On March 9, 2020, HLS Advocates for Human Rights hosted a discussion on the oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang China. As murmurs about classes moving online circulated, and US leadership continued to doubt the threat of COVID-19, we held what turned out to be our final Advocates lunch talk of the year.
If we had known this would be our final “big event”, it might have felt bittersweet. As Co-Presidents, Advocates has been the most significant part of our 3L year and our entire HLS experience. Since we joined the organization in our first year, it has served as a place of refuge, community, inspiration, and learning. That week, as information about the law school’s operations changed each day, we focused on the task at hand. We felt proud to have played a role in facilitating such a critical discussion. One of the speakers Rayhan Asat LLM’16, has now shared her story beyond HLS as well.
Although the spring semester changed substantially in March, this event, fortunately, was just one of many of Advocates’ accomplishments. With over 70 members supporting 11 projects with NGOs around the world; seven events; four trainings; and a special anniversary project, Advocates had a productive — even if abbreviated — year!
We revamped Advocates trainings, starting with adding sessions on Human Rights 101 and an introduction to conducting international legal research. These trainings provided greater support and capacity building to members, in addition to creating new opportunities for interactions between project members, supervising partners, the HLS librarians, and HRP faculty.
In honor of our 15th anniversary as a student practice organization (SPO), we also worked to connect with Advocates alums and build our community beyond current JDs and LLMs. As part of this effort, current Advocates members conducted interviews with former members, who shared how the skills, experiences, and communities they developed through Advocates has served them beyond graduation (and how much they miss their Advocates community!).
Of course, most of our energy went to our projects. Advocates worked with the International Criminal Court, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz, among others. One team culminated a three-year partnership by producing a handbook that uses case studies to recommend the best practices for selecting, preparing, and shaping the impact of strategic litigation against corporations. This handbook will provide insights for practitioners in all contexts where corporate actors are involved in human rights abuses. And as some projects came to an end, other projects are just beginning. Advocates took up three new partnerships this year based on issues that students brought to our attention and relationships with organizations that they cultivated on their own.
Finally, Advocates welcomed Beatrice Lindstrom, our first-ever supervising attorney. Beatrice increased our capacity and ability to serve our partner organizations and the HLS community by acting as a mentor, advisor, and sounding board for us as Co-Presidents, and the rest of the board.
What made our experience with Advocates so special, though, were the relationships. The hours spent at meetings with our dedicated Board, calls with partner orgs across the globe squeezed in between classes, drop-ins with the endlessly supportive Clinical staff (which never lasted “just a sec”), grabbing a drink with tireless project members, and dreaming up our futures working to address the human rights issues we are so passionate about, are what made this year and each year of law school fulfilling and fun. We are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Advocates and are thrilled to pass the baton to the new leaders and amazing students that form this group.