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Human Rights Program Celebrates 30 Years of Advocacy

By Tyler S.B. Olkowski, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program celebrated on Friday afternoon the increased awareness surrounding issues of human rights since its founding three decades ago and detailed the next steps for activists in the field.

The afternoon program included two panels—“Human Rights Advocacy Across Generations” and “The Next Stage in United Nations Treaty Bodies”—and a keynote address by former Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh ’75.

“It is wonderful to look back at the graduates we’ve had go on to have distinguished careers, the scholarship we have produced, and the engagement we’ve had in projects,” said Gerald L. Neuman ’73, director of the Human Rights Program. “We are looking back but also forward to the problems of the day.”

After the luncheon and keynote address by Koh, which focused on the future direction of human rights advocacy, attendees listened to the two panels before a reception closed out the celebration.

For Law School Dean Martha L. Minow, who served as an adviser to the program at its inception, the celebration displayed the success of activists in bringing human rights issues to the forefront of public discourse.

“Human rights once upon a time was just a phrase, then it became a movement, then it became law, then it became something we talk about at dinner tables,” Minow said at the ceremony.

The program, which was founded in 1984 by law professor emeritus Henry J. Steiner ’51, was created as a center for human rights scholarship, but now includes an international human rights clinic, a visiting fellows program, and partnerships with other human rights groups on campus.

The Human Rights Program provides an experience for both theoretical research and practical advocacy, according to Philippa Greer, who graduated from the Law School’s LL.M. program last spring after writing for the Human Rights Review.

“The program here is quite collaborative, and it’s a good chance to explore ethical advocacy issues but also do practical work,” Greer said. “It’s important to have a community on campus that puts forward that career path.”

With seven members of the Law School faculty and six full-time clinical instructors, the program’s human rights clinic instructs about 40 students each semester.

Katherine A. Soltis, a third-year student at the Law School, said the clinic provided an opportunity to go to Brazil and work firsthand on a project.

“It really gives you a reason for being in law school,” said Soltis, who said she will pursue a career in public interest law, foregoing the corporate law path.

Additionally, the Human Rights Program is home to seven visiting fellows, who will be conducting research throughout the fall.

—Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @OlkowskiTyler.

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