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Featured PhD Alumni

umaini Minja (Tanzania)

PhD in Politics (CAHR, 2008/2012)

My decision to pursue a PhD at the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) was a result of my drive to further an interest in the study of and practise involving the connection between the promotion/protection of human rights and conflict transformation/peace-building. The interest was nurtured by years of practising law in Tanzania, pursuing a Master’s in Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego, California and working with the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in New York.

CAHR was the perfect place to pursue a PhD study on transitional justice and peace-building, taking into account the emphasis of the programme on both normative and practical application of human rights in post-conflict contexts. With unrivalled range of expertise in the research and practice of human rights at the centre, I successfully acquired the necessary skills in transitional justice and peace-building with a particular focus on bottom-up/locally driven, home grown and grassroots-based interventions suitable to the realities of a particular post-conflict country.  

I have utilized the skills in my work in the Sudan, including: conducting an individual project on conflict transformation in South Sudan, resulting from a competitive individual grant for innovation in conflict transformation from Berghof Foundation of Germany; working  as a Human Rights Officer in the Administration of Justice and Transitional Justice Unit of the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in Darfur and as a Human Rights Officer with the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) in Bor, Jonglei State, as well as an International Consultant with the UNDP in Juba, South Sudan. These engagements have contributed to peace-building in the two Sudans.

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)‌


I decided to embark on the MA in Applied Human Rights, and subsequently stay on to complete a PhD at CAHR, due to the Centre's strong applied focus. This focus fitted with my interest in writing a PhD that made a theoretical contribution whilst also retaining relevance to practice. Staff at CAHR supported me in writing my PhD research proposal, and provided accompanying references, which enabled me to gain a fully-funded PhD studentship (through the Economic and Social Research Council).

The expertise and contacts held by CAHR's staff were invaluable in enabling me to conduct my PhD fieldwork which involved observations of NGO practice and interviews with a range of practitioners in South Africa. I would not have been able to complete my fieldwork without the knowledge I gained from the MA fieldtrip and staff's local expertise: my supervisor provided me with initial interview contacts and an introduction to the local context. I was provided with guidance on the practical challenges of doing fieldwork including managing difficult interviews, coping with risk, and responding to the ethical difficulties of observing bad NGO practice.

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 applied focus of CAHR also gave me a platform to gain 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.

Katia Bianchini (Italy/Germany)

PhD in Law (CAHR, 2011/16)


My decision to pursue a PhD at the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) was a result of my experience as a lawyer and interest in understanding statelessness. The interest was nurtured by years of practising law in the United States and the United Kingdom, representing asylum seekers and stateless persons.

CAHR was the perfect place to pursue a PhD on the protection of stateless persons and the implementation of the relevant international treaties, given the practical approach towards human rights of its members.  

I am now employed at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Goettingen, Germany, and I am working on publications based on my PhD thesis.

Lena S. Opfermann (Germany)

PhD in Politics (CAHR, 2013/18)

Lena Opfermann


Prior to my PhD I had worked for several years in human rights advocacy, refugee protection and humanitarian assistance with the UNHCR and NGOs in Angola, Ecuador, South Africa and Portugal. The

Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) allowed me to build on these practical experiences by pursuing research that was inspired by my prior work.  My PhD explored the experiences of undocumented migrant youth in Cape Town through a theatre-based methodology. It produced in-depth insights concerning the challenges and coping mechanisms of migrant youth in South Africa. Additionally, the research illustrated how arts-based research methods can fulfil enhanced ethics standards in working with sensitive population groups.

I hold an Erasmus Mundus Master’s degree in international Humanitarian Action from the University of Uppsala (Sweden) and a Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Sciences from the European University Viadrina (Germany). I have spent periods of study and research at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá (Colombia), the Universidad de Deusto in Bilbao (Spain) and the University of Cape Town (South Africa). I have also held an EUSA_ID Fellowship at the University of the Western Cape (South Africa).

In September 2017 I joined Durham University as Director of two MSc Programmes at the Durham Global Security Institute (DGSI). In this role I manage the two programmes, convene and teach modules related to peacebuilding, post-conflict reconstruction, security and development. My personal research interests comprise migration in Africa, critical humanitarianism, arts-based research, urban insecurity and youth.‌



Chloë Gilgan (UK) 

PhD York Law School Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR 2014-2019)

My US legal practice background led me to find CAHR as I decided to transition to academia while retaining a link to policy impact on the ground. I joined the Centre for Applied Human Rights in 2014 when I commenced my ESRC-funded PhD in law. Being part of CAHR gave me incredible support and mentorship throughout my academic journey which is ongoing. I completed the PhD in 2019 and am now undertaking an ESRC-funded post-doctoral fellowship at York Law School entitled Humanitarian Protection in an Age of Asylum in order to: (1) contribute significantly to the academic scholarship by disseminating, through publications and participation at academic conferences, the first in-depth study of how the UK understands its international responsibilities for protecting people from mass atrocities; (2) inform, educate and ultimately impact policymakers and practitioners working in mass atrocity policy on the national and international level; and (3)  identify and apply for research funding for a project that builds on a key theme of the PhD that liberal states cannot be presumed, just by virtue of their democratic label, to adhere to or implement human rights norms, particularly in the context of asylum seekers. Throughout my PhD, CAHR provided me with invaluable mentorship and in-depth practical opportunities to lecture and design module content while strategising my future career goals, all of which culminated in helping make my current ESRC fellowship award attainable.

Prior to the PhD, I graduated cum laude with a juris Doctor of Law (JD) from New York Law School and cum laude with a BA degree in Urban Studies and Film from Barnard College, Columbia University. I was awarded the Professor Lung-Chu Chen Award for Excellence in the Field of Human Rights for four public interest fellowship awards during law school. The fellowships enabled me to provide legal assistance to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, the Crown Prosecution Service in London, the Women’s Rights Project at the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, the New York State Division of Human Rights and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.  I was admitted to the New York State Bar in 2009, and then worked at Laura Devine Solicitors, a boutique London law firm handling US and UK immigration before joining CAHR. My current CV and publications are available on my profile at:

 ‌Chloe Gilgan