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Building on Strength - Part 2

Human Rights Law

The notion of human rights gained prominence after World War II with the revelation of crimes against humanity by Nazi Germany. The world community was forced to come to terms with an important question: How should international law address the way a nation treats its own citizens? The pursuit of international human rights is a hallmark of Columbia Law School's reputation. University Professor Louis Henkin, a visionary architect of human rights and foreign relations law and the founder of the Law School's Human Rights Institute, has been a member of the faculty for more than four decades. His book, How Nations Behave: Law and Foreign Policy (1979), has influenced generations of human rights scholars and advocates. The idea of human rights came to prominence at the United Nations, where the late Professor Oscar Schachter '39 served in the legal department for 30 years. He joined the faculty  in 1975 and taught courses on UN law. A seminal casebook on the subject, Human Rights, is authored by Prof. Henkin, former Dean David W. Leebron, and the Columbia educated Diane F. Orentlicher '81, a professor at American University.

Columbia builds on its historic leadership in human rights with the appointment of Prof. Peter Rosenblum, the first holder of the newly created Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein Clinical Professorship of Human Rights Law. The chair was created from fees donated by the firm, which served as counsel in the case leading to a $1.25 billion settlement by Swiss banks of claims that they held hidden assets of Holocaust victims.

Prof. Rosenblum is heading the Law School's pioneering Human Rights Clinic, a two-semester program in which students represent clients and organizations in actual human rights cases. The clinic exposes students to the practice of law in the cross-cultural context of international human rights litigation and advocacy. From the clinic's beginnings, students have been immersed in issues involving human rights violations in places such as East Timor, Bosnia, Chile, and Rwanda.

Prof. Rosenblum, who formerly directed the human rights program at Harvard Law School, has a great deal to offer his students. He comes to Columbia with two decades of field experience as an activist engaged in monitoring abuses and supporting local human rights organizations. He also has published widely on human rights.


Mary Robinson, UN high commisioner for human rights, speaks at Columbia Law.

Outside of clinical work, Columbia offers an array of classes and seminars. Many students begin with Human Rights, the core course taught by Prof. Henkin and other faculty. Additional courses include International Human Rights Advocacy, International Human Rights and Economic Development, and Human Rights and the Question of Culture. Prof. Bhagwati has taught a seminar called Legal and Illegal Migration: Economics, Ethics, and Law. The course covers the legal and policy issues concerning migration to the United States.

The Law School's dedication to human rights does not stop in the classroom. The Human Rights Institute (HRI), established in 1998, builds on decades of leadership in human rights education. Its goal is to train the next generation of lawyers, teachers, and human rights professionals. Given its leadership and the reputation of its faculty, Columbia regularly attracts scholars and activists to teach and speak on campus. In 2003, a symposium that examined the history of the first 10 years of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights brought both past commissioners and the current commissioner (who later perished in an attack in Iraq) to speak at the event, which was attended by faculty, students, and leading human rights scholars and activists.

Finally, Columbia provides opportunities for students to get hands-on experience in human rights work in the Human Rights Internship Program (HRIP). Sponsored by the Center for Public Interest Law, the program, in existence for more than two decades, sends students around the world during the summer to serve with human rights organizations. They have worked in nations across the globe including South Africa, the former republics of Yugoslavia, India, and Brazil.