Human Rights Clinic
The Human Rights Clinic exposes students to the practice of law in the international and cross-cultural context of human rights litigation and advocacy.
To bridge theory and practice, the Human Rights Clinic provides students with hands-on experience working on active human rights cases and projects. The skills training imparted through classroom instruction and simulations is applied and tested in the context of real-world advocacy. Working in partnership with experienced attorneys and institutions engaged in human rights activism, both in the United States and abroad, students contribute to effecting positive change locally and globally as they hone their professional skills.
An intensive critical seminar examines the actors, subjects, and tools of the human rights movement, as well as critiques coming from left and right. Specifically, the seminar considers the evolution of the human rights movement, how to locate litigation in human rights work, the difficulties in applying ‘traditional’ human rights methodology beyond the civil and political rights context, the developing human rights movement in the U.S., and economic issues that arise in human rights norms and analysis.
The clinic’s seminar, which lays out an analytic framework for much of the course, is combined with specially tailored exercises and simulations to introduce students to international human rights practice. Students participate in exercises and discussions to foster the development of other fundamental lawyering and advocacy skills, including interviewing techniques, fact investigation and development, project and case organization and management, legal drafting, oral and written advocacy (including media advocacy), and collaborative project work.
Clinic projects cover the full range of human rights advocacy. In particular, initiatives focus on research and advocacy related to the following issues:
- Human rights implementation in the United States
- Counterterrorism practices in the U.S. and around the world
- Challenges at the intersection of development, private investment and human rights
- Collaborations with NGOs engaged in diverse forms of engagement with the human rights framework and human rights mechanisms.
Over the years, students have represented juveniles sentenced to life without parole in the United States and ethnic Haitians subjected to mass expulsions by the Dominican Republic before the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights. They have presented on the legal implications of U.S. lethal targeting practices in meetings with military lawyers and international law experts. Students have advocated for and assisted in the review of mining contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Peru, and Liberia; worked with U.S. federal, state and local officials to develop effective strategies for local implementation of human rights; and they have supported the work of United Nations Special Rapporteurs in the areas of housing and the criminalization of poverty; and drafted shadow reports on U.S. compliance with human rights treaties.
The clinic's recent work has taken students across the U.S. and to the Dominican Republic, the DRC, India, Mexico, Peru and South Africa.
Case Example: The Right to Move Freely
The oldest case on the clinic’s docket continues to be a source of inspiration, legal innovation and meaningful experience for clinic students. More than eight years ago, the clinic began collaboration with the center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) to represent 25 people of Haitian origin in a challenge to the Dominican Republic’s longstanding practice of mass expulsions of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent without due process.
The case before the Inter-American Commission and Court has resulted in important protective measures for the clients, even while the political conditions for a full resolution of the underlying problems have declined. While actively pursuing the litigation, our students are also working to find other avenues to promote the rights of Dominicans of Haitian origin. In that effort, the clinic is pursuing a collaborative advocacy strategy that has students working in New York, Santo Domingo, and Washington D.C. to find the tools for lasting change.
Faculty Highlight: Clinic Co-Director Risa Kaufman
Risa Kaufman is the Executive Director of the Human Rights Institute and Co-Director of the Human Rights Clinic. Professor Kaufman works to develop and advance international human rights norms and strategies in the United States through research, advocacy, network building, and trainings. Her advocacy and research focus on state and local implementation of human rights, access to justice, and economic, social, and cultural rights.
To read Professor Kaufman's full biography and to find her contact information, visit the Human Rights Institute's webpage.
Faculty Highlight: Clinic Co-Director JoAnn Kamuf Ward
JoAnn Kamuf Ward is the Associate Director of Human Rights in the U.S. Project and C-Director of the Human Rights Clinic. Professor Ward is also Counsel for the Human Rights Institute’s Human Rights in the U.S. Project. Professor Ward focuses on promoting the use of a human rights framework to address inequality and social injustice domestically.
To read Professor Ward’s full biography and to find her contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.