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Human Rights Programs, Projects & Centers

The Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

The Academy promotes scholarly and practical approaches to human rights and humanitarian law. Each summer it hosts a session taught by world-renowned faculty and human rights practitioners from around the world, including UN Special Rapporteurs, Judges, key academics and more. Courses are taught in both English and Spanish. The Academy also runs the Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Competition, a tri-lingual (English, Spanish and Portuguese) moot court based on the Inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights. The competition brings together more than 200 law students from around the Hemisphere and around the world for a week-long competition in May. The Academy also accepts submissions for the Human Rights Essay Award from lawyers who have demonstrated an interest in the field of human rights.

Center for Environmental Filmmaking

The Center trains filmmakers to create films and new media that are effective at producing conservation and that are highly entertaining, ethically sound and educationally powerful. Its mission to promote and enable environmental and wildlife films that are vitally important educational and political tools in the struggle to protect the environment.

Center for Environmental Policy

Focusing on sustainability issues related to economic, social, and environmental concerns means that the implications of public policy and cross-sectoral collaboration are central to the CEP mission. CEP’s work will focus on three themes that, in combination, will afford it a unique niche among other environmental centers in the United States: 

  • Environmental innovation: What changes in strategies, relationships, and capacities will be necessary to cope with the existing and emerging slate of environmental problems and how may they be applied most effectively?
  • Partnerships and collaboration: What is the role of collaboration and partnerships in managing environmental problems and how may such approaches be integrated into a largely regulatory system?
  • New and emerging problems: How can existing systems for environmental governance more effectively anticipate and respond to emerging problems and to new variations on existing problems through government and collaborative efforts?


Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law was established in 1990 to provide scholarship and support for human rights initiatives in the United States and around the world. The Center works with students, academics and practitioners to enhance the understanding and implementation of human rights and humanitarian law domestically, regionally and internationally. The Center explores emerging intersections in the law and seeks to create new tools and strategies for the creative advancement of international norms. In addition to ongoing work with students, which includes skills development seminars, lunchtime learning sessions, conferences and workshops, the Center runs grant-funded projects which seek to impact and shape the global conversation around a range of key human rights issues.


Center for Social Media

The Center for Social Media showcases ways to use media as creative tools for public knowledge and action. It focuses on social documentary films and on the public media environment that support civil society and democracy. In addition to hosting film festivals, conferences and working groups, it maintains a Web site that serves as a clearinghouse of resources for filmmakers, activists and scholars. 

Community Voice Project

The Community Voice Project is a cross-campus initiative of faculty and students from the School of Communication and the College of Arts and Sciences anthropology department. The Project enhances the academic missions of SOC and CAS while showcasing ways to use media as creative tools for public knowledge and action.

Human Rights Council

Founded by SIS Professor Julie Mertus, the Council is an umbrella organization that brings together all of the many human rights activities at American University, promoting the integration of human rights issues throughout the curriculum through a small grants program, information sharing and by other direct forms of support.

Human Rights Film Series

Run jointly by the Center for Social Media and the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, the annual film series showcases documentaries that highlight key human rights issues around the globe. The series is meant to focus on the way that film and media can be used to promote and protect human rights. All screenings are free and open to the public at large and a wide variety of AU offices, student groups, programs and Centers co-sponsor the series. Filmmakers and advocacy experts are often on hand to participate in discussions after the films.

Impact Litigation Project

WCL's Impact Litigation Project seeks to promote the rule of law and democracy within the Americas through the international litigation of pivotal cases lending to promote and enhance the development and furtherance of international jurisprudence and standards. The term impact litigation describes the strategy of selecting and pursuing lawsuits as a tool to achieve broad and lasting effects, beyond the particular case involved, on both public policy and legislation. At the same time, impact litigation supports the rule of law, provides a foundation for future litigation, serves as a means for documenting human rights and other violations, promotes government accountability, and fosters public awareness and education by attracting domestic and international media attention to the important issues involved.

Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Competition

The Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Competition is the first and only Moot Court Competition in English, Spanish, and Portuguese focused on the Inter-American System for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Competition brings together over 80 teams from dozens of countries in the Americas and around the world. The annual hypothetical case is based on an issue currently being debated within the Inter-American system, and students argue the merits of this case by writing legal memoranda and preparing oral arguments for presentation in front of human rights experts. The Competition is run by the WCL Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

Investigative Reporting Workshop

The Investigative Reporting Workshop undertakes significant, original, national and international investigative reporting projects for multimedia publication or broadcast in collaboration with others, and will serve as a laboratory “incubator” to develop new economic models and techniques for conducting and delivering investigative journalism. There is no other university research center in the world examining new models for enabling and disseminating investigative reporting.

Justice Programs Office

Run through the School of Public Affairs, the Office was established to support SPA's mission of applying the tools of scholarship and professionalism to the design and management of public programs. The Justice Programs Office provides technical assistance, research, evaluation, and training services to domestic and foreign government agencies and organizations in the area of justice system operations. JPO projects address a wide range of policy, program, resource, and operational issues relating to the administration of justice, coordination of public programs, and the delivery of justice system, social and related services. The office has conducted over 1,500 technical assistance, research, training, and evaluation projects.

Kay Spiritual Life Center Table Talk Series

The Kay Spiritual Life Center strives to provide students with opportunities to express their thoughts in a respectful and productive environment and sponsors a variety of activities to this end. One such program is the Table Talk Lunch Series, in which a panel of speakers debate topics relevant to current events to encourage an instructive exchange of thoughts and ideas among students and faculty. Many of the talks focus on human rights issues and included in the series is a specific focus on Human Rights Defenders.

Kogod Global Business & Society Seminar Series

The Kogod Global Business & Society Seminar Series hosts a monthly speaker on issues associated with the relationship between business and society throughout the world. Organized by Jennifer Oetzel and Heather Elms, both Associate Professors of International Business at Kogod, the series seeks to encourage research, discussion and action. Presenters have included Doug Bosse & Robert Phillips (University of Richmond), Sinziana Doborantu, Wit Henisz, & Lite Nartey (University of Pennsylvania), Johnathan Doh (Villanova University), and Rafel Lucea (George Washington University). The series welcomes academics, practitioners and students as both presenters and attendees.

Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to correcting and preventing the conviction of innocent people in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. MAIP’s staff of four works with a dedicated Board of Directors and scores of pro bono lawyers and law students to screen and investigate the cases of prisoners who write to them. It then provides pro bono investigative and legal help in the most compelling cases, working to ensure that innocent prisoners obtain their freedom. MAIP also strives to educate judges, legislators, and the public about the causes of wrongful convictions.

National Institute of Military Justice

NIMJ was founded in 1991 to promote the fair administration of justice in the military system and to educate the public, press, and Congress about the military justice system. NIMJ sponsors programs which educate the public, press, and Congress about military law, including topics such as courts-martial reform and military commissions. NIMJ presents programs that bring together practitioners in the international community and those interested in military law. NIMJ also regularly appears in federal and military courts as amicus curiae. NIMJ strives to provide important research materials and analysis in the areas of military justice, military commissions, detainee litigation, and the law of armed conflict. NIMJ is affiliated with the Washington College of Law.

Peacebuilding & Development Summer Institute

The Peacebuilding and Development Institute provides knowledge, practical experience and skills for scholars and practitioners involved in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, humanitarian assistance and development. There are two components to the institute: one is the summer professional training program and the other is the year-round practical training, capacity building, and curriculum development programs in conflict areas.

Public International Law and Policy Program

The Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, operating as a global pro bono law firm providing legal assistance to developing states and sub-state entities involved in conflicts or post-conflict situations. PILPG draws on the volunteer services of major international law firms, and over sixty former legal advisors and former Foreign Service officers from the US Department of State and other foreign ministries. In cooperation with Professor Paul Williams of the Washington College of Law, students also have the opportunity to serve PILPG clients by completing practical and substantive work on issues of international law and policy.

School for International Service Human Rights Summer Institute

Run through the School of International Service, students can participate in this intensive, interactive program addressing the needs of students and practitioners for training in human rights advocacy.

United Nations Committee Against Torture Project

The UN CAT Project at the Washington College of Law takes participating students to the UN CAT proceedings in Geneva, Switzerland, each fall. Project participants assist in preparing for the official UN CAT meetings held in November. They also take a for-credit seminar with specialized readings and instruction on the prohibition of torture and the universal system, co-taught by WCL Dean and UN CAT Chairman Claudio Grossman.

War Crimes Research Office

The WCRO promotes the development and enforcement of international criminal and humanitarian law, primarily through the provision of specialized legal research assistance to the international and internationalized criminal courts and tribunals. Founded in 1995, the Office provided the ICTY and ICTR with legal research assistance in the areas of international criminal and humanitarian law. Before long, and as reported in the Washington Diplomat, the WCRO had “won sweeping praise for its international humanitarian and comparative criminal law projects.” Since that time, various new war crimes tribunals have been established under the auspices or with the support of the United Nations, each raising novel legal issues. This, in turn, has generated growing demands for the expert assistance of the WCRO. As a result, in addition to the ICTY and ICTR, the WCRO has provided in-depth research support to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor (Special Panels) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). In 2006, the WCRO began providing similar assistance to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). With the participation of WCL students and faculty, as well as a variety of other international experts and consultants, the WCRO completed more than 80 major research projects for international courts and tribunals around the world in its first ten years.

Women & International Law Program

WILP works to support legal scholars, students, and women’s activists around the world seeking to fully incorporate women’s human rights into legal education, doctrine, and practice. WILP is currently involved in gender and legal education initiatives in India and Latin America. WILP also works closely with the LLM International Legal Studies Programs and offers a specialization in Gender & the Law, one of the only such programs in the world.