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10 Human Rights Law Schools in the USA

Law is one of the key enforcement mechanisms for human rights. Lawyers focused on human rights can work with individuals, groups, intergovernmental organizations, international courts, and more. To build a career in human rights law, you must first specialize in the field. Here are ten human rights laws schools based in the United States:

UVA Law

Charlottesville, VA
Human Rights Program/International Human Rights Law Clinic

With UVA Law’s Human Rights Program, faculty members, student groups, and other departments coordinate speakers, summer and postgraduate employment, and more. The International Human Rights Law Clinic is at the program’s heart. Human rights lawyers, NGOs in the US, and international NGOs provide Clinic students experience and knowledge in areas like gender equality and sports; reparations; migrant rights; indigenous rights; transitional justice; and much more.

Students at the Clinic have worked on projects like the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. They participated in organizing a round table with US gender and rights advocates, drafting a briefing paper, coordinating and editing five civil society briefing papers, and contributing to the special rapporteur’s 2013 thematic report.

St. Thomas College of Law

Miami Gardens, FL
Human Rights Institute/Master of Laws in Intracultural Human Rights

The St. Thomas University Human Rights Institute promotes human rights through research and education, social advocacy, and direct services. For the last decade, the Institute has researched areas like economic micro-development, refugee services, social services, and more. In 2021, the College of Law announced the Benjamin L. Crump Center for Social Justice, which will train the next generation of what the press release describes as “social justice engineers.”

St. Thomas College of Law also offers a unique LL.M. program focused on the protection of human rights. Lawyers, teachers, human rights activists, government officials, and others join the program led by faculty from the United Nations and other centers of scholarship. In the program, students learn the major theories, practices, and essential concepts in international human rights law. They also gain experience in research and advocacy. Honor graduates are eligible to apply for the Doctor of Science of Law program in Intracultural Human Rights.

Fordham University, School of Law

New York, NY
International Human Rights Clinic/LL.M. in International Law and Justice

Fordham University is home to The Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic, founded and led by Professor Chi Adanna Mgbako, a human rights scholar and advocate. The Clinic includes human rights training, legal and policy analysis, public interest lawsuits, and more. In collaboration with grassroots justice organizations, the Clinic focuses on projects such as women’s rights and gender justice, sex worker rights, and LGBTQ rights.

Fordham University also offers an LL.M. program in International Law and Justice, which was created with support from the human rights Clinic. Students gain a deep understanding of human rights protection and promotion. Each student must take 24 credits of approved courses, including 12 credits of Specialization Distribution Courses.

Georgetown University Law

Washington, D.C.
Human Rights Institution (HRI)

The HRI at Georgetown Law is one of the country’s leading teaching and training institutions for human rights. Every year, it partners with students to decide on the focus of the Fact-Finding Project’s Work, which looks at human rights violations and recommends policy changes and legislation. Georgetown Law provides other opportunities for students to research and engage in human rights. There are clinical programs on issues like immigration law and policy. Graduate students can earn qualifications in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies or International Human Rights.

There are many human rights courses to choose from, including smaller seminars, clinics, practicums, and lecture-style courses. J.D. students can also pursue clinical programs like the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, the policy Clinic at the Harrison Institute for Public Law, and the Civil Rights Clinic.

Columbia Law School

New York, NY
The Human Rights Institute/Social Justice and Human Rights

The Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School is the center of human rights scholarship at the school. Established in 1998, the institute and Human Rights Clinic has deep roots in Human Rights in the United States; Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights; and Human Rights and the Global Economy. Students gain research and practical experience working initiatives and cases with both the school’s faculty and human rights organizations.

Students can also choose Social Justice and Human Rights as their area of study. There are summer funding opportunities, post-graduate fellowships, advanced seminars, human rights fellowships for LL.M. students, clinics, and more. Faculty and alumni from Columbia Law have gone on to organizations like the United Nations, Amnesty International, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Yale Law School

New Haven, CT
The Schell Center/Human Rights Law Clinic

Established in 1989, the Schell Center coordinates a program of human rights activities for students and scholars at Yale, including panels and lectures, a weekly Human Rights Workshop, summer and post-graduate fellowships, and guidance to students on human rights research and career opportunities. The Schell Center also supports the Multidisciplinary Academic Program in Human Rights, which provides undergraduates with an interdisciplinary perspective on human rights study.

Yale is also home to the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic. This course gives students practical experience, the knowledge and skills needed for human rights lawyers, and the opportunity to contribute to human rights protection. Each year, students in the Clinic earn three credits for practical work on human rights issues, which is usually through collaborating with an NGO.

Harvard Law School

Cambridge, MA
The Human Rights Program/International Human Rights Clinic

Founded in 1984, the Human Rights Program helps scholars, advocates, and students expand their knowledge of human rights. Activities include summer and post-graduate fellowships and opportunities for experiential learning. In partnership with student organizations – like the Harvard Human Rights Journal – the program examines human rights issues. The program also supports students working on research projects with human rights organizations.

Harvard Law’s Human Rights Program works closely with the International Human Rights Clinic. Through supervised instruction, students learn about human rights activism and how to protect human rights. Students work in small project teams to strengthen their advocacy and ethical skills. The Clinic is held in the Fall and Spring semesters.

University of California Berkeley School of Law

Berkeley, CA
The Human Rights Center/The International Human Rights Clinic

The Human Rights Center at Berkeley School of Law researches war crimes and other human rights and international humanitarian law violations. The Center works to protect human rights, hold perpetrators accountable, and train students to research, investigate, and document violations. Opportunities for students include the Investigations Lab, the first university-based open source lab finding and verifying human rights violations. Students work in teams to find, verify, and analyze information found on social media. There’s also a series of human rights courses supported by the Center and a student fellowship program.

The International Human Rights Law Clinic works closely with the Center. The Clinic focuses on four areas: the promotion of human rights in the US; economic, social, and cultural rights; counter-terrorism and human rights; and accountability and transitional justice. Students develop innovative solutions and work on a variety of human rights projects.

CUNY School of Law

Long Island City, NY
Justice Centers/Clinics

CUNY School of Law has many opportunities for students studying human rights. Their Justice Centers support intersectional approaches to human rights issues, law and policy, and transformative justice. Students, faculty, and community partners collaborate on the work. There are three Justice Centers: the Center on Latinx Rights and Equality; the Center for Urban Environmental Reform; and the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice.

CUNY is the #1 clinical program in the nation with a series of experiential learning clinics focused on experience and essential skills. The Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic engages students (under close supervision) with projects and human rights practice education. Other clinics include the Disability & Aging Justice Clinic, the Equality & Justice Clinic, and the Workers Rights Clinic.

Stanford Law School

Stanford, CA
Stanford Human Rights Center / Law and Policy Lab

Established in 2013, the Stanford Human Rights Center focuses on public policy analysis, identifying international best practices, detention conditions, and the inter-American human rights center. On campus, it promotes events, student engagement, and public understanding of human rights. The Center also works closely with Stanford’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic. At the time of this article’s writing, the Clinic was inactive as it looked for its next Director.

At the Law and Policy Labs, students work under the guidance of faculty advisors on real-world problems. The labs serve real clients on law and policy issues including education, governance and transparency, energy and the environment, and more. First-year courses examine basic legal doctrines while advanced courses examine policy.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.