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“On the Ground” – Complexities and Approaches to Human Rights and Legal Work Abroad

October 26, 2023

12:30 pm - 1:15 pm

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WCC; 2009 Classroom

When you imagine your future successful career in international law, where are you? While some may dream of an office in Geneva or The Hague, with a working culture much like that of law school, others envision themselves “in the field” or “on the ground”. Learning how to work in different environments, including building trust with local lawyers, activists and others, poses questions that recent law graduates are not always ready to grapple with. Questions like ‘What does ethical engagement mean in a context of neo-colonialism, conflict and inequality?’ and ‘How can I best use my knowledge and privilege to support local movements?’. Join Wasserstein Fellow Aileen Thomson, Director of the Tea Leaf Center and researcher on human rights, access to justice and transitional justice in Southeast Asia, as she discusses her career, including how she got a reputation in one INGO for closing down field offices, and how that led her to start her own business to ‘flip the model’ of research in the international development field. She will give students practical tips for integrating into a new context, and share lessons in finding your place with humility and curiosity.

Lunch provided. RSVP below.

Aileen is constantly inspired by the young activists and researchers she has encountered throughout her career. She loves being a sounding board for new ideas, pushing back against international dominance over local agendas, and asking tough questions. Her background is in human rights, international law, transitional justice and peace and conflict. She researched and wrote reports on displacement in/from Myanmar and protests and the right to peaceful assembly with Progressive Voice, a participatory rights-based research and advocacy organization working on Myanmar. She spent five years with the International Center for Transitional Justice in various positions including as Head of Office in Myanmar and Nepal. With ICTJ, she trained civil society organizations and conducted research on reconciliation, transitional justice and victims’ groups and civil society advocacy for and participation in transitional justice. Aileen worked for the Public International Law and Policy Group, researching and writing legal memoranda on international law, peace agreements and comparative constitutional law. She has also done research and trainings for small human rights and political organizations on the Thai-Myanmar border, and has substantial experience in monitoring and evaluation. Aileen is qualified to practice law in New York, and attended American University where she got her law degree (J.D.) and a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from the School for International Service.

If you or an event participant requires disability-related accommodations, please contact HLS Accessibility Services at two weeks in advance of the event.


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October 26, 2023, 12:30 pm - 1:15 pm

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