5 Remarkable Women in Human Rights Law
There’s no question that a law degree is a tool that opens countless doors to its recipients. Considerable amounts of dedication, analysis, and fortitude are prerequisites for practicing successfully in virtually any area of law. This week, PracticePanther turns its lens to those who have channeled their legal expertise into conduits for advocating for those in the most sensitive and dangerous conditions. We celebrate the attorneys all over the world who have dedicated themselves to human rights advocacy–be it full time, part time, or on a volunteer basis. Read on to familiarize yourself with (or refresh your memory on) seven tremendous women who have made significant strides in their advocacy for equality worldwide.
Aptly named, Samantha Power is an American attorney, author, and diplomat. Graduating with her J.D. from Harvard Law, Power went on to establish herself as a leading figure in international politics and human rights advocacy. Prior to serving as the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, Power earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for Nonfiction with her book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. This highly praised critique of America’s complacency in the face of genocide served as a microcosm of Power’s career-spanning aptitude for holding the United States accountable for its trend of inaction in the face of atrocities worldwide. In 2012, she was chosen by President Barack Obama to chair the Atrocities Prevention Board established during his administration. In 2016, Forbes magazine listed Power as its 41st most powerful woman in the world.
Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin)
Among the most famous and glamorous figures in international law, Amal Clooney has also assembled what is arguably one of the most impressive resumes in the world. Graduating with an LLM from New York University, Clooney spent a brief amount of time working for now-Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor. After serving as a barrister in London for some time, Clooney was appointed by the UN as adviser to Kofi Annan, a Special Envoy to Syria, and as Counsel to the 2013 Drone Inquiry into drone usage for counter-terrorism efforts. Throughout her career, Clooney has been an active advocate for women’s health and rights, specializing in sexual violence during times of war. As of the spring of 2018, Clooney was an adjunct professor at the Columbia University School of Law.
Gillian Triggs is at the forefront of Australian human rights legal professionals. Serving as Dean of the Faculty of Law and Challis Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney from 2007-2012, Triggs went on to become President of the Australian Human Rights Commission from 2012 to 2017. During her presidential tenure, Triggs faced several ideological bumps with conservative Australian political leaders, culminating in the incendiary statement made towards the end of her presidency that the Australian government was “ideologically opposed to human rights.” Throughout her career, Triggs has advocated for the rights of Aborigines and is presently Acting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
Sallam is an intrepid Egyptian attorney, scholar, and feminist activist. Earning a law degree from Cairo University in 2007, a Maitrise in Commercial Law from the prestigious Sorbonne University in France, and an LLM in International Human Rights Law from Notre Dame, Sallam has cultivated an impressive body of work. Following her Master’s in the U.S., Sallam returned to Egypt to work for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, specializing in violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities. After some time working for the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Gambia following her Master’s, Sallam went on to win the North African Human Rights Defender Shield Award in 2013 for her work promoting women’s rights. Beginning in June 2013, Sallam participated in a series of protests against violence towards women and freedom of speech infringements in Egypt, leading to her arrest later that same year. After imprisonment for over a year, Sallam was granted presidential pardon and released in 2015. She has remained vocal in her feminist activism.
Born in Gambia, Fatou Bensouda is one of the preeminent human rights attorneys in the world. Obtaining her BL (Barrister of Law) from the University of Nigeria, Bensouda went on to become Gambia’s first international maritime law expert following her graduation from Malta’s International Maritime Law Institute. Bensouda became deputy director of public prosecutions in 1994 under Dawda Jawara’s regime, eventually becoming Minister of Justice in 1998. Beginning in 2002, Bensouda began working for the International Criminal Court (ICC) as Senior Legal Advisory. She gradually rose through the ranks and, after seven years of exemplary work, became the Prosecutor of the ICC in 2012. In 2017, Bensouda was named among the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.
The realm of international human rights law is precarious, daunting, and undoubtedly requiring tremendous resilience and commitment from those who endeavor to practice law within it. Luckily, the world is populated by numerous professionals whose work in human rights law is exceptional, and whose daily strides towards advocating for the defenseless make all the difference in the world. These five women represent very different latitudes of this area of law, yet all of their work is paramount to the promotion of equality and peace worldwide.