Do you obsessively read op-eds and headlines on human rights atrocities? Do you binge watch documentaries and movies depicting the most marginalised? Perhaps you should consider a career in human rights law. You’ve probably already considered this but everything people say about this field of law is stopping you in your tracks. “There’s no money in it” “There’s no scope for this in Malaysia” “You need to be more realistic with your dreams”. Your dream is very realistic and it can indeed happen! Here are a few pointers to further your aspirations in becoming a human rights lawyer:
Cultivating this habit should not be too strange for law students. A lot of information on human rights issues can be found in the news but you may have to dig a little deeper to discover the true extent of these incidences. It’s also not necessarily always about reading the writings of human rights aficionados, news reports or legal texts, it’s also vital to read (and listen) to the accounts of victims and their families. Information is most accurate when received from the source. It’s also a great way to really understand the people you will be aiding.
LinkedIn should be your best pal. Most lawyers have a LinkedIn profile and a lot of them are willing to share their experiences if you reach out. Of course, you may not always get a response but you could also end up meeting them in person for a chat and being offered an internship. These opportunities are the dream – to work closely with a human rights lawyer on an ongoing case. You may hear from these lawyers that when you’re just starting out, jobs could be on a voluntary basis – don’t let this deter you. It could be something you pursue on the side. No one said it’d be easy but the results are beyond rewarding.
If you’re still in the midst of law school or intending to pursue a masters, perhaps consider a human rights-based syllabus. From gender laws to humanitarian law to international human rights law, there is an array of subjects to choose from. Immersing yourself in the content will give you a clearer picture of how the law works in this field. If these subjects are not available as modules in your course, watching online lecture or borrowing books related to the subject matter could be alternatives. Speaking to lecturers can also help with your decision-making.
Human rights law varies from other practices. It involves dealing with people’s lives and emotions. This isn’t always easy. Migrants separated from their children, refugees who have witnessed the chaos of wars and stateless children who lack access to the most basic needs. You will have to be empathetic, patient and strong-willed as these cases can drag out and the outcomes are not always favourable.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to be brave and to never skip out on opportunities you may not revisit in the future. So don’t be deterred by the naysayers or that voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough or that this field of law isn’t ideal. The world could use with a few more human rights defenders. Although sacrifices may be required, the satisfaction gained from safeguarding the rights of the marginalized is incomparable.
These pointers may not all work for you but treat them as guidelines if human rights law is up your alley. With some hard work and perhaps a few tears, human rights law can potentially be your reality.