SUMMER SPOTLIGHT: Human Rights Students Champion Human Rights through Research and Advocacy

July 20, 2021

Every activity of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law prioritizes the creation of unique opportunities for skills building and intellectual rigor for our students at all stages of their legal education.  This summer has been no different, as the Center was thrilled to support several opportunities for student-led research on various issues within the human rights field.  In addition to honing essential legal research writing, these opportunities also contributed to the development of international norms with projects supporting the Center’s work in anti-torture, the criminalization of homelessness in the U.S., human rights and finance, and women’s rights.  


Meera Patel ’23, Karen Reitman ’23, and Cortney Muller ’23 are working with the Center’s renowned Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) this summer, conducting research on femicide in Mexico, including analysis of previous and current criminal prosecutions, government and institutional policy approaches, and relevant judicial proceedings at the national, regional, and international levels.  They also support the ATI’s strategic advocacy work related to the Ayotzinapa case, in which 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College were forcibly disappeared in Mexico.

ATI student RAs Meera Patel ’23, Karen Reitman ’23, and Cortney Muller ’23 with assistant project director Vanessa Drummond.
ATI student RAs Meera Patel ’23, Karen Reitman ’23, and Cortney Muller ’23 with assistant project director Vanessa Drummond.

Joe Mitchell ’22 and Courtney Veneri ’22 work with the Center’s Impact Litigation Project to advance research and advocacy related to the criminalization of homelessness in the United States.  Using the issue of the criminalization of homelessness in Chico, California, as a case study, they are in the process of preparing a request and presentation needed for a thematic hearing on the topic of criminalization of homelessness before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, in addition to evaluating other potential avenues of future strategic litigation and advocacy around this issue.

Katelyn Buckles ’23 joined the Center as a summer research assistant and focuses on examining trends at the intersection of women’s rights, gender-based violence, and United Nations Peacekeeping.  For this research project, she analyzes and synthesizes a wide variety of case studies involving gender-based violence in conflict zones in order to examine trends and assumptions regarding themes, such as “acceptable level of harm,” gender-responsive interventions, and UN Peacekeeping operations.    

Gina Noval (LLM ’21) serves as a research assistant for the Center’s Project on Public Finance and Human Rights, a joint initiative with the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights and the University of Connecticut’s Business and Human Rights Initiative.  In the position, Ms. Noval supports research and scholarship at the intersections between human rights, central banking, international financial regulations, and development finance. 


In addition to these dynamic research opportunities, the Center also sponsors two specialized summer human rights fellowships exclusively for AUWCL students that connect our community with key institutional partners working on cutting-edge human rights issues.

Andrea Rodriguez Burckhardt '22
Andrea Rodriguez Burckhardt '22

Andrea Rodriguez Burckhardt ’22 was selected for a competitive summer judicial internship (currently in its third-year) with Colombia’s Transitional Justice Court (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP).  The internship, sponsored by the Center, provides law students with the opportunity to work directly with those involved in the trials of individuals accused of gross human rights violations.  As a law clerk,  Rodriguez Burckhardt provides essential legal research support as part of an international team of judicial interns tasked with preparing the JEP magistrates for hearings of FARC leadership being tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  As part of her work preparing for the hearings, she also engages in fact-finding and advises on documentation about targeted operations.           

Nia Langley ’22 was selected for a competitive summer internship with the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA).  The internship, sponsored by the Center, provides law students with the opportunity to make an impact at the nexus of business and human rights by supporting ICoCA’s human rights due diligence work on its member signatories.  As a summer intern, Langley researches the private security sector, supports revisions to the Code of Conduct, and conducts media screenings on Member companies’ compliance with the Code.  She also advises on key strategies and tools to help build awareness on these issues with key stakeholders around the world.

Nia Langley '22
Nia Langley '22

“In order to be a good human rights lawyer, you need to be a good lawyer first,” says acting director of the Center Melissa del Aguila.  “The Center seeks to cultivate a safe space of learning and professional development from which our students can build the confidence and skills to serve others and affect change in whatever legal pathway they choose.”

The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law seeks to advance AUWCL’s broader mission by championing a holistic teaching, research, and advocacy agenda that is grounded in service and intellectual curiosity, thereby positioning the Center as a bridge between academia and civil society.  The Center’s vibrant team of faculty, staff, and alumni works to equip and empower the next generation of human rights lawyers, advocates, and scholars with e approaches, tools, and ideas needed to address today’s complex and multi-faceted human rights challenges.

To learn more about the Center, click here.