Irina Ichim


Before coming to CAHR, Irina graduated with a Master's Degree in Understanding and Securing Human Rights at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. Prior to that, she read for a BA in World and Comparative Literature, which she started in Romania and completed in London.


In October 2014 Irina started a one-year international fellowship with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (Kenya's national human rights institution), where she is working on issues related to human rights defenders (HRDs). Among others, she is contributing to research projects and the development of training programmes for HRDs. From November 2013 to September 2014 Irina was a research fellow with the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya, a Kenyan NGO specifically concerned with the protection of HRDs, where she was based in the advocacy programme.

During the academic year 2012-2013, Irina was a seminar tutor for the Power, Politics and Society module run by the Politics Department. She also co-organised the 2012/2013 PhD Politics Departmental Seminars.

During her MA, Irina worked for one year with Progressio, a London-based international development organization partnering with NGOs in the Global South. There, she evaluated Progressio's gender policy and its implementation in the London office and in the country programmes (which included El Salvador, Honduras, Somaliland, Zimbabwe, Yemen and East Timor).


Irina's research, which is funded by a scholarship from the Politics Department, investigates how the human rights defenders discourse impacts on local landscapes of activism and what the implications are for the future development of norms and protection mechanisms for HRDs. Theoretically, Irina approaches the HRD concept as the marker of an emerging social category, whose meanings and functions must be investigated as they develop in specific settings, and not assumed. By drawing on ethnographies of human rights and activism, her theoretical framework interrogates the HRD discourse and the practices that have emerged around it along two lines of inquiry. Firstly, it questions existing claims of empowerment in the conditions of a bias towards civil and political rights in the HRD discourse, and an overlap between the HRD discourse as a rights regime (predicated on the idea of "entitlement"), and protection practices that draw more closely on humanitarian approaches (predicated on the idea of "assistance"). Secondly, it explores if and how current practices that aim to empower HRDs (such as capacity-building) can overcome that tension.

To probe these theoretical ideas, Irina has been conducting ethnographic research in Kenya since November 2013. In addition to interviews with HRDs and other practitioners in the field, she engages in and studies the work of an NGO involved in the protection of HRDs in Kenya, as well as that of the national human rights institution (a government body).

Besides its implications for improved policy on HRD protection, this research project will add to the growing body of ethnographic studies that investigate the local transformations of international human rights norms.

Irina is supervised by Professor Paul Gready.

Irina Ichim

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