Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute and Clinic Conduct Trainings in Myanmar

Columbia Law School Professor Sarah Knuckey and Student Bassam Khawaja '15 Join Columbia University-Wide Team in Trainings with Myanmar Professors

New York, April 13, 2015—Columbia Law School Professor Sarah Knuckey traveled to Myanmar earlier this month with her student Bassam Khawaja ’15 and Elazar Barkan, Kristina Eberbach, and Ben Fleming from the Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) to conduct human rights trainings for tutors, lecturers, and professors from across Myanmar. 
The three-day session at Yangon University was the beginning of what will be at least a yearlong program to build the capacity of university professors in Myanmar to teach human rights. Twenty-nine law and international relations faculty from 18 universities in Myanmar are participating, including many who traveled from remote parts of the country to attend.
“The goal is to support local actors who are interested in teaching human rights law and advocacy, said Knuckey, director of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and faculty co-director of the Human Rights Institute. “This is also an opportunity to bring educators together, support the development of human rights networks, and promote engagement among university faculty and the government and civil society.”
Knuckey and Khawaja worked together to design and teach some of the sessions last week, including a problem-based workshop on using the human rights law framework as a tool to identify and respond to human rights abuses. Human rights law is not yet taught at most universities in Myanmar, and part of the training involved participants exchanging ideas on the many pedagogical approaches to teaching human rights law and practice.
For Khawaja, it was an opportunity to apply many of the lessons from the Human Rights Clinic and his other classes at Columbia Law School.
“Preparing to teach the material in an accessible way really forced me to engage with it at a deeper level,” said Khawaja. “One of the challenges was to translate the international human rights framework from abstract law into a useful tool that is relevant to people’s lives.”
The trip was not the Law School’s first to Myanmar. In 2013, Professor Sarah H. Cleveland, Knuckey’s faculty co-director at the Human Rights Institute, traveled to the country to provide assistance to parliament on constitutional issues at the request of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In addition, in 2014, Khin Mar Yee, the head of the University of Yangon Law Department, was a visiting scholar at Columbia Law School.
ISHR’s University Human Rights Education in Myanmar project was conceived by Ben Fleming following extensive research and consultations with educators in the country. The project was designed and organized by Fleming, ISHR Director Elazar Barkan, and ISHR Director of Education Programs Kristina Eberbach with guidance from an inter-departmental advisory board. The ISHR will continue working with faculty participants in Myanmar over the next year through an online course that explores human rights law in more detail, as well as through future in-person-trainings. The ISHR will also be selecting three of the faculty participants to spend a semester at Columbia University as visiting scholars in fall of 2015.
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Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic is an intensive year long course directed by Sarah Knuckey, the Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein Clinical Associate Professor of Human Rights and the faculty co-director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, as well as by Clinic Fellow Benjamin Hoffman. The Clinic brings together human rights work, student education, critical reflection, and scholarly research. Students are trained to be strategic human rights advocates, while pursuing social justice in partnership with civil society and communities, and advancing human rights methodologies and scholarship.
Founded in 1998 by the late Professor Louis Henkin, Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute draws on the Law School’s deep human rights tradition to support and influence human rights practice in the United States and throughout the world.  The institute and the Human Rights Clinic have become increasingly integrated over the years, enabling us to multiply our impact on the field and engage students more fully in our work.
The Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) was established in 1978 at Columbia University. ISHR is committed to its three core goals of providing excellent human rights education to Columbia students, fostering innovative interdisciplinary academic research, and offering its expertise in capacity building to human rights leaders, organizations, and universities around the world. ISHR was the first academic center in the world to be founded on an interdisciplinary commitment to the study of human rights.