Palvasha Shahab ’18 LL.M.
2017 – 2018 Human Rights Fellow
Palvasha Shahab ’18 LL.M. says her interest in human rights law was “more or less intuitive,” stemming from growing up in different parts of Pakistan where, among other indignities, people are denied identification documents because of their ethnicity.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in law with a concentration in humanities in 2015 from Lahore University of Management Sciences—where she was part of the adventure society and often the only female member of teams completing treks to peaks higher than 5,000 meters—Shahab worked as an associate at a law firm. She also assisted the Human Rights Committee of the Pakistan Bar Council, working on still-pending anti-torture legislation designed to bring the country into compliance with the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
In August 2016, Shahab joined the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, where she oversaw work in the Sindh province. Under the broad mandate of the commission, her work tended to focus on enforced disappearances, occupational health and safety, equality, and non-discrimination law. The work involved community mobilization, facilitating dialogue, organizing public campaigns and awareness workshops, conducting fact-findings, reporting, and creating paper trails from the local police station all the way to the U.N. In one case, she worked on a report for the Senate of Pakistan regarding the disappearance of a political activist who was intercepted during a bus ride. He was released and returned home months later without any reason given for his “disappearance.”
“This is usual for those who return,” Shahab said. In another case, she worked on a fact-finding mission investigating the circumstances of a three-day fire in the Gadani ship breaking yard, in southwest Pakistan.
“I was drawn to Columbia because of the opportunities it offers to put practical issues in conversation with the theoretical,” she said, adding she wanted to study with professors like Sarah Knuckey, Kendall Thomas, Katherine Franke, and Bernard Harcourt.
As an LL.M. Human Rights Fellow, Shahab wants to “develop a stronger foundational set of tools for juxtaposing social justice issues with theoretical inquiry.”
“I don’t want to just be working on the symptoms,” she said. “I want to work on possibilities for improving upon the human rights framework.”