New Human Rights Advocates Program for 1Ls Launched
Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, Rightslink, and Social Justice Initiatives Launch Unparalleled New Human Rights Initiative for First Year Students
The program—co-designed by faculty, students, and human rights advocates—provides students with the community, experiences, and training they need for a career in human rights
October 5, 2017, New York – The Human Rights Institute (HRI), in collaboration with student-led organization Rightslink and Columbia Law’s Social Justice Initiatives (SJI), launched a new program this Fall for first year Columbia Law students committed to using their legal education to advance human rights: The Human Rights Institute 1L Advocates Program. The program prepares first year students with the tools, mentorship, and experience necessary to engage in human rights advocacy while in law school and beyond.
“For the many students who come to Columbia Law School so that they can learn the skills and theory of social justice and human rights lawyering, this program offers an unparalleled 1L experience,” said Columbia Law School Dean Gillian Lester, the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law. “The program leverages Columbia’s vast network of human rights students, alumni, faculty, lawyers, and partner organizations, and our location in New York City. Combined with our upper level seminars and clinics, summer and post-graduate human rights fellowships, study abroad programs, and international law externships, moots, and clerkships, students graduate with the knowledge and experience needed to launch their human rights careers.”
“As soon as students in this program begin law school, they are immediately connected to the opportunities and people that will enable them to engage in human rights advocacy and to become social justice leaders,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Human Rights Clinic and Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute. “1L students receive mentoring from senior human rights advocates, and can join teams of advocates working on a vast array of real human rights cases and projects—from human rights abuses in counterterrorism and armed conflict, to racial justice, accountability for sexual violence, or the rights to health, education, and water.”
In addition to providing mentoring from advocates and the opportunity to work on real cases during the 1L year, the new initiative provides 1Ls with a specialized human rights seminar series, mentoring from upper-level students, and visits to human rights organizations in New York City to meet with human rights lawyers and learn about opportunities in the human rights field. Participants will continue their human rights training through SJI’s Human Rights Internship Program in the spring of 1L year, before interning with human rights and social justice organizations around the world.
Professor Kayum Ahmed, the former CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission, discusses human rights advocacy for socio-economic rights with the 1L Advocates as part of the program’s specialized Human Rights Seminar Series.
“We created this program so that the many students who come to Columbia Law to work in social justice and human rights can begin to do so right away,” said Jake Bogart JD ’18, a 3L student who has spent his law school summers working on prisoner rights issues in Nigeria and at Human Rights Watch in New York. “For students who want to dedicate their careers to human rights work, it is important to take advantage of all the resources Columbia has to offer from the start of your law school experience.”
One of the key strengths of the 1L Advocates Program lies in how it was created and implemented. The Program was co-designed by human rights students, faculty, and lawyers, with input from 1Ls, 2Ls, 3Ls, LLMs, and representatives from the Human Rights Law Review, the Human Rights Clinic, Rightslink, student affinity groups, and SJI.
“It is exciting to be a part of a program that has been developed and organized with the support of a broad array of students all seeking to deepen our Columbia human rights community. The broad participation gives the program a unique strength,” said Miguel Zamora JD ’19, who helped design the program as a 1L, and who came to law school with a background in transitional justice issues in Guatemala. Zamora is now Co-President of Rightslink and a student in the Human Rights Clinic, where he works on cases involving war crimes abroad and also workers’ rights in the United States. He spent his 1L summer at the Hague working with the international criminal tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Senior Clinical Teaching Fellow Benjamin Hoffman introduces students to the field of “Business and Human Rights” and the types of tactics advocates use to prevent corporate abuse and hold corporations to account. The lecture is part of the program’s Human Rights Seminar Series.
“We at SJI are excited to partner in this new initiative,” said Erica Smock ’95, Assistant Dean and Dean of SJI. “This is an important program for CLS students, and it is a necessary link to support the work and mission of SJI in preparing CLS students for long and fulfilling careers incorporating social justice and public service.”
The inaugural class of 1L Advocates comprises 37 students from a range of backgrounds and interests. They have lived, worked, and studied around the world, including in Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, China, and Brazil, and speak languages ranging from Urdu, Arabic, and Amharic to Spanish, Korean, and Norwegian. They come to law school with a variety of work experiences, from volunteering with the Peace Corps in Mongolia or working in a public defender’s office in New Orleans, to conducting research for a Burmese human rights organization.
Tiffani Burgess JD ’20, one of the new students in the Advocates Program, said, “The HRI 1L Advocates Program is a valuable opportunity to participate in something that will help keep me focused on the human issues and values that brought me to law school in the first place.” Burgess, who hopes to work on issues of racial justice in her career, added “I have so much to learn to become an effective advocate, and I am thrilled that I can begin that learning in such a substantive way during my 1L year.”
The Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute advances international human rights through education, advocacy, fact-finding, research, scholarship, and critical reflection. We work in partnership with advocates, communities, and organizations pushing for social change to develop and strengthen the human rights legal framework and mechanisms, promote justice and accountability for human rights violations, and build and amplify collective power. Follow us on Twitter: @CLSHumanRights
Rightslink is a human rights law research organization based at Columbia Law School in New York City. We provide free legal research services to human rights and public interest groups that lack either the financial and technical capacity or the political freedom to conduct their own research.
Social Justice Initiatives manifests Columbia Law School’s belief that public interest experience should be part of the professional life of every Columbia student and graduate. Social Justice Initiatives has primary responsibility for career services for Columbia Law School students and graduates interested in public interest, government, clerkships and legal volunteer work. We provide programming and individual advising regarding careers, summer opportunities, curricular opportunities, and pro bono projects.