EventsNewsMarch 17, 2024

BHRC x HRLA Seminar ‘Human Rights Careers, Skills & Values’ | Watch the session recordings

In November 2023, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales and the Human Rights Lawyers Association Young Lawyers’ Committee collaborated on a joint one-day seminar, ‘Human Rights Careers, Skills & Values’, sharing valuable expertise and insight into how law students and early career lawyers can get involved in human rights advocacy. The day’s discussions are now available for viewing on YouTube across four episodes.




EPISODE 1 – Introduction to the Series & What does a day in the life of a human rights defender look like?

In this opening session, chaired by Stephen Cragg KC, (then) Chair of BHRC, and welcoming Aswini Weereratne KC, (then) Vice Chair of BHRC; Lui Asquith, Vice Chair of HRLA; and Shoaib M Khan, Vice Chair of HRLA, the senior leadership of BHRC and HRLA addressed the objectives of this initiative and their hopes to inspire and empower law students and early career lawyers as the next generation of human rights defenders. The session led to the first panel discussion of the day, ‘What do human rights careers involve? A day in the life of …’, which asked: ‘What does a career in human rights look like, day to day? What are the sorts of things you might find yourself doing?’ In this discussion, experienced professionals from the field provided an in-depth look at their daily routines, sharing insights about the practical aspects of working in international human rights law, with the UN system, with other lawyers and with the media and civil society organisations. This session was chaired by Jodie Blackstock, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers & Treasurer, BHRC, Member of the BHRC Executive Committee, and welcomed speakers including Adam Wagner, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers; Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director of Human Rights Watch; and Ruth Mercer, Solicitor, Southwark Law Centre.

EPISODE 2 – Strengthening rule of law and civil society through probono work and culture

Lawyers specialising in human rights often work with civil society organisations and NGOs to advocate for change, raise awareness, and provide legal assistance to marginalised communities. Encouraging more law students to enter the human rights field with a clear understanding of the importance of probono work and the difference it makes to the lives of survivors of human rights abuses can strengthen the capacities of CSOs and broaden their impact. This session was chaired by Grainne Mellon, Vice-Chair of BHRC who was highly commended in the ‘Junior Pro Bono Barrister of the Year’ category at the Bar Pro Bono Awards 2021 for her inspirational work helping vulnerable EU children and families apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. Session speakers included Yasmin Batliwala MBE, CEO, Advocates for International Development (A4ID); Beth Hermaszewska, Caseworker at Advocate; and Debra Long, International Policy Manager, The Law Society of England & Wales.

EPISODE 3 – An honest, holistic view of resilience, mental wellbeing and human rights work

Human rights careers often provide practitioners and advocates with a strong sense of purpose, allowing them to contribute positively to social justice and impact the lives of others in a meaningful way. This can lead to a more fulfilling and rewarding career, but it can also sometimes lead to adverse mental health impacts. Human rights defenders very often have to develop tremendous resilience as well as draw from the support of their personal and professional networks to manage day-to-day exposure to traumatised victims or to materials or evidence which may be traumatic to engage with. This session, chaired by Aswini Weereratne KC, Vice-Chair of BHRC, explored the importance of resilience and mental wellbeing for human rights defenders, building on a virtual workshop that BHRC ran in July 2022 on this important subject for the legal profession. Session speakers included Haydee Dijkstal, Barrister at 33 Bedford Row & Member, BHRC Executive Committee; Rachel Spearing, Co-Founder of Wellbeing at the Bar; James Pereira KC, Barrister at Francis Taylor Building & LawCare Champion; and Aarif Abraham, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.

EPISODE 4 – What are the core skills I need to develop to work in human rights practice and advocacy? & Concluding Remarks

Typically, human rights work demands a combination of skills, languages, experience and personal qualities that align with an organisation’s mission and values. Beyond a highly transferrable legal education or a degree in law, international relations, or political science, some organisations may require specialised knowledge or an advanced degree such as an LLM or a PhD. They will also be looking for some prior experience in human rights work and advocacy, and so the session will cover strategies for securing internships, voluntary work, research and professional experience with international human rights NGOs, Chambers, the courts or national human rights institutions (NHRIs). Importantly, human rights organisations will be looking for advanced analytical, problem solving, communication and organisational skills, as well as a high degree of empathy and emotional intelligence, resilience, flexibility / adaptability and cultural sensitivity. This session will leave participants with a well-rounded sense of what international human rights organisations are looking for in candidates and how law students and early career practitioners can build vital skills and competencies throughout the various stages of legal education, post-law school vocational training and in their continued professional development. This session was chaired by Shoaib Khan, Barrister and Solicitor-Advocate & Vice-Chair of HRLA, welcoming as speakers Michael Harwood, Barrister at 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square & Chair of the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee of England and Wales for 2023; Ben Leather, Director of Peace Brigades International (PBI); Helena Samaha, President & CEO of Lex Mundi; and Chris Esdaile, Legal Advisor, REDRESS.

The session led to the concluding session, ‘Human rights futures: How can I make a difference?’, which invited legal luminaries to share their advice for law students, recent graduates and early career practitioners who want to enter into or transition into human rights careers, answering the following questions: What are the most critical challenges currently faced by human rights defenders around the world, and how can the next generation of human rights defenders make a difference? How can we best leverage technology and artificial intelligence to protect human rights in practice and in advocacy? And how do we improve diversity and inclusion in legal education and in the legal profession now and in the future? This session was chaired by Stephen Cragg KC, with confirmed speakers including Dr Felicity Gerry KC, International King’s Counsel, London and Melbourne & Professor of Legal Practice; and Lui Asquith, Associate Solicitor, Russell-Cooke Solicitors & Vice Chair, HRLA.

For further information about this initiative of BHRC and HRLA to empower the next generation of human rights defenders, please contact Dr Louise Loder. Please join BHRC and HRLA mailing lists for announcements on further events as part of this initiative in 2024.