From L.A., International Human Rights Clinic Director Aims to Change World
As the deputy director of Loyola Law School, Los Angeles’ International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), Mary Hansel oversees advocacy efforts that have helped clients and causes in dozens of countries and transported her and her students 120,000 miles across the globe.
Hansel’s passion for human rights began with her time at an Australian Aboriginal rights organization as an undergraduate student. While working at this organization, Hansel helped defend Aboriginal lands against mining companies seeking to exploit them.
After law school, Hansel fine-tuned her litigation skills at commercial litigation firms, including Irell & Manella LLP. She also honed her human rights advocacy skills by working with prominent non-governmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice.
Along the way, she picked up an LLM degree in Public International Law from the London School of Economics. All of her experiences have added up to a passion for teaching Loyola students what she loves to do best: using her considerable skills to help others.
Under her tutelage, students in the IHRC litigate real-world human rights cases before international judicial bodies, gaining experience that shapes the type of lawyers, and people, they will become.
As one example, the clinic is currently pursuing 12 cases against Jamaica before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights based on the state’s failure to prosecute unjustified police killings. Loyola students also prepare briefing reports to United Nations committees on pressing human rights issues. Recently, the clinic submitted such a report to the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, analyzing Mexico’s compliance with the right to benefit from scientific progress — a rarely invoked right with potential to improve global access to medical and technological advances.
As well, students draft authoritative and educational human rights materials on topical issues that address pressing world issues. The clinic is now in the process of finalizing a book-length manual that explains how people living with HIV/AIDS from all over the world can use international human rights standards and mechanisms to defend and advance their rights.
With an expertise in the application of international human rights law in the U.S., Hansel makes sure that the clinic always has at least one project focused on human rights violations “at home.” She and her students are currently representing two men on federal death row in cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Since joining the clinic, Hansel also has organized and carried out annual spring break international advocacy trips. She and the students have travelled to Trinidad and Tobago, where they interviewed refugees and analyzed the state’s migrant detention system, and Geneva, Switzerland, where they attended U.N. Human Rights Council proceedings and met with stakeholders.
Hansel has also worked to create a curriculum to enhance and contextualize the students’ project work to empower them to conduct human rights advocacy throughout their careers, not just while they work in the clinic. Weekly topics range from how to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses and ethical considerations to theoretical critiques of international human rights and best practices in legal writing. All of these courses are aimed at giving the students the academic and the practical knowledge they need to succeed at the start of their careers.
Hansel says she puts special emphasis on written advocacy techniques and meets individually with students to help them hone their writing skills. “We try to emphasize the core skills that all lawyers need — and chief among these is legal writing,” she says.
A respected academic in her own right, Hansel has published and presented scholarly articles on international human rights. Currently, she is publishing a chapter in a forthcoming book, “The Future of Feminist Engagement with International Law,” and presenting her paper entitled “Are Human Rights Clinics the New NGOs?” at the annual Association of American Law Schools clinical conference. Recently, Hansel served as managing editor of the California International Law Journal and she founded the California State Bar’s Public International Law Committee.
In addition to directing the IHRC, Hansel teaches several courses at Loyola, including Human Rights at Home and International Protection of Human Rights.
“I really encourage all law students to take some type of course work in international human rights law, a subject increasingly offered, and even required, at law schools throughout the country,” says Hansel. "Above all, at Loyola we want to empower students with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue human rights and social justice, regardless of the area of law they end up practicing."