After three years of legal practice for the Israeli government, Cochav Elkayam-Levy decided to specialize in International Law and Human Rights Law with a LL.M. degree in the United States. Here, she discusses her LL.M. experience at UPenn.
What is your background, and why did you choose UPenn to do your LL.M.?
Before I came here, I was a lawyer at the Israeli Ministry of Justice at the International Law Department, specifically at the Human Rights Division. We consulted government agencies on international and human rights, and also worked with the UN and other international organizations, representing Israel in issues involving human rights and explaining how to implement human rights policies at the national level.
It was my dream to study in the US, and I really wanted to extend my knowledge and learn more about international human rights. I found an amazing program at Penn, and they offered me to be their Human Rights Scholar. So I had an entire curriculum focused on human rights issues and public service.
Did the program meet your expectations?
Definitely! It exceeded my expectations. I expected the year to be very good and successful and interesting, but it was eye-opening. I felt like a child in a candy shop: I just wanted to learn more, try more, join more conferences, and explore the most important issues.
Penn offered so much. It felt like the sky is the limit; you can do everything you want.
I even established a human rights organization of lawyers at Penn. We submitted a report to the UN about children's rights. We gathered as LL.M. lawyers, and we used our special expertise in many fields to provide pro bono services to US and international organizations, involving issues of refugees and migration. It's the first LL.M. lawyers organization that was ever established at Uppenn to provide pro bono services, I think. Penn gave us the professional platform to do whatever we want, and they really supported us.
What was your favorite class and why?
One was "Issues in Global Human Rights" with William Burke-White and Amy Gadsden. They taught us about global and political aspects of the human rights field, and brought prominent professors in from all around the world every week to tell us about different aspects of human rights law. It felt like I was meeting the most influential people in the field. For every meeting we read the most recent material, so it really got me very updated and very immersed.
Another amazing course was the negotiations course with Stuart Diamond. Actually, this was the most practical course I have ever had. To learn how to understand the other side and how to succeed in negotiations, he introduced us to the interesting methodology, which he developed.
One last course I want to mention is "Church and State" with Sarah Gordon. I am into women's rights and religion and all the aspects of how religion effects women's rights, so Professor Gordon really introduced me to this world of church and state and all the complexities that arise in the US and around the world.
Could you describe your favorite moment during the academic year?
I am thinking about my graduation, not only that my family was there, but the understanding of what we have been through this year.
And I have to mention one very, very special moment in the middle of the year, after we submitted the report to the UN. We were a few students working on this report to the UN. We worked so hard – days and nights – before and after the exam period, and we couldn't believe we were doing this. Sending the report to the UN Human Rights Committee was such a fulfilling moment.
We spent so many hours learning about the children's rights in the US and about children, who come as unaccompanied minors to the US, and we wanted to let people know how their situation should be improved and give policy recommendations.
What are your plans for the next few years?
I really want to pursue human rights' actions. I want to influence human rights policy either in my home country or around the world. At the moment, I am working as a visiting researcher with AEquitas: the prosecutors' resource on violence against women, on a groundbreaking initiative to combat human trafficking, and getting prosecutors to have a dialogue and connect through a global network. So, this is my human rights fellowship at Penn. I have so many things that interest me, so I see myself assuming a key role whether in my home country in the government or around the world in international organizations.
Image: By Adrian Grycuk - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 pl, (cropped)