about Baroness Caroline Cox. In fact, I hardly knew what the title "baroness" entailed. Despite such ignorance, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity. Little did I know that this seemingly trivial errand would lead to adventurous travels abroad.
Baroness Caroline Cox arrived at the LAX airport slightly disheveled from her twelve hour flight from London. I instantly grew fond of her. Extremely chatty and inquisitive, we talked for over an hour on the way back to Pepperdine's campus. Baroness Cox told stories of camping out in Sudan, bringing aid by Soviet helicopter to the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, observing religious freedom issues in Northern Nigeria, conducting inner-faith dialogs between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia, setting up a foster care system in Russia, and sneaking medical aid across the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.
Inspired beyond belief, I told her my dreams of a career in human rights. "You should come on one of my trips," she generously offered. "I would love to!" I quickly responded, disregarding the fear my parents would experience upon hearing upon potential travels to any of the above-mentioned countries.
Two months later, thanks to funding from Pepperdine and successful persuasive tactics on my parents, I flew from Uganda (where I finished an internship with Restore International in Kampala) to Abuja, Nigeria to meet Baroness Cox. The whole trip was an adventure to say the least. A current gas strike made fuel extremely difficult to attain and thereby travel was difficult. Often we would stop on the side of the road to buy jars of fuel in order to make it to the next town. More than once, the fuel was mixed with water and we ended up stranded a few miles later. We could only travel during certain times of day for fear that guerrillas may emerge from the jungle to exploit a van full of foreigners. Such obstacles, however, did not hinder our investigative mission to observe the religious tensions between Christians and Muslims, particularly the effect of shari'a law on Christians. The stories were heart breaking. Violence had occurred on both sides—burned down mosques, burned down churches (at times with worshippers inside), systematic persecutions, and forced conversions to Islam. The tension hung thickly in the air. It was well-acknowledged that an individual incident of anger could ignite a riot. One of our hosts, Bishop Ben, recalled the year before when Islamic insurgents came to his house on a mission to kill him. Fortunately for the Bishop, he was not home. Unfortunately, his wife and children were. The wife suffered such beatings and trauma, that she became temporarily blind for a year. Four months after I left Nigeria, insurgents would come again, miraculously deciding not to kill the Bishop, but instead robbing his house. Though we were safe throughout the week, I came to appreciate the fear that permeates the lives of so many people each day. I became cognizant that in order to best serve as a human rights lawyer it was important to witness how suffering and persecution effects cultural and religious interactions.
Nearly a year later, a month before school started, I received another email from Baroness Cox. She was going to Nagorno Karabakh (her 68th visit) to observe the current situation between the Karabaki people and Azerbaijan. Nearly twenty years prior, Baroness Cox had flown aid into Nagorno, a forgotten land, in order to maintain its independence from Azerbaijan. Though Nagorno ultimately fought of the invasion, it's independence is still not recognized by the international community, despite the fact that Nagorno has a standing army and an effective government.
Mitchell Moses, another Pepperdine law student, and myself jumped at the opportunity to travel with Baroness Cox. The day after we arrived in Armenia, Baroness Cox arranged for an old Soviet helicopter to fly us over the mountains unto Nagorno. The next five days were filled with stories about the war, political updates regarding the current situation with the Azeris, meetings with the Prime Minister and Defense Minister of Nagorno, a site visit to the Caroline Cox Rehabilitation Center, and feasts in honor of Baroness Cox. Upon leaving Nagorno, we traveled to Yerevan Armenia, where we met with the Prime Minister of Armenia and the Defense Minister of Armenia, visited the Armenian Genocide memorial, and dined with Karabakhi war heros.
My two visits to Nigeria and Armenia had a profound impact on my life. That being said, my friendship with Baroness Cox has truly transformed me. She is a woman I now strive to emulate. Through her faith in God, dedication to service, love of humanity, and boldness in travel, Baroness Cox continues to give "a voice to the voiceless." And I hope one day to do the same.