UNSW's flagship Human Rights Clinic is an international legal practice based at UNSW Law that provides students with an opportunity to run cutting-edge international and domestic human rights cases and projects. The Clinic uniquely enables students to gain the practical experience of working as a human rights lawyer for a term. Students are given substantial responsibility and autonomy over their clinic project, providing a rare opportunity to develop critical legal and professional skills under intensive supervision by leading human rights lawyers in the UNSW Law faculty.
The clinic is graded and is open to students in the final stages of their law degree. Clinic casework and projects focus on strategically advancing the rights of migrant workers, refugees and other vulnerable groups, in partnership with communities and other stakeholders.
Human Rights Clinic casework and projects typically develop or test new aspects of law, policy or practice. For example, previous students have:
- Developed the first international guide on the rights of migrant workers, which focuses on the obligations of countries of origin
- Brought a case against Australia before the UN Human Rights Committee, drafting all submissions on behalf of an Indonesian fisherman convicted of people smuggling – the first case in the world to test the lawfulness of mandatory sentencing laws under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Drafted legal submissions on behalf of asylum seekers in Australia
- Drafted comprehensive briefs on Australia’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to support the latest civil society shadow report to the UN Convention committee
- Advised leading Asian NGOs and governments on various aspects of the rights of migrant workers under international law
- Led a national coalition devising a new model for guardianship of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in Australia
- Drafted an Expert Note on migrants’ human rights for a UN human rights body
- Contributed legal frameworks and analysis for the first Global Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security
- Drafted a manual for Indonesian civil society organisations on access to the Indonesian migrant worker insurance scheme
- Made submissions to Australian Senate inquiries and to UN bodies regarding the application of international human rights law to asylum seeker issues
- Established and developed content for a wiki for solicitors and barristers Australia-wide who were defending individuals accused of people smuggling
The UNSW Human Rights Clinic is the first of its kind in any Australian law school.
Students attend the clinic two days per week (Intensive course) or one day per week (Non-Intensive course) on campus, and work intensively in pairs on their assigned clinic project(s). Students also attend a two hour weekly which addresses both the tools and critiques of human rights advocacy, enabling students to critically reflect on their clinical work and on the role of law and lawyers in advancing human rights, and develop key skills in areas such as media and oral advocacy, client interviewing, coalition-building and campaigns, law reform, and human rights reporting and fieldwork.
The Human Rights Clinic usually runs in Term 2 and Term 3. There is an application period before each intake which is advertised to students via email. Priority is given to final or penultimate year students, and to students applying for the Intensive (12 UOC) course.
"I had an amazing time at the Human Rights Clinic. Initially, I chose to do the course because I had heard great things about it from friends who had taken it, and it certainly did not disappoint. The Human Rights Clinic was an incredibly unique experience that enabled me to grow both personally and professionally in so many ways. Having always been interested in human rights, I found the Clinic to be an invaluable opportunity to put my legal knowledge into practice by engaging in real human rights work. Along the way, I developed a diverse range of new skills while sharpening existing ones. Not only did this experience help improve my interviewing, drafting, analytical and public speaking skills, but it also provided me with substantial insight into the world of human rights lawyering and policy work. I also highly appreciated that it exposed us to all aspects of the reality of human rights work, including its challenges...The UNSW Human Rights Clinic is definitely one of the best subjects I have ever taken at law school, and I cannot recommend it enough."
Phoebe Wang – Semester 1, 2018
"The Human Rights Clinic has been the most meaningful and inspirational experience during my time at UNSW. It has given me the skills, confidence and inspiration to forge a future career as a human rights lawyer."
Mayuri Santhakumar – Semester 1, 2018
“My semester at the Human Rights Clinic has been my most influential and worthwhile law school experience. In the Clinic, you do not merely learn the law, but work to test and change the law. By working on an actual legal project that involved a United Nations treaty body, my time at the Clinic allowed me to effect positive change for our client. Further, throughout the semester I was assisted in developing my professional skills and was exposed to the practical, ethical and theoretical aspects of human rights advocacy. The Clinic has left an indelible mark on me, and I believe it is a priceless experience for those wanting to pursue a career in human rights or public interest law.”
Caitlin Healey-Nash – Semester 2, 2016
“The Human Rights Clinic was the single most rewarding experience of my university career to date. It challenged my skills in speaking, writing, research and interacting with others and I believe that I came out the other side as an improved student with the ability to communicate with brevity and clarity. It exposed to me to a subject area that I had not engaged with before. It gave me the opportunity to experience what it is like to work on something that I was passionate about and produce a piece of work that was useful, that has value and that I was exceptionally proud of. The Clinic introduced me to some great people with whom I’ve formed lasting friendships but more than that, it provided me two mentors in Samantha and Bassina. The interactions I had with these women, both in and out of class, had a profound impact on me in terms of my confidence in my own abilities and how I think about my future career. I can safely say that the Clinic fundamentally changed the way I view my studies, the world and myself. I believe that in years to come, I will look back on my experience at the Clinic and see it as a pivotal point in my career.”
Georgia McGrath – Semester 2, 2016
"The Human Rights Clinic was one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experience at UNSW law school. The tasks I undertook in the Clinic equipped me with practical skills, enhanced my research ability and written work. Additionally, the weekly seminars provided a great space for thought-provoking discussion on real issues with like-minded people. The Clinic is a great start for any law student interested in human rights.”
Ashleigh Condon – Semester 2, 2016
Human Rights Clinic Projects
I have never felt more useful at university than my experience in the UNSW Human Rights Clinic. As someone not suited to conventional, classroom-style learning, the Human Rights Clinic allowed me to truly learn what it takes to start as a human rights lawyer, work in a team, and learn from outstanding supervisors. I found the work to be extremely challenging, but always felt set up for success by the support provided by my peers and supervisors. Working specifically in migration law not only gave me a thorough understanding on a human rights issue that is always in the news, but improved my drafting and legal analysis. In all honesty, I think an experience like the HRC should be a compulsory part of a law degree.”