The Importance of Field Work in International Human Rights

As someone with experience studying and working in the international human rights space, dedicating an entire quarter to the Clinic was what I had most looked forward to in law school. While our Clinic supervisors had aptly prepared three incredibly robust and interesting projects to choose from, I was immediately drawn to spending the quarter working on access to justice issues for migrants going through the Darién region. Despite not having much knowledge or experience related to the topic, I understood it was an issue at the nexus between many intersecting human rights issues, legal bodies, countries, and stakeholders, so I was teeming with excitement to delve into the project.

International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic 13
Students Anna Howell, ’24, Dorna Movasseghi, ’25, and Jennifer Ellie Farrin, ’25.

Our team spent weeks researching the history and trajectory of migration, speaking with journalists, experts, and lawyers to get up to speed on all of the intricate, moving parts encompassed by the Darién Gap. The goal was to plan a delegation to Panamá with our partner organization to speak to government officials and local and international NGOs and spend time at the migrant camps to cultivate an accurate picture of the barriers to justice that migrants face on their journey through one of the most traversed routes in the world.

While our time here at the Clinic space was valuable, the time spent in Panamá quickly revealed that human rights work does not lend itself to the neat pursuits of working at a desk. Without being on the ground, speaking with local officials, and surveying the conditions of the camps in person, our work would have ultimately been an inaccurate imagination of what needed to be done.

It will be an experience that indelibly affects the way I move through the field and the world around me.

The few words I am able to share here cannot begin to capture the impact this experience had on me, not only during my active time on the project but even after the Clinic had ended. It has imparted upon me the immense importance, if not necessity, of human rights advocates engaging in mindful and deliberate practices in the countries and areas they seek to serve. Without it, the work will never truly reflect the real and pressing needs of those we are committed to further empowering, and I cannot thank IHRCRC enough for creating a space in which that work was possible. It will be an experience that indelibly affects the way I move through the field and the world around me.