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Elaine Hsiao JD 2009, LLM 2010

Elaine Hsiao JD 2009, LLM 2010

Elaine Hsiao (JD ’09, LLM ’10) always envisioned herself as an environmental conservationist rather than an attorney. After being involved in environmental and international activism, Elaine was convinced that the environment underpinned all of the social and ecological injustices of our time. This prompted her to attend Pace Law School and pursue a degree in international environmental law.

During her first year at Pace Law, Elaine approached Professors Gayl Westerman and Nicholas Robinson about summer internship opportunities abroad in which she could make a difference in environmental issues. At that time, Elaine was introduced to the idea of peace parks—transboundary conservation areas developed to protect biological diversity (natural and cultural resources), while promoting peace and cooperation—which prompted Professor Westerman to suggest doing an internship based on peace park research.  Professor Pablo Martinez de Anguita, principal promoter of a peace park initiative on the border of Honduras and Nicaragua, invited Elaine to join a team of his students and suggested that Elaine base her research out of the UN University for Peace (UPeace). This led to Elaine spending her summer in Costa Rica outlining the legal framework for establishing a transboundary peace park in the post-conflict mountain forests between Honduras and Nicaragua, an experience she thoroughly enjoyed. “If it involves peace and parks, I like it,” says Elaine.

After returning home from Costa Rica, Elaine worked with Professor Robinson to draft a resolution for the establishment of a peace park between Honduras and Nicaragua, which was ultimately adopted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) 4th World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain, which Elaine attended as a student delegate of the Pace Center for Environmental Legal Studies.  That motion became the basis of a draft convention between the two governments, but a coup in Honduras paralyzed the peace park process.  In 2009, Elaine decided to take this opportunity to propose an alternative approach to peace parks, which became the basis of her LL.M. thesis in Environmental Law at Pace.  As part of her research, she returned to UPeace and the proposed peace park territory and outlined an alternative legal framework based on existing village-level environmental governance structures and common environmental concerns over shared water resources.

As part of her LL.M., Elaine also studied community conservation around Parque Internacional La Amistad (PILA) between Costa Rica and Panama. Her work with PILA communities led her to design a service-learning expedition, which she co-leads as the Mesoamerican Coordinator of International Peace Park Expeditions every January.

After completing her LL.M. Elaine received a Fulbright Grant, the most prestigious scholarship offered by the U.S government, to study transboundary collaboration and community conservation in the Central Albertine Rift based out of Uganda. At the conclusion of nine months of field research, Elaine has written an article and given presentations promoting the development of networks of local water user groups for community-based transboundary integrated water resources management. In her final days in Uganda, Elaine helped film a series of interviews for a documentaryon transboundary conservation in the Central Albertine Rift which she hopes to screen in the villages of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda via bicycle-powered cinema.

Elaine credits Professors Westerman and Robinson, whom she says have been incredible role models and advisors throughout all her work.

In September 2011, Elaine began a Ph.D. in Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver with a full Four-Year Fellowship and is a Liu Scholar at the Liu Institute for Global Issues.  She continues transdisciplinary work with peace parks and is looking forward to joining the Pace Center for Environmental Legal Studies delegation again at the 5th IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea in September 2012.