Between the time Sardorbek Abdukhalilov found out he was accepted as a Muskie Fellow to study for an LL.M. at Penn State Law and the time he began the program, two seminal events happened that would profoundly affect his life. Violence erupted in his native Kyrgyzstan resulting in several hundred deaths and more than 10,000 people being evicted from their homes. When he left his country he feared for his family, friends, and business associates who are part of the Uzbek ethnic minority. Then just two days before departing for the U.S., he became a father. He described leaving his wife and newborn son as,“My body was studying law but my mind was back home reliving all that had happened in the month before I left.”
Abdukhalilov had spent more than five years practicing law—mostly business law dealing with agreements, transactions, and arbitration for energy and raw materials clients. He also worked with People`s Friendship University to develop its first English language curriculum targeted for specific professions—such as law, medicine, and business. Through those experiences, Abdukhalilov became interested in international study and applied for the Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship
“The Muskie Scholarship is very famous. Normally someone will apply three to five times before being accepted even to an interview,” Abdukhalilov said. The Muskie program provides fellowships for master’s degree-level study to emerging leaders from Eurasia for study in the United States in a number of fields including law. The program is open to graduate students and professionals from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. “We have had four Muskie fellows at the Law School in recent years,” said Professor Karen Bysiewicz
, director of Graduate and International Programs at Penn State Law. Bysiewicz recently returned from Georgia where she served on a review panel for the fellowship applications there. “The fellows bring profound home country experiences to Penn State and that in turn provides excellent learning opportunities for our J.D. and LL.M. students,” she said.
Abdukhalilov’s interest in arbitration is what landed him the Muskie fellowship. “Arbitration is not as developed in Kyrgyzstan and businesses end up destroying relationships by solving disputes in the court. And often the outcomes are not enforceable,” he said. His hope in applying for the fellowship was to bring these approaches back to his law practice in Kyrgyzstan. “Penn State Law has an excellent reputation in alternative dispute resolution. Tom Carbonneau
, for example, is a worldwide recognized professor and professional, and Professor (William) Butler
is a ‘brand’ by himself,” he said.
His interest shifted from business to human rights when the political climate in his country changed just before his departure. “I wondered whether I would be better spending my time here on learning how to resolve human rights crises,” he said. His fellowship advisor pointed out that the skills he is developing in arbitration, mediation, and negotiation will serve him well in either case. As part of the fellowship, Abdukhalilov is hoping to focus his internship on human rights and post-crisis management issues at an international humanitarian organization.
Abdukhalilov attributes his interest in law to his parents, both doctors, who steered him away from the 24-7 world of medicine, and his brother who is an attorney. “I am here because my parents were able to give me a higher education in the first place,” he said. “As a Kyrgyzstan lawyer who has had access to Western legal education, I fully realize that I have a great professional and moral responsibility to my local community and fellow citizens to use my knowledge and experience for their common good and I fully intend to do so. As Thomas Jefferson said: ‘The study of the law is useful in a variety of points of view. It qualifies a man to be useful to himself, to his neighbours, and to the public.”