Human Rights Clinic Students Learn Global Advocacy From International Expert Who Led the Successful Campaign for the Arms Trade Treaty
February 28, 2020 -- Students in the Human Rights Clinic learned this month about techniques involved in international treaty-making from Anna MacDonald, a leading expert on human rights and disarmament, who gave a guest lecture in the clinic seminar. Anna is the Former Director of the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Control Arms Campaign, where she led over 100 organizations to design and implement the international advocacy and campaign strategy that resulted in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a landmark treaty which established global standards to regulate the arms trade. Anna is currently a practitioner-in-residence at the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, where she is writing a book about how NGOs helped to make the ATT a reality.
Given the grave challenges to the international legal order, Anna’s work on the ATT is an inspiring case study of a successful campaign, and she shared lessons with clinic students about how to engage in successful international advocacy.
In the clinic class, students learned from Anna about the geopolitical and strategic considerations that underlie the treaty-making process, the range of steps involved in making a treaty, and the structural constraints and challenges she and others working on the campaign had to navigate. Anna also shared many tips for organizing global campaigns and maintaining momentum over many years.
Meg Gould ’21, a student in the Clinic who is working on accountability for war crimes in the Central African Republic, said: “Anna’s experiences with long-range advocacy, the nuances of compromise and inclusive collaboration, and the challenges and benefits of transnational teams were immensely relevant and valuable to our own clinic projects and our future work as advocates.”
As Anna shared her innovative approach to a multi-year advocacy process, the students had a lot of questions. Some were more technical. How is the text of a treaty drafted? How can advocates raise funding for campaigns of this nature? Others were about how Anna exercised leadership during this challenging process. How did she maintain momentum over time? How did she navigate the process of coalition-building and deal with inter-organizational conflict?
The class on treaty-making is one in a series of Human Rights Clinic classes this semester that examine pressing issues – such as the climate crisis, populism, and digital technologies – and innovative human rights skills and strategies. The clinic seminar this semester is organized around the theme of Human Rights Futures, and its purpose is to equip students with the skills necessary to effectively respond to current and future challenges that are a threat to human rights fulfillment and advocacy. Over the semester, students will analyze some of these core challenges and deepen their skills through interactions with practitioners from around the world. Experts like Anna will share their experiences related to specific human rights challenges, and teach frameworks and skills advocates are using or can use to navigate and address these challenges. Through continuous mutual learning and dialogue between practitioners, clinic supervisors, and students, the Clinic will grapple with the question of how the human rights field should reform and innovate to overcome both long-standing critiques and new concerns.
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The Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic works to advance human rights through partnerships with civil society organizations and communities. It brings together innovative education, social justice work, and scholarly research, and students are trained to be strategic human rights advocates.