The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Right Degree
Noble Cause: Human rights lawyers are now much in demand

The denial of human rights and fundamental freedom creates conditions of social and political unrest, sowing seeds of violence and conflict within societies and between nations. Today, there are several extra-judicial killings, fake encounters, deaths of suspects in police custody and excessive use of force by security forces combatting active insurgencies. Cases of societal violence and discrimination against women, child prostitution and female infanticide, widespread exploitation of bonded and child labour, and trafficking in women and children are common.

Discrimination against persons with disabilities, serious discrimination and violence against indigenous peoples and scheduled castes and tribes, and widespread inter-caste and communal violence require redress. All these cases require the services of human rights lawyers.

Human rights law is a system of domestic and international laws which is intended to promote human rights. It includes treaties which are intended to punish war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. There are a number of international courts, such as the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court, which have been constituted to adjudicate cases of violation of human rights. The roots of human rights law lie in the concepts of humanitarian intervention, self-determination, and providing relief to the wounded and other victims of armed conflicts. Modern international human rights law dates from World War II and its aftermath. The UN charter, signed in 1945, sought to acknowledge the importance of human rights and established it as a matter of international concern.

Human rights lawyers work with governments, intergovernmental organisations, academicians, students and civil society and are also involved in research, training, publications and capacity building.

What do I have to do'

Human rights lawyers work with civil society groups and local activists to push for key legal and policy reforms to address some of the causes and consequences of conflict. Their concerns include local governance and accountability, impunity, discrimination in the criminal justice system, domestic workers’ rights, right to education, and land management and inheritance rights. They ensure that responses to the trafficking of people into forced labour, slavery and servitude are based upon internationally-recognised human rights standards.

Several human rights lawyers collaborate with social movements, human rights organisations and grassroots development groups to enforce the rights of children, dalits, people with disabilities, farmers, HIV positive persons, the homeless, indigenous people, prisoners, refugees, religious minorities, women and labourers, among others. They provide legal services, conduct public interest litigation, engage in advocacy, conduct legal awareness programmes, investigate violations, publish materials and participate in campaigns.

What should I study'

To become a human rights lawyer, you should have a degree in law, followed by a masters degree (LLM) or a postgraduate diploma in human rights law.

What next'

Most human rights lawyers are employed as consultants with non-governmental organisations, social service agencies and with law firms working in areas like child rights, global governance, women’s empowerment, the uplift of dalits, terrorism and communal harmony. With some years of experience, you can also opt to work as a legal expert in international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank, and the UN.

The sky is the limit for those who have a sharp analytical mind, powers of logical reasoning and concentration, argumentative abilities, presence of mind, confidence and excellent communication skills. With the globalisation of the Indian industry and with multinationals flocking to the country, lawyers dealing in human rights law and international law are highly sought after today. Legal matters span national and international boundaries today and provide many opportunities for those who choose to enter this profession.

Where to study

  • National Law School of India University, Bangalore.
  • Indian Law Institute, New Delhi.
  • University of Mumbai, Mumbai.
  • Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.
  • Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.
  • Cochin University of Science & Technology, Kochi.
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