Global Advocates for Justice: The 2020–2021 LL.M. Human Rights Fellows

Offered jointly by Columbia Law School’s LL.M. program and the Human Rights Institute, the fellowships are awarded to lawyers committed to battling fundamental injustices around the world.

The back side of Alma Mater's head and crown

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. This year’s fellows come from Africa, Europe, and North and South America; they have taken on challenges including defending the rights of asylum seekers and addressing the tensions between international investment law and the rights of vulnerable citizens. “The 2020–2021 cohort of LL.M. human rights fellows is an extraordinary group of lawyers,” says Sarah Knuckey, Lieff Cabraser Clinical Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Human Rights Institute. “Hailing from all over the world, these fellows bring a diverse set of expertise and experiences. They have demonstrated their deep commitment to human rights law, and we are honored to work with them to hone their unique skills in advancing social justice.” 

Portrait of Bruno Acevedo ’21 LL.M.

Bruno Acevedo ’21 LL.M.

Protecting Human Rights in Mexico
Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico

As a lawyer in Mexico City, Bruno Acevedo has dedicated his career to analyzing and solving issues tied to civil rights and maintaining the independence of institutions needed to make a liberal democracy possible. He has assisted judges in the High Electoral Court and the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice in deciding important cases related to the right to vote, claims of electoral fraud and violations of political speech, and the rules governing Mexican elections. He has also been involved in several cases related to the election of traditional authorities in indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Acevedo focuses on addressing illiberalism in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. “I am convinced that one way of reversing the rise of illiberal tendencies is to make democratic institutions increasingly more responsive to citizen’s needs and wants, allowing ordinary citizens to participate in a meaningful way in their self-government,” he says.

Acevedo plans to use his education at Columbia Law School to help address human rights issues in Mexico that have come from the militarization of the police in the fight against organized crime. He believes that the Human Rights Clinic will provide him with opportunities to learn human rights strategies and tactics that have worked in different parts of the world. He says, “The issues arising out of the militarization of the police are important to me, not only because they result in very serious human rights violations, but also because I believe that militarization of civic institutions is scaling into a much bigger problem that could jeopardize Mexico as a democracy in the middle term.”


Portrait of Francisco Calvo ’21 LL.M.

Francisco Calvo ’21 LL.M.

Exploring the Relationship Between Human Rights and Sustainable Investment
Hometown: Buenos Aires, Argentina

As an undergraduate student at Buenos Aires University Law School, Francisco Calvo knew he wanted to focus on the relationship between human rights and sustainable investment. As an intern for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the Registry Group in 2015, he examined situations affecting people and countries in the region. Numerous cases concerning the fundamental rights of vulnerable groups—such as LGBTQ+ people, women, children, indigenous people, and persons deprived of liberty—made him worry about the situation in the Americas.

In 2016, the firm Guglielmino Derecho Internacional hired Calvo to take part in a group presenting cases before arbitration tribunals regarding international investment disputes. He says defending a Latin American state before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes tribunals from the complaints of multinational corporations was not easy. “After my experience at Guglielmino, I realized how necessary it was to study the relationship between human rights and international investment law, not only as a Latin American phenomenon but also as a worldwide one,” he says.

In 2017, Calvo started working at the judicial branch of the city of Buenos Aires on cases related to access to education and justice, health services and housing for vulnerable groups, and nondiscrimination issues. 

“The chilling effect that IIAs [International investment agreements] and international trade agreements have on human rights policy has raised fundamental questions regarding states’ possibilities to protect human rights . . . . As an LL.M. human rights fellow, I will focus on studying options to tackle the tension between human rights and international investment law. I wish to contribute to a topic that is increasingly coming into the spotlight,” says Calvo.

Portrait of Brenda Efurhievwe ’21 LL.M.

Brenda Efurhievwe ’21 LL.M.

Challenging Systemic Injustice
Hometown: Wroclaw, Poland; London, England

Brenda Efurhievwe found that her lived experience as a mixed-race, bisexual woman growing up in a country as conservative and culturally homogenous as Poland increased her awareness of society’s treatment of “the other.” “It motivated me to challenge all forms of discrimination and to speak up for those who are silenced,” she says.

With the goal to engage in human rights advocacy on an international scale, she pursued an LL.B. in the United Kingdom and worked as an asylum caseworker at the Home Office for the U.K. government. After observing practical applications of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the effects of the Home Office hostile environment policy on asylum seekers, she was motivated to find ways to influence policy and practice in the future. 

Efurhievwe returned to Poland for her Magister Prawa degree and became heavily involved in human rights activism with NGOs supporting LGBTQ+ and migrants’ rights. Her combined experiences gave her a unique perspective, which she drew on while completing her thesis on crisis management under the Common European Asylum System. 

“After being called to the Bar of England and Wales, I was keen to make further use of my experience in casework, which led me to join European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) as a volunteer asylum lawyer,” she says. “Providing legal advice to asylum seekers stranded in the Moria refugee camp affirmed my resolve to pursue a career focused on assisting vulnerable individuals in regularizing their status and obtaining a chance for a more secure future.” 

Efurhievwe is currently providing assistance remotely as a volunteer asylum lawyer with ELIL while participating in the organizing committee of Black Protest Legal Support. During her LL.M. year, Efurhievwe hopes to benefit from interdisciplinary, practical training in immigration and human rights while continuing her research into what she describes as the current catch-22 mechanism inherent in applying for refugee status. “My experience in asylum casework demonstrated how crucial it is to bridge the gap between laudable international norms and their practical application,” she says. “I hope that my time as a human rights fellow will prepare me for tackling this challenge in a strategic and creative way.”

Portrait of Lucía Falcón Palomar ’21 LL.M.

Lucía Falcón Palomar ’21 LL.M.

Advocating for Immigrants
Hometown: Guadalajara, Mexico

Lucía Falcón has always been passionate about law and languages. During her legal career in Mexico, where she was born and raised, she worked for law firms representing international clients and developed an interest in building bridges across borders and cultures.

She moved to the United States and earned a master’s degree in translation and interpretation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Upon graduation, she moved to New York City and worked at the Consulate General of Mexico in the Department of Protection, which is dedicated to educating, assisting, and improving the living conditions of Mexican migrants in the New York area. She visited detention facilities, taught workshops on immigrants’ rights, and met with families in hospitals. Falcón later became a criminal, civil, and immigration court interpreter, where she worked to ensure that Spanish-speakers found themselves on equal footing in legal proceedings. 

“My experiences exposed me to the myriad challenges my fellow immigrants face while navigating the complex and overburdened immigration system,” Falcón says. Her recent work with the immigrant community and in courtrooms with those struggling with language barriers shaped her view on human rights and social justice. 

After witnessing legal systems fail to protect basic human rights—both in Latin America and in the United States—she plans to help policymakers realize that our collective future depends on improving policies, strengthening local institutions, and fostering international cooperation. “As I transition from interpreter to advocate, I am eager to use the training, network, and mentorship provided by Columbia Law School and the Human Rights Fellowship to learn how to use scholarship, research, and international law to find legal solutions to humanitarian crises,” she says.

Portrait of Rosario Grimà Algora ’21 LL.M.

Rosario Grimà Algora ’21 LL.M.

Advancing Women’s Rights
Hometown: Madrid, Spain

While studying law and political science at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain), Rosario Grimà Algora became involved in the feminist movement and interned for several organizations working on human rights. At Women’s Link Worldwide, she learned the impact that strategic litigation can have for advancing women’s rights and worked on cases focusing on human trafficking, sexual and reproductive rights, and transitional justice. 

At the Spanish Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Grimà Algora experienced firsthand how the United Nations and other international organizations fought on behalf of refugee and immigrant rights. “I was amazed by the work of the U.N. and made a personal commitment to work one day for the UN,” she says. She also worked for the European Delegation to the United Nations in New York, where she focused on women’s rights, peace and security, indigenous peoples’ rights, and the rights of persons with disabilities.

Grimà Algora earned an LL.M. from the London School of Economics and has been working at U.N. Women for the past three years. She collaborated on a project to repeal gender discriminatory laws and later, as a policy analyst, worked on efforts to end sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, specifically with a focus on aiding women with disabilities. Grimà Algora intends to use her year at Columbia Law to continue exploring human rights law, but from an academic perspective, as she would like to transition to a career in academia. “I chose Columbia for its extensive curriculum on human rights and on gender and sexuality in the law—and for all the amazing professors.”

Portrait of Hillary Maduka ’21 LL.M.

Hillary Maduka ’21 LL.M.

Protecting the Rights of Disadvantaged Populations
Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria

Inspired by his own firsthand experiences with underdevelopment, religious extremism, and widespread corruption, Hillary Maduka strives to advance human rights and serve disadvantaged populations.

As an undergraduate at the University of Jos in Nigeria, he volunteered and taught child rights at an Internally Displaced Persons camp for children orphaned and displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency. In 2015, Maduka served as a United Nations humanitarian policy youth consultant in Qatar, where he worked to find lasting solutions to humanitarian issues.

In recognition of his work and to empower him to replicate the human rights successes of the European Union in Africa, the German government granted him a scholarship to study the mechanisms of the European human rights protection system. In 2017, Maduka built on his studies in Nigeria and Germany by coordinating the first cohort of the Common Ground Centre’s human rights protection fellowship.

He recently founded the Project Freedom Initiative, through which he has secured the freedom of several persons unlawfully detained by law enforcement. “I set up this initiative upon reading a report from the Nigerian Prisons Service, which showed that Nigeria’s prisons held 72,277 people as of April 16, 2018. Of these, only 23,048 were convicted; the remaining 49,229 (68.1% of the prison population) were awaiting trial—over half of them for at least a year,” he says. Through this initiative, he continues to work to stem abuse and pervasive unconstitutional pretrial detentions.

At Columbia Law, Maduka will broaden his knowledge of human rights and advocacy. “Over the course of my career, I have become increasingly aware of how much established systems of inequality can ‘fight back’ and how technical the struggle for even basic rights can get,” he says. Via the Human Rights Institute, he hopes to learn more about digital rights-related issues, human rights violations enabled by the advancement of technology, and novel threats that technology poses to human rights protections. Ultimately, he would like to apply existing laws in innovative ways to curb such violations.

Portrait of Kathleen (Kate) McFarland ’21 LL.M. standing in front of cacti

Kathleen “Kate” McFarland ’21 LL.M.

Fighting Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Hometown: Ottawa, Canada

When Kate McFarland first realized she wanted to work in human rights, she was a student journalist standing in Tahrir Square, in Cairo. It was December 2012, and former president Mohamed Morsi had just claimed unlimited power under Egypt’s constitution. She joined crowds of protestors in the square listening to their stories. 

The experience inspired her to begin asking questions about concepts like the rule of law, accountable governments, and justice for human rights violations. “I realized that I wanted not just to observe and report on injustice but also to develop the tools to fight against it,” McFarland says. She laid the foundation for a career in human rights at McGill University’s Faculty of Law, during which time she interned with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the trial chamber that handed Ratko Mladić a lifetime sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity. She also traveled to Srebrenica and saw women mourning husbands, brothers, and sons slaughtered on Mladić’s orders.

From McGill, McFarland moved to New York, where she continues to work in international human rights. At Justice Rapid Response (JRR), an organization that deploys justice experts to investigate and prosecute atrocity crimes and human rights violations around the world, she focuses specifically on the investigation, documentation, and prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence. Her team works closely with U.N. Women to advocate for the inclusion of gender expertise in United Nations investigations and international prosecutions. Her work with JRR has given her a comprehensive understanding of transitional justice and international human rights law in practice.

As an LL.M. human rights fellow, McFarland hopes to continue fighting impunity for conflict-related sexual violence and to hone her skills as a practitioner of international human rights law. She plans to gain more hands-on experience through her work with Columbia Law’s Human Rights Clinic and to learn from and contribute to important legal scholarship on international human rights law as an editor on the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. She hopes to continue to advocate for better access to justice for survivors of sexual violence both internationally and in her home country of Canada.