Colombe Cahen-Salvador, a member of the LLM class of 2016, has been named Duke Law School’s inaugural International Law and Human Rights Fellow. Cahen-Salvador is spending the first half of the yearlong fellowship working in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and will spend the second half with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). Both posts are in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Law School created the postgraduate fellowship in public international law and international human rights to help recent graduates seeking to work long-term in those highly competitive practice areas gain the field experience essential to advancing their careers. The fellowship, announced in February, is open to graduating JD, JD/LLM, and LLM students and alumni who have demonstrated their commitment to careers in public international law and/or human rights through their course work, clinical activities, externships, and other professional experiences. A committee of faculty and administrators led by Clinical Professor Jayne Huckerby, who directs the International Human Rights Clinic, oversaw the fellowship selection process.
High-caliber placements like those the committee identified at OHCHR and NRC will be instrumental to the success of the fellowship and the fellows’ careers, providing both substantive experience and networking opportunities, Huckerby said. “It’s very hard to walk into these organizations as a recent graduate from law school. The fellowship is designed to provide access to those institutions such that the fellow can develop their professional profile while meaningfully contributing to pressing human rights issues.”
At Duke Law, Cahen-Salvador worked on legal challenges in military commission proceedings in the Guantanamo Defense Clinic and on inmates’ claims of actual innocence in the Wrongful Convictions Clinic. She earlier focused on human rights and international law while pursuing her LLB at the University of Warwick.
Following her Duke Law graduation, Cahen-Salvador served as a legal fellow with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (“RFK”, formerly the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights) in Washington, D.C., where she worked in the International Strategic Litigation Unit to bring high impact human rights cases before regional and international tribunals. In addition to leading the organization’s research and outreach efforts with potential partners in Kenya, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe, she undertook research relating to its new domestic initiative on criminal justice reform.
“I gained valuable skills on various human rights systems, on the situation of local countries, and on researching and drafting petitions and communications. Perhaps more importantly, I was able to help in creating partnerships with local organizations, which allowed me to get to know inspiring human rights defenders on the ground, to get a true insight into the situation, and to work together. The fellowship reinforced my passion in fighting for human rights,” Cahen-Salvador said.
Cahen-Salvador called her Duke Law fellowship both an honor and “an incredible opportunity” to add to her skills and perspective and to expand her professional network while gaining insight into the operations of two highly-regarded organizations. “Having interacted with the OHCHR through my work at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, it will be extremely interesting to see the other side of the coin,” she said. “This fellowship gives young human rights defenders an incredible opportunity to pursue a career in a field that is very difficult to access.”
It was Cahen-Salvador’s blend of experience and vision for how her placements in Geneva could develop her expertise while also strengthening the work of the organizations, that helped her secure the new fellowship, said Huckerby.
“Colombe has excellent experience, particularly in domestic and regional human rights with a goal of complementing that with international human rights experience, so exposure to international mechanisms and NGOs through this fellowship will greatly aid her professional development,” said Huckerby. “She also has thematic expertise and an interest in refugee and migrant-rights issues that will make her a huge asset to the organizations where she will be placed.”
Cahen-Salvador also will engage in outreach to and mentoring of current Duke Law students interested in building careers in international human rights law, which is an important goal of the fellowship.
“This new post-graduate fellowship is the capstone of Duke Law’s effort to build a comprehensive human rights program, one that enables students to engage with international human rights law and advocacy in the classroom, in cutting-edge clinical projects, and in summer and semester externships,” said Laurence Helfer, the Harry R. Chadwick, Sr., Professor of Law and co-director of the Center for International and Comparative Law.