CAHR Alumni

Alumni from the Centre's two Master's programmes, the MA in Applied Human Rights and the LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice work in a variety of fields, ranging from government and international organisations to NGOs and think tanks. Read below more on what former CAHR students have gone on to do.

NGOs

Gemma Sunyer (Spain)

LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice, 2014/15

My motivation to undertake the LLM at York was to kick-start a career in an area of law which excited me much more than corporate law, which I had worked in for 5 years. I realized that human rights was the direction I wanted to go in when I left corporate law for a Spanish NGO in Mozambique.

As I had already been working for some time, I wasn’t fully ready to go back to sitting in a classroom. The LLM offered the perfect balance I was looking for because of its practical approach to learning. Many of the assignments felt as if they could be real jobs. For example, I did a placement with a grassroots organisation in Malaysia that involved interviewing local participants and producing a report and training material -- which made a genuine difference to the organisation. We did of course benefit from the supervision and guidance of CAHR teaching staff on this project, which we wouldn’t have had in the working world!

I was lucky to have brilliant fellow students in my year and it was a privilege to learn from the many and varied discussions inside and outside the classroom that we had. From the human rights defenders who join the programme to my “regular” classmates, there were diverse cultural and professional experiences, which made for a rich learning experience.

The real, practical experience on the LLM gave me confidence to use the skills I learnt when I moved back into the working world. When I finished the LLM, I moved to London looking for job opportunities. I had been a volunteer for the Colombian Caravana UK Lawyers Group for two years and they asked me to become their Advocacy Director. I also did an internship at ABColombia, an advocacy project on Colombia by a group of UK and Irish organisations. In July 2016, I started a three-month internship at the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. I am also working one day a week for a human rights law firm that undertakes different international and domestic cases.

The LLM for me was an all round experience, a starting point for a career change but also a big push, and a place to meet likeminded people. I will always be grateful to the wonderful professionals working in the programme, who made me think and think again – and critically. I highly recommend the LLM if you want to either start or push your career forward in human rights. Best of luck!


John Foley (UK)

LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice, 2011/12

After completing my undergraduate studies at York, I spent several years living in London- first, studying and training as a solicitor, before practising law across a range of human rights practice areas. In 2011 I returned to York to study towards the LL.M in International Human Rights Law, for which I was awarded a scholarship by the Centre for Applied Human Rights.

My time at CAHR equipped me with a wide range of academic insights, but equally importantly provided a very practical grounding in the skills needed for a career in human rights research and advocacy. The LL.M provided the opportunity to work directly with a human rights organisation in Malaysia, and to interact with and learn from inspirational human rights defenders from all over the world.

In parallel with my LL.M studies and other work commitments, I began interning with the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch in early 2012. After a period working as a consultant for Human Rights Watch in the United States, in April 2013 I moved to Uganda to join the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP). Over the last twelve months I have conducted and published research into the challenges facing human rights defenders across several countries and thematic areas, and represented the organisation at the UN Human Rights Council.


Helen Griffiths (New Zealand / UK)

LLM in International Human Rights Law & Practice, 2013/14

Interning at Human Rights Watch, Africa Divison, London

I had the opportunity to intern in the Great Lakes team in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW) over the spring and early summer period of 2014.  Following a somewhat spontaneous application in late March, I was thrilled to be offered a part-time internship in the London office.  I found the whole internship incredibly stimulating and it was wonderful to be able to apply the theory and skills learnt in my modules - particularly the 'Defending Human Rights' module - to practical human rights work. I was also able to gain a fascinating insight into HRW's work and strategy.

A lot of the skills and knowledge learnt during my LL.M. have been useful in this internship. The work conducted during the 'Defending Human Rights' module has been particularly useful, both in providing me with practical human rights experience to mention at the application and interview stages and in helping me with some of my responsibilities at HRW. The particular 'applied' focus of my LL.M programme and the key skills I learnt and applied during my field trip to Malaysia have proved crucial in negotiating the trickier tasks I've been given.  I have also regularly had to draw on the knowledge learnt in my 'Applying International Human Rights Law' module.  All those hours doing the reading and learning about the various UN instruments and mechanisms certainly paid off!  Finally, the particular focus on human rights defenders and the restrictions that are placed on their work by governmental authorities were brought vividly to mind repeatedly as the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Burundi's leading human rights defender, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa played out (and continues to play out…) during my internship period.

The work I completed was fairly diverse, ranging from daily media monitoring of human rights issues in countries in the Great Lakes region, to attending meetings and observing court hearings in an extradition case, translation and small-scale research.  The experience was overwhelmingly positive. I was able to join conference calls and talks for interns, which cover the diverse issues HRW works on as well as future opportunities. Most of all, I got to work in a fantastic team and learnt a lot simply from observing and seeing how my colleagues approached their work.  Ultimately, the internship allowed me to experience human rights work first-hand and it is an experience I would recommend to everyone.


Malin Irgens (Norway/Sweden)

LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice, 2014/15

I did my Bachelors of Laws at the University of York, graduating in 2014. As a Scandinavian studying law in England, I wanted to focus more on international law and human rights. I chose this LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice so I could get practical insights into human rights work and the opportunity to experience fieldwork in Malaysia. During my studies I did a range of internships both within law and human rights.

After graduating from the LLM in 2015, I was accepted for an internship in the Development and Outreach Department at Human Rights Watch in London. During this internship, I will be working to expand Human Rights Watch’s presence and profile in Scandinavia. I will be fundraising, event managing, and evaluating those efforts. I will also be given training on the use of Raiser’s Edge, the most used data programme within the human rights field. The skills learnt and knowledge gained from the LLM will be particularly useful for this internship.


Laura Kumpuniemi (Finland)

MA in Applied Human Rights, 2012/13

Before my studies at CAHR, I was especially interested in economic and social rights. To support my line of interest, I decided to do my MA dissertation about women’s empowerment within the solidarity economy movement taking place at the grassroots level worldwide. It is a movement demanding a more democratic economy that focuses on the wellbeing of both people and the environment and it happens in communities through different kinds of social initiatives and concrete economic activities. Equal human rights are the essence of the movement.

The topic of my dissertation inspires me still today two years after finishing. Upon my return to Finland I joined a small volunteer-based NGO, International Solidarity Work, working on global development and solidarity campaigns. Global economic justice was among their core interests. They were looking for new topics to work on, so I put forward an idea about finding out more on solidarity economy and its role in development. I then joined forces with the other volunteers to apply for project funding from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. We were lucky to receive the funding and I was offered a job as the project coordinator.

As a part of my job, I was working on doing research about solidarity economy and its relevance to development discussions, coordinating the work of volunteers and spreading information about different aspects of economic and social rights within social movements like solidarity economy. I have learned a great deal about project administration and reporting. The knowledge I gathered through my studies in York have been essential in this process.

I have been working with this organization for the last 15 months now. As the solidarity economy project ended, I got offered more work within the same organization, now on fundraising and in a development project focusing on democracy and human rights education with a Western Saharan NGO.

Laura's research on solidarity economy and development has been published by the NGO International Solidarity Work in 2015: Solidarity Economy: Towards Socially Sustainable Economy and Development.


Katie Rosenthal (UK)

MA in Applied Human Rights, 2010/11

Before joining the MA I'd just finished a BA (Hons) degree in English Literature and History at York. I had no human rights or third sector experience at all aside from a little volunteering.

On the CAHR field trip to Cape Town I worked with Sonke, who work to address issues around gender equality and HIV/AIDS. During this time I was able to attend World AIDS Day celebrations in a church and correctional facility and furthered my interest in working in health promotion and HIV Awareness.

For the last 18 months I have been working for Terrence Higgins Trust in Suffolk, the UK's largest sexual health charity, as an Outreach Support Officer. Part of my role involves community based rapid HIV testing, targetting communities that may not access mainstream sexual health services. I am also involved in training and education for community groups and young people, and am constantly drawing on the principles of human rights and experiences gained through my time at CAHR.

Before joining the Terrence Higgins Trust, CAHR staff helped me to gain some research work on the strength of my MA dissertation. I worked as an assistant on two research projects for the Politics and Governance Department at the Overseas Development Institute.


Shazeera Zawawi (Malaysia)

MA in Applied Human Rights, 2010/11

I worked with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)  before deciding to pursue a MA in Applied Human Rights at the Centre for Applied Human Rights, York. I appreciated the freedom and opportunity to explore multi-disciplinary approaches and practices in the human rights field during my study at the Centre. This allowed me to recharge my energy and knowledge on human rights after serving the Commission for more than 5 years.

The refreshing perspective and approach to human rights that I gained during my study also allowed me to explore various opportunities after my graduation, from working with a government think tank on public sector reform to producing community radio. However, for the last 6 months I have been working as the Asia Pacific Programme Officer for the Association for Prevention of Torture (APT), an international organization based in Geneva, that focuses on promoting implementation of UNCAT and OPCAT as part of the organization's overall advocacy for preventing torture. My role involves managing APT programme in the Asia Pacific region that includes capacity development of national human rights institutions or state actors on torture prevention as well as long term advocacy on criminalization of torture by governments.

My profession requires me to engage and negotiate with various governmental agencies, civil society, donors and international organisations, not only professionally but with a deep sense of empathy and humility. I believe the exposure I received during the course, helped enhanced my soft skills and communication especially in connecting with organisations or people from all walks of life; a role that I am undertaking from time to time, with my job now. The programme as a whole provided a platform for cross-fertilisation of ideas and best practices between the students which is a great added value to practitioners like me. It helps us  frame our experience in a more intellectual way and enrich our academic understanding of our work.

Film and human rights

Marit Erdal (Norway)

MA in Applied Human Rights, 2012/3

Marit Erdal

The MA in Applied Human Rights at CAHR gave me the amazing opportunity to do fieldwork in South Africa with the documentary film company STEPS, and to organize the York Human Rights Film Festival in the UK.  My classmates and I arranged screenings, workshops and discussions both in Cape Town and in York. We monitored the social media impact of STEPS’ documentary series Why Poverty? and created a social media pack for NGOs that choose to use Why Poverty? in their work. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of these projects, and the skills I developed helped me acquire a job after I graduated.

I am now preparing to move to Brussels, where I will be working for the UN Regional Information Centre (UNRIC). My responsibilities will include organizing monthly film events and managing social media activities. In the interview, I was able to draw directly on my experiences from working on films and social media in a human rights context. I am looking forward to starting, and am inspired to have a career where I can explore the role that the arts can play in engaging people and in promoting human rights.


Laurie Jones (USA)

MA in Applied Human Rights, 2012/13

Laurie Jones

I absolutely loved my experience at the Centre of Applied Human Rights at the University of York. Not only did I have a valuable education and meet wonderful people, I would not be in my current position without my experience doing fieldwork through the MA. I am currently the Education Outreach Coordinator at Brave New Films in the USA, a documentary film company that focuses on social justice and human rights issues. Because of my experience in Cape Town interning with STEPS international, I gained experience facilitating screenings, designing outreach materials, and working with students. The films produced for the Why Poverty? campaign focus on similar themes that I work with at Brave New Films. 

The team of students I worked with for STEPS decided to host our own film festival in York. This experience was also incredibly helpful for my work now. Organizing a film festival was definitely a wonderful learning experience and something we would not have been able to do without the support of the CAHR. Furthermore, my work for my dissertation with Silence Speaks, a digital storytelling initiative out of Berkeley, also helped me understand student feedback and bridge the gap between learning and activism. These experiences absolutely prepared me for the job that I have now and set me up for success in my current projects. I could not be more grateful for my decision to go to York. 


Laura O'Shea (UK)

MA in Applied Human Rights, 2012/13

Laura O'Shea

During my BA degree I developed two keen interests: a passion for film and documentary and a growing academic interest in social equality and human rights. After joining the MA programme, I realised that the two needn't be mutually exclusive – human rights practice utilises various methods of storytelling and there is a real space in research and advocacy for this to be done through film.

During the Cape Town field trip, I worked with the Why Poverty? project: a global initiative which broadcasted films about poverty and inequality in its many dimensions to over 80 countries around the world. I found the global nature of the project incredibly appealing – it reinforced to me that you don't have to be from a particular place, or study a particular discipline, or even have an interest in human rights to watch and be moved by the stories of others.

With a small budget from the York Human Rights City network, my project group and I set out to put on our own film festival in York, with a mission to get new and diverse groups of people talking about human rights issues. To reach out to a new audience, we did everything from running workshops with local schools to screening films in the background of a bar. The project allowed us to develop a range of skills, but the real appeal was the chance to bring a local perspective to an international framework; to reinforce the idea that 'human rights' as a concept is not only relevant abroad, but something that exists everywhere – even in York.

My experience working with both these projects was so positive that I jumped at the chance to do an internship with London Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The purpose of the internship is to generate interest in the festival's events, which involves contacting NGOs, universities, charities and other organisations to discuss the films and encourage attendance. As with the Why Poverty? project, I value the festival's ability to cover such a diverse range of issues, from censorship in Belarus, to LGBT rights in Cameroon, to the legacy of apartheid South Africa.

More than anything, I think the projects during the MA prepared me for the internship in their ability to make me realise the potential that lies in film-based advocacy, and to enable me to talk with confidence and enthusiasm about films which harness the ability to educate, inspire, shift perspectives and shed light on issues in a uniquely personal and human way.

Government

Chris Petch (UK)

LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice, 2011/12

Prior to starting the LLM I studied for an LLB (Hons) with the Open University and worked for an NHS Primary Care Trust as a legal assistant.

I decided to apply to study the LLM after I had attended the Royal Courts of Justice in London whilst on a mini-pupillage. The case concerned a challenge in respect of a prisoner's rights under the ECHR. I quickly realised that I did not know enough about national and international human rights.

Whilst on the LLM I was involved in a number of pieces of work including considering international standards for prisons and prison conditions in Myanmar, the use of institutions for children in Romania, and for in my dissertation, whether there is a human right to assisted suicide in the UK.

Since I left the Centre, I have worked for the Department of Health as a Policy Manager and for NHS England as a Business Manager. I am currently based in the office of one of NHS England's national directors.

My degree has been invaluable to me, improving my confidence, public speaking ability and drafting skills, all of which have been key to both my work, and the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which I started in September of 2013.

One piece of work I have recently undertaken attempts to combine my interest in rights (patient rights, and rights of people under the Mental Capacity Act 2005) with my experience in the health service and my studies on the BPTC. This concerns a project for one of the modules on the BPTC on 'do not attempt CPR'.

Research

Matthew Evans (UK)

MA in Applied Human Rights (2009/10), PhD in Politics (CAHR, 2010/13)

My MA studies in Applied Human Rights led directly to my pursuit of a PhD in Politics, also based at the Centre for Applied Human Rights. My doctoral research, which explores the relationships between social movements, NGOs and trade unions in a South African housing rights network, develops and extends the research I carried out for my MA dissertation on land reform and the right to housing in South Africa. My interest in this area was itself inspired by the exploration of practical human rights debates which form the basis of the MA and particularly by the field visit to Cape Town where I worked with the International Labour Research and Information Group.

The research experience I gained as well as the engagement with ethical and methodological issues during the MA have been vital in shaping my PhD from writing the research proposal through to submitting my thesis. During my PhD staff members at CAHR have also been instrumental in assisting me with gaining significant teaching experience, tutoring and lecturing in areas relating to my research at the University of York.

Now, having completed my PhD with a thesis entitled "Advancing transformative justice? A case study of a trade union, social movement and NGO network in South Africa", I am taking up a postdoctoral research fellowship in Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. This fellowship involves continuing practice-oriented research into socio-economic rights and the emerging concept of "transformative justice" and leads directly on from skills developed and research conducted at the Centre.


Lucy Harding (UK)

MA in Applied Human Rights (2009/10), PhD in Politics (CAHR, 2011/15)

Lucy Harding

I decided to embark on the MA in Applied Human Rights at CAHR due to its strong applied focus. Coming straight from an undergraduate degree in International Relations I was keen to get practical work experience alongside continuing my studies. During the MA I had the opportunity to work with Sonke Gender Justice Network, a South African NGO that seeks to engage men and boys to promote gender equality and prevent gender-based violence. During the MA fieldtrip to South Africa I supported Sonke developing their workshops and learning resources around the South African Sexual Offences Act (2007), returning to South Africa to work with the NGO as part of my MA dissertation project (delivering participatory modes of human rights education). Due to its links with wide ranging NGOs CAHR provided further opportunities for project placements. Over the course of the MA programme (and subsequent year) I completed projects with: Refugee Action York (where I arranged a film screening and photo exhibition as part of Refugee Week), the Centre for Digital Storytelling (with whom I developed an educational guide and guidelines on ethical practice) and Amnesty International UK (who I worked with to develop their participatory practice).

As a result of the experiences, learnings and references I gained through completing the MA programme I was able to gain a fully-funded PhD studentship (through the Economic and Social Research Council) at CAHR. It was the experience I gained with Sonke that sparked the interest in my PhD topic: an exploration of how engaging masculinities and human rights could support civil society advocacy to address sexual violence. The fieldtrip gave me the opportunity to develop a number of contacts in South Africa which enabled me to gain access to observe Sonke's practice, and conduct interviews with a range of practitioners, as part of my PhD fieldwork.

After completing my PhD I was employed as a Research Associate at the Centre. As such, I have spent the last six months working on a project that seeks to improve the protective strategies used to address the risks faced by human rights defenders. The practical experience I gained during the MA also acted as a platform for gaining a voluntary position at Survive (a York based charity that supports adult survivors of child sexual abuse and rape) where I started out supporting survivors via the organisation's helpline and at weekly coffee mornings. I now act as Chair of the Trustee board for Survive overseeing the charity's work and development.


Helena Marambio (Germany / Chile)

LLM in International Human Rights Law & Practice (2011/12)

Having worked with Amnesty International in Chile and the UK, I was looking for an LLM with a solid theoretical and practical approach in the field of international human rights law that would enable me both to embark on an academic career and to return to the field. My time at the CAHR was very enriching.  I was taught the skills that are fundamental to human rights research -- designing qualitative and quantitative research, conducting interviews, and employing ethical standards -- and then got to apply those  during the Malaysia fieldtrip, where I worked on an advocacy report for a human rights NGO.

Throughout the LLM, I enjoyed the first-hand insights shared in the classroom from lecturers, fellow students and the human rights defenders. The CAHR staff kept a balance between giving us freedom for creativity and guiding us with a demanding, expert hand. From my perspective as a foreign student, I am particularly grateful for the support I received to improve my academic writing – support which is still benefiting me now.

The LLM was an indispensable experience that paved the way for becoming a PhD candidate at the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex. The LLM convinced me to become specialized in the field of transitional justice. Since starting my PhD, I have utilized and deepened tools acquired at the CAHR for my research into legal empowerment of marginalized groups in post-conflict Peru.

Law

Rachel Pennington (UK)

LLM in International Human Rights Law & Practice (2011/12)

Continuing my studies at CAHR was one of the best decisions that I have made! I started the LLM in September 2011 right after completing my LLB at York Law School. The LLM furthered my interest and knowledge of human rights law, as well as enabling me to gain an insight into what it means to be a human rights practitioner. In particular, I developed my research and advocacy skills during an internship with an NGO in Malaysia.

Since graduating from the LLM, I have completed the Bar Professional Training Course at the University of Law in Birmingham, been called to the Bar, and accepted Pupillage at Citadel Chambers in Birmingham. The Centre has continued to provide me with support and opportunities for development. For example, I am currently co-authoring a book chapter on Human Rights Cities with Paul Gready and two other CAHR alumni. I am certain that I would not be where I am today if it weren't for my time at CAHR and the support provided by the staff.


Eleanor Farrow (UK)

LLM International Human Rights Law & Practice (2013/14)

After graduating from York in Law and French, I worked as a Project Administrator for the International Bar Association in London on a UN business and human rights project in partnership with Harvard and the World Bank. I then spent a few years working in litigation teams in Australia and the UK. Having loved York as an undergraduate, I decided to return to do the LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice.

The course emphasises practical skills in applying international law, socio-legal research methods, report writing and project management. The fieldtrip to Malaysia was a terrific experience through which I gained skills in research, project planning, NGO partnerships, interviewing and analysis. The fieldtrip also proved phenomenally helpful when applying for jobs as it sparked the interest of many prospective employers.

Throughout the course, academic staff were knowledgeable, inspiring, approachable, supportive and encouraging. My lecturers were happy to provide good advice, references and tips. The camaraderie of fellow students in the Centre was exceptional and I could not have succeeded without them! In addition, it was fantastic to be able to discuss issues directly with the Human Rights Defenders from around the world who participated in the course.

I also participated in the University's Amnesty International and PEN Societies, and volunteered to write country context reports for asylum applications brought by the charity No Going Back.  In 2015 I became Project Coordinator for the International Bar Association's Eyewitness to Atrocities project to launch a mobile phone app to record human rights abuses as verifiable media sources that can be used as court evidence.

Int'l org

Rezk Rezk (Syria)

MA in Applied Human Rights (2010/11)

Rezk Rezk


After completing my master's degree in CAHR, I joined UNHCR operations in Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya to work in the Resettlement unit. Dadaab is the largest refugee settlement globally. It consists of five camps which have been hosting refugees from more than ten African countries and for more than two decades. Most of the refugees here are youth and young children who were born in the camps as a second and third generation refugees and live only a few kilometres away from the Somali border. Among other responsibilities, I interview refugees to assess their vulnerability and whether resettlement to a third country can indeed constitute a durable solution for them. This involves interviewing, among others, survivors of violence and torture, women at risk, unaccompanied children and conducting assessments on Best Interest Determination.


I worked for refugees in Syria before I joined the CAHR, and I developed a passion towards issues of asylum and refugees. However, I was looking to advance my activism through gaining solid academic knowledge. Upon applying, I received admissions from several universities in the UK, but I chose to do the MA in CAHR after careful consideration of the options. The composition of the program modules was well-constructed, covering all topics that are essential for defending human rights, besides providing the chance to engage in practice through working under the guidance of both professionals and academic supervisors in a field trip to Cape Town. For the purpose of conducting research there, I managed to interview some key figures such as the co-author of Unfinished Business and the former head of the Investigation Unit in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.

I joined CAHR to do my master's degree a few months before the beginning of the crisis in my home country, Syria, in 2011. When I graduated, the crisis looked more of a full war than anything else. Notions of human rights were in the heart of the Syrian crisis. Throughout this process, my studies and the resources made available for me in CAHR played a vital role in helping me to understand and find answers to questions that I had, and it helped me to gain the tools a human rights defender requires by the time developments and unfolding incidents were happening rapidly at home.

Studying at the CAHR provided me with the necessary academic support, guidance and interaction with other human rights activists of diverse backgrounds and different interests, and the opportunity to gain field experience and working with an NGO on an interesting topic of my choice, in addition to the knowledge and tools to continue in the field of human rights activism, and even peruse a further career in it.

The module of Asylum, Migration and Human Trafficking was my favourite in the program. It assisted me to build an understanding of the international refugee law and regime and the contemporary practices and inspired me with ideas on the gaps that existed. My dissertation discussed the criteria for resettlement between vulnerability of refugees and the national interest of resettlement countries.

CAHR Alumni

The Centre for Applied Human Rights' alumni network pages have now been launched. This is the space for CAHR alumni to network, share education and job opportunities, arrange reunions and keep updated on the latest developments at CAHR.

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CAHR graduation January 2014

MA in Applied Human Rights, class of 2012/13

MA in Applied Human Rights, class 2012/13