Giving Back and Fighting Injustice: The 2022–2023 LL.M. Human Rights Fellows

Offered by Columbia Law’s Human Rights Institute and Office of Graduate Degree Programs, the fellowships are awarded annually to LL.M. students committed to battling injustice around the world.


The LL.M. Human Rights Fellowship includes training and support for advocates for justice and builds on the long tradition of human rights advocacy at Columbia Law School. “The fellowship is awarded to the most exceptional advocates and thinkers from around the world,” says Sarah Knuckey, Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann and Bernstein Clinical Professor of Human Rights and director of the Human Rights Institute. “We are deeply honored to support and work alongside this year’s fellows, who bring deep experience and insight into cutting-edge scholarship and innovative strategies to protect rights.”

The fellows’ personal experiences—including with armed conflict; attacks against freedom of speech; and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation and gender identity—sparked their interest to defend basic human rights. They have taken on authoritarian regimes and represented governmental offices and tribunals, and now bring that invaluable practical experience and personal insight to the fellowship program.

“These lawyers work tirelessly on behalf of people who have been silenced,” says Julie Sculli, assistant dean of the Office of Graduate Degree Programs. “These are voices that need to be more than just heard; they need to be amplified. We owe enormous gratitude to these students, the Human Rights Institute, and others who devote their lives to making this world a more fair, more just place for all.”

Read more about the fellows below.
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Margaret Ajok ’23 LL.M.

Providing Pro Bono Services to Persecuted Groups in Uganda

Home Country: Uganda

Margaret Ajok ’23 LL.M. is the recipient of the Catherine N. Niarchos Human Rights LL.M. Scholarship and the Human Rights Fellowship. A seasoned practitioner in her home country of Uganda, Ajok founded a pro bono NGO to assist people affected by the armed conflict in Uganda. She also worked as the national adviser for transitional justice for Uganda’s Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and for the Uganda Law Society, the International Centre of Transnational Justice, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Ajok’s interest in human rights is a personal one. She identifies with the Acholi people, an ethnic group in Northern Uganda, who have suffered from an over two-decade humanitarian crisis, as victims and survivors of armed conflicts. “Serving and giving back to my community was and still is my main motivation,” she says. During her time working with the Ugandan government, she provided legal advisory and pro bono services in the areas of criminal, civil, and family law. 

Ajok would like to continue her collaborative work with governments and international bodies at home in Uganda and abroad to mitigate and remedy human rights violations and social justice concerns. She hopes that the fellowship will provide her with the experience and connections to do so. “I have networked with people that I would not have ordinarily met or interacted with,” she says. Columbia’s reputation of producing top lawyers along with its diverse course offerings is what Ajok says drew her to the Law School. “There would be no other law school that would provide me the exposure to the wealth of knowledge and opportunity to achieve my career goals,” she says. 

Portrait of Natia Navrouzov ’23 LL.M.

Natia Navrouzov ’23 LL.M.

A Voice for the Yazidi Community

Home Country: France and Iraq

Natia Navrouzov ’23 LL.M is a French practicing lawyer specializing in international law, human rights, and transitional justice and is the legal advocacy director of Yazda, “an organization focused on bringing justice and support to Yazidi and minority communities in Iraq and the Kurdistan region who are victims of genocide at the hands of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” Navrouzov is also an Obama Foundation Leader, a Fulbright Scholar, and a Davis Polk Fellow at Columbia Law School. 

Navrouzov’s work with Yazda is at the heart of her fellowship studies. A member of the Yazidi community herself, she strives to bring survivors to the forefront and to hold the Islamic State group (IS) accountable for their crimes. Before joining the LL.M. program, she spent four years in Iraq leading a project that collects evidence of IS crimes where she “supported criminal investigations and proceedings in several countries, one of which led to the first genocide conviction in Germany of an IS member for crimes against Yazidi victims,” she says. She has also trained Yazidi survivors on transitional justice, which helped create the Yazidi Survivors Network in 2020, and she campaigned to improve the Yazidi Female Survivors Law, which provides reparations to Yazidi, Christian, Turkmen, and Shabak survivors of IS crimes. The law was adopted in 2021. 

After completing her LL.M., Navrouzov will continue to support survivors “by listening to their needs and making sure they are involved in decisions impacting their future.” To her, receiving the Human Rights Fellowship was empowering. “When you work in the field with the community, you don’t count your hours—everything is urgent and important. Receiving the fellowship feels like some sort of acknowledgment of the work I have done over the past four years in Iraq. I feel supported and seen,” she says. The fellowship is especially important to her because “it shows to people from my community, especially women and girls, that education can be the key to a better future.” Navrouzov is dedicating her fellowship work to the women and IS survivors she served in Iraq: “When I found out about my admission to Columbia, I felt very happy and sad at the same time. I felt sad to leave, even temporarily, these amazing women I was working with. They told me ‘You need to go, study, and come back; everything you will learn will help our cause.’” 

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Chioma Phibe Nwaodike ’23 LL.M.

An Advocate for Freedom of Expression, Media Freedom, Access to Information, and Digital Rights

Home Country: Nigeria

After obtaining her LL.B. from Babcock University in Nigeria, Chioma Phibe Nwaodike ’23 LL.M was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2012. She later joined Media Rights Agenda, an NGO that promotes and defends freedom of expression, access to information, media freedom, and digital rights in Nigeria. In her work with the organization, she coordinated a network of over 70 lawyers across Nigeria who provided pro bono legal assistance. Her team has handled more than 60 lawsuits challenging violations of these rights at national and regional courts. For example, they defended journalists attacked while conducting their work and successfully challenged the Twitter ban in Nigeria at the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Court. “Other cases include challenging laws or legal frameworks that infringed on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. Some of these cases have established procedural and substantive issues, setting precedents in Nigeria,” she says.

Nwaodike has also collaborated with multi-stakeholder partners on human rights work in Africa. She worked with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa to develop the revised Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa. Prior to the LL.M. program, Nwaodike served as a legal researcher and editor with Columbia’s Global Freedom of Expression, a case law database that provides open access to those working on freedom of expression issues. The work inspired her to study at Columbia Law School. 

Nwaodike hopes the Human Rights Fellowship will provide her with a network of experts and mentors doing important human rights work. “The alumni are always ready to share their experiences and advice on leveraging the fellowship, navigating coursework, and developing future career plans,” she says. The fellowship also gives her the opportunity to improve her human rights expertise and skills: “This opportunity will fully equip me to build my career as a community-engaged human rights activist,” she says.

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Nicholas Opiyo ’23 LL.M.

Defending the Wrongfully Accused

Home Country: Uganda

At the end of 2020, Nicholas Opiyo ’23 LL.M. was sitting in solitary confinement at a maximum security prison in Uganda. The charge was money laundering, and the basis of that charge was that Opiyo’s organization, Chapter Four Uganda, received a grant from American Jewish World Service. Chapter Four Uganda, which Opiyo founded and leads, is a civil liberties organization that provides legal aid to those experiencing discrimination based on ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, or any other group identity. While sitting in his cell, Opiyo realized that his wrongful imprisonment was the reason why Chapter Four was established in the first place. He offered legal representation to his fellow inmates, and since his release, he has worked to set free 68 individuals he met in prison during his weeklong detention. His experience “has reinspired me to look beyond my current legal representation work and consider broader human rights policy work,” he says. “I believe the cause of injustice is usually, but not always, structural, and the long-term solution to redressing violations is to address these structural causes.”  

The Human Rights Fellowship provides Opiyo with an expansive community of human rights scholars to learn from and to lean on. “A home away from home,” he calls the program. Family and community are highly valued by Opiyo, as his career goals are focused around providing safety and support to underserved and marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda. 

After earning his LL.M., Opiyo plans to return to his home country to continue his involvement with Chapter Four Uganda and eventually do work with international tribunals. 

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Laura Quijano Ortiz ’23 LL.M.

How Transitional Justice Can Restore Peace

Home Country: Colombia

Laura Quijano Ortiz ’23 LL.M. grew up during the Colombian conflict between its government and the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo, FARC); the experience contributed to her deep interest in human rights, armed conflict, peace building, and using transitional and restorative justice to meet the needs of victims.

Quijano Ortiz joined the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP), a transitional justice tribunal established in the 2016 Peace Agreement with the FARC guerrillas to prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes. At the JEP, Quijano Ortiz counseled on criminal proceedings, drafted judicial decisions, participated in hearings, and presented reports for international tribunals. “The work was challenging but it was a great honor to work at the JEP and help support truth-seeking and peacebuilding in my country,” she says. “Some of the cases I worked on involved armed groups allyships with politicians and state officials in order to take over and control  institutions, including city governments and state universities, to consolidate their political power and regional dominance.” After graduation, Quijano Ortiz plans to return to the Colombian judiciary to support the country’s transitional justice system and peace-building process. 

At Columbia Law, Quijano Ortiz is interning with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, working on transitional justice issues. “I think it would be beneficial for me to learn more about human rights issues from other standpoints and work with civil society and international organizations engaging in advocacy that focuses on transitional justice. The experience will help me challenge my own perspectives, adding to the contributions I can bring to my country,” she says.