Studying a Human Rights LL.M.: Making the World a Better Place?

These LL.M. programs are increasingly popular at a time when environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have risen to prominence in recent years

For individuals passionate about social and environmental justice, studying human rights law at the masters level can be personally fulfilling and professionally rewarding. It allows you to align your academic pursuits and career goals with your values and contribute to positive change in society, whether you engage in litigation, policy advocacy, or grassroots activism.

An LL.M. degree in human rights law helps you develop a deep understanding of the legal framework, principles, and mechanisms related to human rights. This specialized knowledge can open doors to various career paths in human rights advocacy, policy-making, academia, or international organizations.

And these LL.M. programs are hugely popular at a time when environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have risen to prominence in recent years. “Demand for our LL.M. is high. There is lots of enthusiasm for making the world a better place,” says Marc Mimler, director of the International Human Rights LL.M. program at City Law School in London, especially concerns about the environment and effects of climate change.

Minority protection, war and international crime: varied study areas 

The school’s specialized program gives students specialized knowledge around how human rights can be protected by international law. They examine profound issues concerning human rights from angles including minority protection, war and international crime. The course is taught in-person, but can also be followed remotely online.

The LL.M. degree demonstrates a commitment to the field and enhances the chances of securing positions with human rights organizations and governmental bodies. Other candidates pursue academic careers, says Mimler.

“Some students of the LL.M. program have pursued a PhD in human rights law. The LL.M. dissertation can be a great preparation for further postgraduate study. City offers supervision in a wide range of human rights fields including minority and indigenous rights, critical and postcolonial studies, women’s rights and children’s rights.”

Not all students who study international human rights law necessarily go on to work in human rights organizations, he adds. “Many of those who practice in human rights law do so alongside practice in other areas.”

A personally and professionally rewarding profession 

It is true that working in the field of human rights does not pay as much as working in the financial or banking sectors, for example, says Nathalie Mivelaz Tirabosco at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Switzerland.

“Students may find the first year following their graduation challenging as they look to start off in the sector often via initial roles as interns, but can then rapidly access interesting and well-paid positions, especially if they are available to relocate as needed,” she says. Human rights issues transcend borders, so LL.M. students gain a global perspective on the challenges faced by individuals and communities worldwide.

These global career paths are rewarding in varied ways. “Driven by a sense of empathy, a desire to combat injustice and improve the human condition, often sourced from their own personal experiences, students are looking to make an impact through the understanding and respect of the various fields of law impacted by armed conflicts,” says Tirabosco, of the Geneva Academy’s LL.M. in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Every year, more than 800 candidates apply to the program, out of which the school admits – via a competitive selection process – around 40. They will study core courses, which provide a solid legal basis and understanding of public international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international refugee law and international criminal law.

Putting the theory into practice via moot courts 

But it’s not all theory, with ample opportunities for human rights students to put theory into practice. “We have an ongoing focus on practice via exchanges with various practitioners and military actors, and with a dedicated course on humanitarian skills. Students also work on concrete case scenarios, participate in public pleadings, and have the possibility to carry out internships and participate in a moot court,” Tirabosco says.

Participation in moot courts forms an integral part of the program and allows students to apply the legal concepts and tools learned in class to contemporary humanitarian and human rights challenges and develop legal arguments around them.

After graduation, the large majority of the Geneva Academy students start a career in the human rights or humanitarian sector, while roughly 20 percent remain in the academic sector and carry out a PhD, with an additional small number pursuing other branches of law.

“Our LL.M alumni are spread all over the world, holding positions in international organizations, governments, NGOs, international tribunals and academic institutions dealing with human rights, criminal justice and transitional justice,” says Tirabosco.

Ultimately, pursuing an LL.M. in human rights law requires dedication, hard work, and a genuine interest in the subject. But it can provide numerous benefits and opportunities to make a tangible impact in protecting and promoting human rights. 

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