Innovating for Justice: The 2021–2022 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.

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This cohort of fellows hails from Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and they have experience fighting against oppressive regimes, advocating for the rights of women, and using innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to defend human rights broadly. “The fellows are an incredibly thoughtful, creative, and effective group of lawyers, innovators, and change agents,” says Gulika Reddy, acting director of the Human Rights Clinic. “They bring rich expertise and experience addressing a range of human rights abuses in different regions around the world, and we are so thrilled and honored to work with and learn alongside them.” 

“This year’s cohort was among the most competitive we have evaluated for admission in many years,” says Julie Sculli, assistant dean of the Office of Graduate Degree Programs. “The number of accomplished human rights practitioners who are seeking to advance their practice through earning a degree at Columbia Law is growing exponentially, and we are thrilled to continue our partnership with the amazing faculty in the Human Rights Institute to bring these incredible students to our LL.M. community.” 

Read more about the fellows below.

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Fatima Anwar ’22 LL.M.

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Human Rights Advocacy in Pakistan
Home country: Pakistan

Fatima Anwar ’22 LL.M. is a lawyer and researcher. Her work takes an interdisciplinary approach and focuses on anti-imperialist and creative indigenous rights discourse as a path to alternative human rights work in postcolonial states like Pakistan. 

While earning an LL.B. from Lahore University of Management Sciences, Anwar was a student organizer, president of the feminist society, and co-founder of a campus newspaper. After graduating, she worked as a screenwriter on two groundbreaking short films, Swipe and City of Smiles, directed by Arafat Mazhar, a leading human rights filmmaker, researcher, musician, and activist. The films helped inspire public discourse around high-risk and censored human rights issues in Pakistan.

Before arriving at Columbia Law School, Anwar was the editor in chief of an Urdu alternative histories channel that promoted critical thinking, empathy building, and tolerance for competing narratives as a critical route for achieving human rights goals.

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Riya Basnet ’22 LL.M.

Using the Power of Stories to Change Societies
Home country: Nepal

Witnessing the decade-long armed conflict between Maoists and the government of Nepal deeply impacted Riya Basnet ’22 LL.M. and motivated her to attend law school at Kathmandu School of Law. During her third year in law school, she launched an entrepreneurship boot camp for single women affected by conflict to create a space for them to gain legal knowledge. “I realized how a small opportunity I created helped restore a sense of normalcy in the lives of these women scarred by the war,” she says.  

After law school, Basnet founded One Voice Nepal (OVN), which utilizes video stories to create conversations around transitional justice, post-conflict rebuilding, reconciliation, and the pain of those who lost loved ones. “I use the platform to teach young people about the horrors of war and define justice from the victim’s perspective,” she says. In 2019, she received a grant from the Open Society Foundations to travel across Nepal and produce five documentaries. 

Basnet chose to attend Columbia Law because, she says, “I was exploring law schools with the best human rights clinic and transitional justice courses and Columbia stood out. It is a perfect school for cross-cultural understanding of the law and distillation of place-specific solutions to complex issues like transitional justice.” During her LL.M. year, Basnet plans to draw on her experiences working with the Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Institute and grow OVN into a larger platform focused on the issues of compensation, justice and reconciliation, and transitional justice in Nepal and elsewhere.  


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Cagatay Ersoy ’22 LL.M.

A Champion for Rights and Democracy in Turkey
Home country: Turkey

As the founding partner of the Istanbul law firm Ersoy & Dangir, Cagatay Ersoy ’22 LL.M. has represented clients in court before government agencies, with a particular focus on human rights abuses inflicted during the arrests and in jails. He is passionate about fighting for the independence of the Turkish judiciary and against authoritarianism that has led to human rights violations and injustices. “Turkish politicians love to trample on the rule of law; their political views always take precedence over the law,” he says. “Things in the country have become unsolvable by law.” 

Ersoy was motivated to attend Columbia Law School because: “I want to take my experience and education in the field of human rights to a further point and fight this lack of the rule of law in the international arena,” he says. “I want to make known what happened in Turkey and ensure that such things will not occur in any society in the world again.” 

He also plans to focus on global human rights crises that he anticipates will emerge in the fields of technology and international law, including in cyber security and data privacy. “Because of the scope of these problems, the approach to solving them should differ from the traditional approach,” he says. “By continuing my journey at Columbia Law School, I hope to be equipped to fight internationally for the rights of people suffering from arbitrary acts of government.”

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Yohanna A. Hailu ’22 LL.M.

Fighting Against Gender-Based Violence and Discrimination
Home country: Ethiopia

When Yohanna A. Hailu ’22 LL.M. enrolled in law school at Adama Science and Technology University in Adama, Ethiopia, she discovered only 15% of her classmates were women. Motivated by her frustration that girls from rural places faced more impediments to pursuing higher education than men, including gender-based violence, along with the experiences of her great-grandmother, who faced gender-based discrimination and violence throughout her life, Hailu decided to use her law degree to fight human rights abuses against women and girls.

After receiving her law degree in 2018, she advocated for issues including sexual and reproductive rights and youth participation in national and international agendas. She was a program manager with Talent Youth Association and worked on the ‘YES I DO’ Alliance Project, which successfully intervened on behalf of hundreds of girls at risk of entering child marriages and becoming vicitms of female genital mutilation. In 2018, she was awarded the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders for her advocacy work.

Hailu came to Columbia Law School because she believes the LL.M. year will equip her with knowledge and skills to more effectively advocate for the enforcement of international conventions. “I want to expand my advocacy work and fight laws and policies that subject women and girls to violence,” she says. 

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Abdullahi Hassan ’22 LL.M.

Law as a Vehicle for Social Change in East Africa 
Home country: Kenya

From a young age, Abdullahi Hassan ’22 LL.M. witnessed human rights violations in Kenya, including in this neighborhood Eastleigh in Nairobi. He became determined to address injustices in his country, in East Africa, and around the world and pursue a career in law to bring about change. 

While earning a LL.B. at the University of Nairobi School of Law, Hassan interned with Human Rights Watch and later joined the organization’s East Africa team full time. Most recently, he worked at Amnesty International addressing human rights topics, including the impact of United States drone strikes on civilians in Somalia, violations of freedom of expression, and the effect of COVID-19 on Somalia’s healthcare system.

Hassan aspires to be a leading expert in the field of human rights law and chose Columbia Law School to pursue an LL.M. “because it is one of the most respected law schools in the world that provides exceptional legal training and that has a unique and innovative Human Rights Clinic,” he says. He is excited to be part of a community of fellow advocates and “build a network of friends and collaborators to work with and to strengthen my international network and reputation.”

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Shanna Priangka Ramadhanti ’22 LL.M.

Promoting and Protecting Human Rights in Asia
Home country: Indonesia 

In junior high school, Shanna Priangka Ramadhanti ’22 LL.M. imagined a future defending human rights. “I knew I wanted to help those who are forgotten and marginalized to get the justice they deserve, so I ended up going to law school,” she says. After receiving a bachelor of laws in 2016 from the University of Indonesia, she was an intern and researcher for the Center for International Law Studies of the Faculty of Law at the University of Indonesia. She was also an intern at a member firm of Baker McKenzie International. 

Before coming to Columbia Law School, she was the youngest programme leader at Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), overseeing an initiative that advocated for the establishment of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and strengthening of the role of those institutions in promoting and protecting human rights in Asia. She was also the coordinator of the Asian NGO Network on NHRIs, a group of more than 30 organizations and human rights defenders (HRDs) across Asia. 

Ramadhanti witnessed how, in an increasingly repressive landscape, HRDs in Asia remained resilient and persisted in their work, and she plans to use her law degrees and experience to support the missions of these organizations. Her time at Columbia Law, she says, will enable her to become a more well-rounded human rights practitioner. “I hope I can also contribute and provide my expertise and knowledge to the Columbia Law community as well,” she adds.