PUBLISHED:August 04, 2023

Diana Kenealy JD/LLM ’23 awarded Duke Law post-graduate fellowship in international law and human rights


The recent graduate will join the Business and Human Rights Unit of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations in Geneva.

Diana Kenealy

Diana Kenealy JD/LLM ’23 has been named this year’s International Law and Human Rights Fellow. The one-year post-graduate fellowship sponsors a recent Duke Law graduate who has demonstrated a commitment to a career in human rights through their coursework, clinical activities, externships, and other professional experiences.

Kenealy’s first placement will be with the Business and Human Rights Unit of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at its headquarters in Geneva. There, she will focus on improving corporate accountability for human rights, including on issues of forced labor and environmental damage.

“This fellowship allows me to jump right into a career in human rights law. I’ve had amazing opportunities to work on human rights accountability issues as a student at Duke, especially through the International Human Rights Clinic. I can’t wait to put those experiences into practice at the UN,” said Kenealy.

The goal of the fellowship, established in 2017 by the Noble Foundation and currently funded by Stuart Feiner '74, is to provide a bridge between law school and a career in international human rights — a sector of law that is of growing demand and interest among students, according to Clinical Professor Jayne Huckerby, a member of the fellowship selection committee.

“The fellowship has enabled our students to do high-level, cutting-edge work in an area of law that is difficult to go straight into out of law school. The work is extraordinarily impactful and important in the human rights space,” said Huckerby. “This opportunity is leading our students to very high-profile jobs on issues where you want to have really thoughtful lawyers charting the pathways forward.”

Kenealy’s focus on a career in human rights influenced her entire law school trajectory. As entry-level positions in this area are rare, Kenealy found as many opportunities to gain professional human rights experience as she could.

As a student, Kenealy spent her 2L summer working on anti-corruption and extradition issues with the U.S. Department of State, spent her 3L fall working on human trafficking accountability with the U.S. Department of Justice through the Duke in D.C. program, and traveled to The Hague with the International Human Rights Clinic as a co-host with the United Nations to run a multi-stakeholder meeting on conflict-related trafficking in persons.

“I came to law school to focus on international law, and it was always my goal to continue human rights work right after graduation. Being selected for this fellowship really made that possible,” said Kenealy.

The fellowship consists of two six-month placements that are tailored to the fellow’s individual geographic and institutional interests. Kenealy hopes her fellowship experience will lead to her to a career focused on accountability mechanisms for human rights abuse, and redress for people whose rights are violated.

“What was striking about Diana was she was a student who came to Duke Law committed to developing her expertise in human rights and she was committed to ensuring her curricular and extracurricular experience swept across different institutional types and issues. She combines theory and practice very effectively and takes extraordinary initiative in doing so,” said Huckerby.

Kenealy’s drive for experiential learning will leave a lasting impact for students who wish to pursue similar paths in international human rights law in the future, as she was instrumental in the formation of the Human Rights Pro Bono Project at Duke Law, which launched last fall.

“Duke had a lot of great pro bono projects, but we didn’t have one that was specifically focused on international law and human rights,” Kenealy said. “There’s a lot of interest in this work and it can be hard to find a way into it. With the Human Rights Pro Bono Project, there’s now more space to do international work early on in law school and start to develop an understanding of how human rights law can apply in practice.”