Human Rights Advocacy in Action Practicum

Course Overview

This project-based practicum enlists students in tackling real-world human rights challenges and creates a learning environment that equips students to analyze a problem, assess the legal and policy situation, and propose and execute strategies for change.

Students in this practicum receive intensive instruction from law professors and subject matter experts on both the relevant human rights law as well as effective strategies and tactics for human rights advocacy. Professor Massimino has a distinguished record of human rights advocacy and led Human Rights First, one of the nation’s leading human rights advocacy organizations, as president and CEO before coming to Georgetown Law. Michelle Liu is an adjunct professor and has supported partner NGOs in several countries to promote women’s human rights through litigation and legislative reform. The Dash-Muse Teaching Fellow will also serve as an instructor for the practicum. Together with their professors and fellow classmates, students collaborate on a project that supports the mission and objectives of a chosen NGO partner of the Human Rights Institute (“HRI”). This collaboration gives students a unique opportunity to conduct legal and factual research, craft legal solutions, and develop an advocacy campaign with real-world impact.

The application period for the Human Rights Advocacy in Action Practicum is still open, and the Human Rights Institute is proud to announce our partner and project for the 2024–2025 practicum.

In 1791, enslaved Haitians evicted their French colonial masters and founded a free nation. But two decades later the French returned, threatening to invade unless Haiti agreed to pay “reparations” for French financial losses, including the value of the lives of the formerly enslaved. Faced with French warships off its coast, Haiti was forced to agree. And for generations it has paid this so-called “independence debt” to the descendants of its former enslavers, a ransom for freedom that amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars. The catastrophic impacts of the independence debt on Haiti’s development and additional vestiges of colonialism on the Haitian economy and society continue to reverberate today.

In partnership with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the 2024-2025 Human Rights Advocacy in Action Practicum will explore avenues to advance Haiti’s case for restitution for the “independence debt.” IJDH works in partnership with its Haiti-based sister organization, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), to address systemic injustices to advance human rights in Haiti. We are particularly excited to work with IJDH’s co-founder and executive director Brian Concannon and IJDH’s senior staff attorney Alexandra “Sasha” Filippova, both Georgetown Law alums.

In addition to developing the case for restitution of this historic injustice, the Practicum will highlight the integral role Haiti’s restitution case plays in the broader reparations movement. While the Practicum will not be traveling to Haiti, we will be working with IJDH to identify a field investigation location that will best serve the needs of the project.

For additional information on the independence debt, see the 2022 New York Times article The Root of Haiti’s Misery: Reparations to Enslavers.

Course Components

The practicum is a year-long course and comprises three mandatory components: a two-hour weekly seminar, project-related teamwork performed in and outside of class, and a week-long field investigation (likely involving international travel) during Week One in January 2025.

1. Seminar

The seminar portion of the practicum will cover the substantive law and legal framework as it pertains to a particular human rights issue. Students will also use seminar time to propose and assess what legal remedies and accountability mechanisms may be appropriate and viable to address the human rights violation. Guest speakers with subject matter expertise may be invited to seminars to hold workshops and offer critique of student work. Finally, the seminar will also be the training ground for students to develop their critical thinking, public speaking, and persuasive writing skills through the formulation of a human rights advocacy campaign.

2. Project Work

Students will work in teams to complete a human rights project that furthers the mission of HRI’s partner organization. Depending on the particulars of the project, students may engage in any or all of the following:

  • conduct fact-based research on a human rights issue,
  • learn about the international human rights framework pertaining to the issue,
  • identify the legal gaps and barriers that are impeding justice, accountability, or the realization of human rights,
  • assess viable remedies and solutions to addressing such legal gap or barrier,
  • propose changes to legislation or draft a legal brief or policy report, and
  • develop a multimodal strategic campaign for human rights advocacy.

3. Field Investigation

Students will have the opportunity to conduct a project-related field investigation during Week One. The field investigation may involve international travel to interview or consult with stakeholders, human rights advocates, community leaders, lawmakers, or other relevant individuals working on the ground.

Students will be required to complete the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Program for ethical human subjects research before Week One. Students must also have a valid passport with at least six months remaining from the first day of spring semester classes.

Learning Objectives

As a result of completing this practicum, students will be able to approach a human rights issue from the perspective of a legal advocate who is equipped to effect change.

Students will learn how to conduct fact-based desk research on human rights violations, as well as how to assess violations of human rights using international and regional treaties, international court jurisprudence, and other sources of law. Students will also learn how to conduct first-person interviews in a cross-cultural context.

Students will learn how to identify legal and political barriers that impede justice, accountability, and the realization of human rights. By working together with law professors and subject matter experts to formulate a viable, impactful, and victim-centric advocacy plan, students will develop the critical thinking and communication skills needed to become effective human rights advocates.


This is a seven-credit course. Three credits will be awarded in the fall—two for the seminar and one for the approximately five hours of project work per week, for a minimum of 11 weeks. Four credits will be awarded in the spring—one for Week One, two for the seminar, and one for the approximately five hours of project work per week, for a minimum of 11 weeks.


Prior or concurrent enrollment no later than the fall 2024 semester in International Law I: Introduction to International Law; International Human Rights Law; the first year elective, International Law, National Security, and Human Rights; or the first year elective, Transnational Law and Practice.

Full-time J.D. students must complete the required first-year program prior to enrolling in this course. Part-time or transfer students may enroll prior to completing Property or their first-year elective.

Mutually Excluded Courses

Students may not concurrently enroll in this practicum course and a clinic or another practicum course. Students may not concurrently enroll in another Week One course.

Students may concurrently enroll in this practicum course and an externship, provided there is no scheduling conflict with any of the mandatory components of this practicum.


This course is open to both J.D. and LL.M. students. This course may be suitable for part-time students with flexible work schedules. Interested part-time students should contact the current Dash-Muse Teaching Fellow to discuss their situation.

Application Process and Withdrawal Policy


Students may apply by submitting a statement of interest, a resume, and a short writing sample to Selection criteria may include: a demonstrated interest in human rights, an ability to work independently and in a group, cross-cultural competence, and strong research, writing, and communication skills.

J.D. students who apply by 5 P.M. on April 8th will be informed of HRI’s decision on their application by April 23rd. These admitted students will be required to accept or decline the offer by 5 P.M. on April 25th. Applications received after April 8th (including from LL.M. students) will be considered on a rolling basis until 5 P.M. on July 26th or until all seats are filled.

Students who accept the offer to join the course will be directly enrolled.

Enrolled students will have one week (7 days) after the date of offer acceptance to drop the course without requesting permission. After that time, a student may drop the course only with permission granted by the practicum professors and the Assistant Dean for Experiential Education. Permission may be granted only if remaining in the course would cause significant hardship to the student.