Centers Of Excellence

The Promise Institute for Human Rights

The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law is the center of human rights education, research and advocacy at UCLA and around the region.

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The Future of Human Rights

The Promise Institute for Human Rights is the center of human rights education, research, and advocacy at UCLA. We empower students with enriching teaching and experiential opportunities in human rights law, engage with diverse frameworks and disciplines to generate new thinking on human rights, and advocate for change in coalition with academics, practitioners, and activists.

Who We Are

Areas of Focus

Drawing on the unique strengths and resources of UCLA and the creativity and dynamism of the city of Los Angeles, the Promise Institute makes a major contribution to improving the situation of human rights for people at home and around the world, through empowering a new generation of human rights lawyers and leaders, generating new thinking on human rights, and engaging our students and our research to drive real world positive impact.

Our research and advocacy focus on the following issues that are reshaping our world and that resonate deeply with our location in Los Angeles:

  • Race, Indigenous Peoples and human rights

    Thought Leadership – The Promise Institute supports the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, E. Tendayi Achiume. In Fall 2019, we convened an expert working group on Race, Human Rights, and New Information Technologies. Co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, the session brought together practitioners and scholars to identify areas in need of conceptual development to ensure racial equality in the application of new technologies. This convening informs the report of the UN Special Rapporteur delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council in July 2020.

    Activism and Litigation – The Promise Institute Faculty Director, E. Tendayi Achiume, and Promise Chair in Human Rights, Kimberlé Crenshaw, are leading voices against systemic racism and police brutality in the United States. Deputy Director, Cathy Sweetser, is involved in litigating cases related to the rights of unhoused people and detained people in Los Angeles as well as slavery and forced labor abroad, and our students will be involved with this work through our Human Rights Litigation Clinic, launching Fall 2020. Human Rights in the Americas Project Director, Joe Berra, is working with Indigenous community groups in Honduras to challenge the construction of a hydroelectric dam.

  • Human Rights and the Protection of the Environment

    Promise Institute executive director Kate Mackintosh has joined a panel of leading international lawyers and judges who will work to draft a definition of “ecocide” as a potential international crime alongside terms including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mackintosh will serve as co-deputy chair of the panel, which will start work this month and present a draft early next year. The group was convened by the Stop Ecocide foundation following requests from government leaders in Sweden. Its work begins as international human rights advocates mark the 75th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi officials.

    For Mackintosh and the Promise Institute, the ecocide work continues recent initiatives to curb crimes in the environmental sphere. Earlier this year, the institute co-sponsored a symposium, “Human Rights and the Climate Crisis,” that drew more than 250 participants and featured keynote addresses from Honduran activist Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres and Kumi Naidoo, the former executive director of Greenpeace and secretary general of Amnesty International.

    After that event, Mackintosh convened an expert workshop on the potential for international criminal law to address environmental harm. Read the outcome report of the meeting. The group was asked to provide legal advice to the European Parliament on how to bolster environmental protection through international criminal law. The European Commission has since agreed that a crime of ecocide will be part of reflections around amending its existing directive on environmental crimes.

  • Migration and Human Rights

    UN Rapporteurship – UN Special Rapporteur E. Tendayi Achiume is reconceptualizing the way we think about colonialism, race, and borders together with international law and critical race scholars.

    Student Opportunities – The Promise Institute provides funds to subsidize student travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to provide Know-Your-Rights trainings to asylum seekers impacted by the U.S.' Remain in Mexico Policy.

    Experiential Education – The Human Rights Litigation Clinic supports student research, advocacy, and litigation in support of immigration detainees held in local facilities.

    Thought Leadership – In 2020-21 the Promise Institute will convene "The Migration and Human Rights Big Think," bringing together activists and academics to radically reconceptualize how human rights can articulate and support the experience of contemporary migrants.

    The Promise Institute is proud to support the Migration and Technology Monitor, a new initiative launched in October 2020 that monitors the use of surveillance technologies, automation, and the use of Artificial Intelligence to screen, track, and make decisions about people crossing borders, highlighting the far reaching impacts on people’s rights and lives.

  • Technology and human rights

    Thought Leadership – In support of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, E. Tendayi Achiume, the Promise Institute convened an expert group meeting on Race, Technology and Borders.  Co-sponsored with the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, this convening brought together leading experts to think about how technology is utilized in discriminatory ways at existing borders and how technology can create new borders that have disparate impacts on the basis of race, citizenship, and nationality.  The convening will inform an upcoming report of the UN Special Rapporteur.

    Interdisciplinary Human Rights Research Support – the Promise Institute provided seed funding to Kamari Clarke, UCLA Professor of Anthropology, for a project on "Evidence and Justice in a Post-Truth World."  This project explores the ways that human rights documentation is inspiring the development of human rights technology applications; Professor Clarke recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to continue this work.

    Promise Institute assistant director Jess Peake recently received a grant to launch a Human Rights Open Source Investigations Lab at UCLA Law, in collaboration with UC Berkeley Human Rights Center and the UC Santa Cruz Research Center for the Americas.  Beginning in Spring 2021, UCLA Law students will be able to receive training in open source investigation methodology and use those skills to investigate and authenticate human rights violations around the world.

  • Accountability for human rights violations

    Experiential Education – The Human Rights Litigation Clinic has as a key focus accountability for corporations who commit human rights violations. In Spring 2020, we launched UCLA Law in the Hague, an externship program that allows students to work at an international court in the Hague, the Netherlands, while also studying a course on "International Courts in Practice."

    Distinguished Fellow in Residence – In Spring 2020, Richard Dicker, International Justice Project Director at Human Rights Watch, was a Distinguished Fellow in Residence at the Promise Institute.  During his time at UCLA Law, Richard taught a course on "Prospects for International Justice," and wrote a briefing paper on the Future of the International Criminal Court, informed by a convening of experts hosted by the Promise Institute.

    Thought Leadership – In Spring 2020, the Promise Institute and the American Society of International Law Task Force co-hosted a consultation on Policy Options on US engagement with the ICC.  In 2020-2021, the Promise Institute plans to continue its work on accountability throughout supply chains of U.S. corporations.

Publications

Resources

  • Careers

    Learn more about the Promise Institute's career counseling and post-graduate fellowships on the Institute's Careers page.

  • Alumni Testimonials

    "Aaron Acosta"Aaron Acosta ('18) is a Transitional Justice Researcher at Dejusticia, a Colombian NGO based in Bogotá, as well as an associate researcher at the UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub. Currently, Aaron's work focuses on corporate accountability for economic actors in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and victims' access to land restitution in Colombia's land restitution process. Before being employed by Dejusticia, Aaron spent a year at Dejusticia as a Promise Institute for Human Rights Fellow, where he researched transitional justice issues and International Humanitarian Law in the Colombian context.


    Natasha BabazadehSince graduating law school in 2017, Natasha Babazadeh has pursued opportunities to advance her public-interest litigation and advocacy skills. Recently, through its Honors Program, Natasha started working in the Appellate Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. She writes briefs for and argue cases before federal appellate courts on a variety of civil rights issues, including housing and employment discrimination, police brutality, desegregation in schools, hate crimes, and so much more. Prior to this, Natasha clerked in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Nashville) and in the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago). And before that, she served as an Appellate Advocacy Fellow with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, D.C. Through UCLA Law's Promise Institute and International and Comparative Law Program (ICLP), I took many courses, attended events, and built relationships that have helped me to pursue my dreams of being a human rights lawyer on both a domestic and international level.


    Laura BloomLaura Bloom earned her JD from UCLA School of Law in 2018 with an International and Comparative Law Specialization. Since then, Laura has worked for the UK-based legal charity, Reprieve. Reprieve supports individuals facing extreme human rights abuses, including the death penalty and abusive counter-terror measures such as arbitrary detention and torture. As part of their Secret Prisons Team, Laura provides legal and investigative support to clients detained in North East Syria and Guantanamo Bay, and assists former Guantanamo Bay detainees as they try to rebuild their lives.

    Of her time at UCLA Law, Laura says "I would not be where I am today without the support of the Promise Institute and the UCLA International and Comparative Law Program. Through UCLA, I was able to take a range of human rights courses that have proved crucial to my professional development. I also conducted research for Professor Aslı Bâli, spent a semester at the UN OHCHR, interned at a grassroots organization in Benin, and served as rapporteur at a human rights conference in Nepal. Finally, I began my career at Reprieve as an inaugural Promise Institute Fellow. Today, I continue to benefit from the support and advice of professors and administrators within the Promise Institute and the International and Comparative Law Program. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had at UCLA and to be in a position where I can meaningfully work on issues I care deeply about."


    Amanda BrownAmanda Brown earned her JD from UCLA School of Law in 2020 with specializations in Critical Race Studies, International and Comparative Law, and Public Interest Law and Policy. As a recipient of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law & UC Office of the President Public Service Law Fellowship, Amanda is working to counter the fortressing of borders and to defend the rights of people on the move. As a Legal Trainee on the Migration team of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and as a Legal Researcher with the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), Amanda is using strategic litigation to challenge border violence, pushbacks, racial discrimination and other human rights violations in the context of migration. She credits the faculty of the Promise Institute with giving her the skills, knowledge, exposure and mentorship to pursue this work, and thanks Professor Achiume in particular for the relevant guidance extended in her International Human Rights Law clinic and course and her semesters of supervision on independent research. Amanda regards Professor Achiume's teaching as having significantly advanced her work on the intersections of race and migration and as having equipped her to file a recent communication with the UN Human Rights Committee, where she was GLAN's lead author of a complaint filed against Greece alleging the enforced disappearance of a Syrian refugee. During law school, Amanda worked with various organizations on projects relating to statelessness, sea rescue, immigration and asylum services, and human rights accountability in global migration governance. She served as a Research Assistant for the Promise Institute during her 2L and 3L years and was the founding editor of the Promise Human Rights Blog.


    Astghik HairapetianAstghik Hairapetian graduated with a J.D. in 2020 and is currently working with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) as an intern in the Human Mobility Project. The work involves a number of issues related to migration in Mesoamerica, such as the impact of COVID-19 on immigration detention centers and the Asylum Cooperative Agreements the U.S. has entered into with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The project is based primarily in CEJIL's Costa Rica office, and Astghik is completing the internship remotely.  While a student at UCLA Law, Astghik was closely affiliated with the Promise Institute: she took part in the Human Rights in Action Clinic International Field Experience in Honduras while in law school, competed in the Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Competition, and worked on a variety of Promise Institute projects.


    Paula MoraPaula Mora graduated in 2020 with a specialization in Human Rights and in International and Comparative Law at UCLA and was the recipient of the Promise Institute LL.M. award for outstanding contributions to the field of human rights upon graduation.  Paula is currently undertaking a prestigious fellowship at the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER) at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  Paula is conducting research on the situation of ESCER in the Americas, drafting country reports, as well as press releases. Additionally, she is supporting a project to develop guidelines and standards from the Inter-American System on climate change from a human rights perspective.


    Ben SheaBen Shea graduated from UCLA Law in 2014 specializing in international human rights law. After becoming a member of the New York Bar, Ben moved to Geneva, Switzerland to pursue further studies and to seek career opportunities in international organizations. He currently works for the Business and Human Rights Unit of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In that position, Ben leads the work of the office's Accountability and Remedy Project, which seeks to enhance accountability and access to remedy in cases of business-related human rights abuse. Ben is also part of the secretariat of an intergovernmental working group tasked with elaborating an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises. UCLA Law provided Ben the substantive knowledge and practical experiences needed to engage in international human rights legal work. Ben credits the invaluable support of the faculty, and the connections he made through events and friendships, at UCLA Law for his career opportunities.


    Tanya Sukhija-CohenTanya Sukhija-Cohen graduated from UCLA Law in 2013. She is currently an attorney at Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP in Pasadena, and she specializes in civil rights, employment, and international human rights law. Prior to joining the firm, Tanya clerked for the Honorable Dena Hanovice Palermo of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. She previously worked as a civil rights attorney at the Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo on cases involving police excessive force, prisoner rights, and wrongful convictions. Straight out of law school, Tanya worked as a Legal Fellow and then as a Program Officer at Equality Now in New York and Kenya, where she represented victims of gender-based violence in impact litigation cases before international human rights tribunals including the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She also engaged in policy advocacy to end violence against women and girls and improve their access to justice in over 40 countries around the world. While at UCLA Law, Tanya worked with the U.S. Department of State monitoring cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague, non-profits in both California and South Africa aimed at ending gender-based violence, and another prominent civil rights law firm in California on cases involving torture and other international human rights violations.


    Shireen TavakoliShireen Tavakoli earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) with a specialization in International and Comparative Law from UCLA School of Law in 2017. She is one of the first recipients of the Promise Institute Fellowship, which gave her the opportunity to work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) following her graduation. When her fellowship term ended, Shireen secured a position at UNHCR as a Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Associate. In this role, Shireen adjudicated refugee claims lodged in the Caribbean region, and led the region's strategic litigation efforts. After three years of serving the agency in Washington DC, Shireen moved back to Los Angeles to start her own law firm. In her practice, she advises businesses and startups on international agreements and treaties affecting their operation in a wide range of industries, including entertainment and art. The Promise Institute Fellowship was integral in Shireen's career trajectory; it gave her the opportunity to start a career in international law, and eventually led to her admission at the University of Oxford, where she is currently finalizing her Master of Studies in international human rights law.


    Jess TempleJess Temple graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2016. Of her time at UCLA Law, Jess says: "As an active International and Comparative Law Program (ICLP) student, I gained a substantive foundation and robust legal skillset (in and out of the classroom) related to human rights. Immediately following graduation, and with the instrumental support of ICLP faculty, I secured a fellowship with an international human rights nonprofit working to address access to justice issues, predominantly within the Inter-American and African regional human rights systems. In the wake of the 2016 United States presidential election, I turned my attention to domestic human rights. I worked to amplify the impact of rural legal service and community-based organizations and to provide urgent immigration and criminal justice direct legal services. I continue to apply a human rights framework in my current position as a Staff Attorney at Rubicon Programs, a Bay Area based nonprofit focused on the intersections of economic, racial, and criminal justice. I am responsible for a broad range of civil legal services as a part of an integrated team of legal, financial, employment, and mental health professionals dedicated to providing holistic services to our participants. What strikes me as I look back on my journey so far is how much the connections I made through ICLP have helped me navigate a particular corner of the law, human rights law, that I find immensely rewarding. In an under resourced sector, with comparatively low compensation and high competition, those connections truly make the difference - whether it's an email or conversation about a job posting, a letter of recommendation, a networking opportunity, or mentorship and support, these connections have been incredibly valuable to me personally, and professionally."


    Kristi UedaKristi Ueda received her J.D. from UCLA School of Law in 2019 with specializations in International and Comparative Law, Critical Race Studies, and Public Interest Law and Policy. She is currently a Staff Attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles's Right to Counsel Workgroup, where she represents indigent clients to expand access to justice and prevent homelessness. Previously, she was the Promise Institute for Human Rights Fellow in Human Rights Watch's Africa Division, where she advocated against xenophobic violence and barriers to basic services experienced by asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants in South Africa. Reflecting on her time in law school, she says, "I owe so much to the Promise Institute and International and Comparative Law Program. Their programming and faculty introduced me to critical scholarship such as Third World Approaches to International Law and supported me to pursue a wide range of experiences to develop my skillset as a human rights lawyer domestically and internationally. With their support and encouragement, I competed in the Jean Pictet International Humanitarian Law Competition, participated in an oral advocacy simulation at the International Criminal Court, and networked at international law conferences around the world. I am so thankful for all of the opportunities I have had and continue to have through the Promise Institute and International and Comparative Law Program."

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    Questions? Contact promiseinstitute@law.ucla.edu

News
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Apr 23, 2021

Crenshaw Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

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Apr 22, 2021

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet Addresses UCLA Law Students

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