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The Importance of Hiring A Country Conditions Expert Witness in LGBTQI+ Asylum Cases

By Melanie Nathan, April 14, 2023, ED AHRC and Country Conditions Expert for LGBTQI+ Asylum seekers from: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea-Conakry, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Tanzania, The Gambia, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Why is it important, and especially in LGBTQI+ related cases to engage a qualified country conditions expert witness:

I am a country conditions expert witness reporting and testifying on behalf of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in the United States and other countries.

I have seen several generic country conditions reports circulating among law firms, clinic and legal services NGO’s that I believe either fail to do a given case full justice, fails full representation and in some instances my be harmful. This can be expanded upon in a direct discussion. I welcome communication.

I have come to this conclusion after reporting and even being cross examined by government in several cases: It is a good idea to get a country conditions expert involved in a case as early as possible in the process. This could also be as a consultant, to issue a non-template report, as well as to standby in case direct testimony is needed. Most often a good report that pre-empts the issues will result in government acquiescing and not even calling the expert to testify, favorable adjudication, which can even influence early outcomes.

Every client, regardless of income, ability to pay, station in life, noting that as a general rule asylum seekers are without means, marginalized and vulnerable, should be entitled to maximum representation to include such experts. It is for this reason that often immigration clinics, law firms, university clinics, and NGO’s should ensure a decent expert witness budget to affect the best representation possible. I for one would never turn away an asylum seeker for lack of funds, and at the same time rely on an honor system where, if a well-resourced law firm is taking on a case to serve their pro bono practices, they should be able to ensure remuneration for all the hard work involved. The clinics that have access to grants, should ensure the same to whatever degree possible. All this will serve an ecology for those whose cases are being represented by smaller firms, unfunded organizations and solo practitioners and who are unable to pay for experts.

The importance of hiring a qualified, experienced and astute country conditions expert is the ability of the expert to spot and isolate nuances that could serve or hurt the case and to identify these realms early on. Early consultation and deeper exploration can address or prepare for potential hidden issues. Experts can also help, especially in LGBTQI+ cases with issues of credibility – which can be challenging. Not fore reasons of lack of credibility or authenticity, but because of society's misunderstandings. In these cases, an expert must be conscious of educating the Judge or Government, noting how foreign cultural circumstances can impact an already deeply misunderstood milieu.

Most importantly, in my opinion, is the development of the client’s declaration. Counsel can consult an expert early on to help provide insights to delve, so that the asylum seeker’s voice through the declaration can transcend to a profoundly deeper level that mitigates the resonance of boiler plate to provide full insight.

The country conditions expert has the ability to identify particulars in a story that may require further research not evidenced by generic reporting. Every case ought to fully reflect a direct nexus between the story of the asylum seeker and the country conditions and reflecting that through an expert analysis and opinion my not reflect generically, possibly a critical criteria to the success of a case. It is always good to have an expert immersed in a case, for updates and ongoing consultation as issues may arise. We know the process and timing can be long and arduous. A good expert will be conscious of updating counsel as laws and conditions change between the time of filing and hearings.

Melanie Nathan, 4/14/2023 –


Melanie Nathan, Executive Director of African Human Rights Coalition is a qualified country of origin expert witness in the United States and global immigration courts, providing expert written country conditions reports and testimony for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, non-binary, LGBTQI + asylum seekers from 20 African Countries, to include activists, allies and human rights defenders.

Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea-Conakry, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Tanzania, The Gambia, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

"Ms. Nathan testified as an expert witness for us in an asylum case on behalf of a lesbian woman from Ethiopia detained at the Stewart Immigration Court in Lumpkin, GA. She was fantastic to work with. She put a great deal of time and energy into learning our case and preparing her report and testimony. Her knowledge of the facts on the ground in the county are absolutely unique and compelling. She provided persuasive in court testimony in a very hostile jurisdiction. I would hire her again in a heartbeat." Peter Isbister, Senior Lead Attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center, Atlanta, GA

"Thank you again for all your help, your country conditions were amazing. I will definitely keep you in mind as an expert in the future (I recommended you to my colleagues as well), and I look forward to the potential of working with you again in the future!" Attorney for Asylum Seeker, Kentucky

"Melanie Nathan's work creating a Country Conditions Report and narrative in my client's case was a critical piece of support in my client's asylum award. Melanie was able to work with a quick turn-around requirement and provided a thorough report in a timely fashion. She was quick to learn the details of my client's case. Her knowledge of the persecution of individuals across Africa gave us an extra boost of confidence going into the asylum hearing before the EOIR Immigration Court. The immigration judge awarded asylum to my client very early into the hearing." Attorney, New Hampshire.

I have worked with Melanie Nathan as an expert on two asylum cases for LGBTQ clients from East Africa. She provided incredibly thorough country conditions reports and was prepared to testify in court—in one case on a very short deadline. She also helped me to find and assess the reliability of up-to-date topical articles and address issues of potentially changed country conditions while a case was pending. She took lots of time to understand the theory of each case and was very receptive to any suggestions and questions I had. I would recommend her to anyone! Kelly Morgan, Central West Justice Center


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