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UCL Public International Law Pro Bono Project

This project brings together LLM and PhD students with a background in international law and provides them with opportunities to get first hand practical experience in public international law

PIL Pro Bono

The UCL Public International Law Pro Bono Project brings together highly motivated LLM and PhD students with a background in relevant subject areas, and provides them with opportunities to engage in cutting edge legal research, analysis and advice to assist leading international organisations in addressing some of the world’s most pressing and difficult challenges.

The Project was established with two main objectives in mind. First, by tapping into the expertise, skills and enthusiasm of our student body, the PILPBP is a means through which UCL can make an important and enduring contribution to respect for human rights around the world. Second, we aim to provide our LLM and PhD students with the opportunity to work both individually and collaboratively on issues of major practical and international importance. This helps our international law students to develop the skills necessary for them to thrive in their future careers, whether this takes them into the world of legal practice, academic research, or policy making. LLM students on the Project work in close collaboration with the PhD Co-ordinators and the Directors of the Project. This collaboration across LLM and PhD students, under the direction of UCL Laws academic staff, is an integral part of achieving the twin objectives of the PILPBP.

In 2018, the UCL Public International Law Pro Bono Project was honoured with a Provost's Education Award. The highly regarded annual awards recognise and reward UCL activities which make outstanding contributions to the learning experience and success of their students.

Current activities

The Project has a co-operation agreement with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), by way of which students are asked to provide the Court with high quality research on legal questions raised in cases as they are being litigated. The Project offers students the further opportunity of participating in the drafting of amicus curiae briefs, submitted to the IACtHR, in respect of cases on which we are not already co-operating with the Court. The Project is also representing a victim of human rights abuse in her proceedings before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. Finally, UCL has the opportunity to send up to two students to clerk at the Inter-American Court for a period of 6 months each and will be making an open call for applications in 2018.   

The PIL Pro Bono Project is also collaborating with the World Refugee Council (a non-governmental organisation established by leading global policy makers, including several former leaders of national governments and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to debate and reframe how the international community can best respond to the global refugee crisis). We are carrying our research which explores innovative ways of unlocking funds with which to support refugees around the world. 

Finally, the Project is conducting research for Redress, to assist with its preparation of a written submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Inquiry into the Human Rights Act (‘20 years of the Human Rights Act inquiry’), and will be available throughout the academic year to assist Redress with research on an as needed basis.    

Past activities

The 2017-18 PIL Pro Bono Project cohort worked on several important research projects. The Project responded to a request from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for research in respect of the case regarding Peru’s pardon of Alberto Fujimori (Barrios Altos v Perú, Monitoring Compliance with Judgments). The Project also prepared a detailed report for WRC Executives, setting out innovative ways of unlocking the frozen assets of refugee creating regimes with a view to responding to the global refugee crisis, focusing on the international and domestic legal regimes governing assets frozen in the UK. The report will form the basis of the Council’s action plan in respect of the rules governing the treatment of such assets in the UK, both in lobbying Parliament and the Security Council. In its work for the Syrian Legal Development Programme, this year’s cohort also engaged in an important ‘scoping’ exercise, analysing the extent to which various States have a legal and political environment which is receptive to refugee concerns. Students have conducted in depth research of State practice and voting patterns at the United Nations, with a view to identifying States with strong human rights records which are both sympathetic to the humanitarian situation in Syria and might be counted on to assist in respect of refugee resettlement programmes.   

The 2016-17 PIL Pro Bono Project cohort submitted an amicus brief on Ecuador’s request for an advisory opinion (regarding the Assange asylum claim and also bearing on President Trump’s travel ‘ban’) in ‘the institution of asylum in its different forms and to the legitimacy of its recognition as a human right of every individual in accordance with the principle of equality and non-discrimination’ case. A member of the IACtHR research team, along with the Pro Bono Project co-ordinator (Luis Viveros) and one of the co-directors (Kimberley Trapp) travelled to San Jose, Costa Rica in August 2017, at the invitation of the IACtHR, to participate in the oral phase of the proceedings in support of the amicus brief. The Court’s decision tracks our submission rather closely – a real credit to the students and co-ordinator who worked on the amicus brief. There was also a great deal of research conducted on the right of access to justice and its interaction with constitutional law (in particular vis à vis the separation of powers between national and autonomous indigenous authorities) – by way of preparing the ground work for a potential application to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights on behalf of a British national who was the victim of a very serious crime in Indigenous territory while on holiday in Latin America.   

Direction of the Project

The Project is co-directed by Kimberley Trapp and Alex Mills. The Project Co-ordinators are currently Luis Viveros; Ed Robinson; and Niko Pavlopoulos.

Student roles

Students go through a very competitive application process in order to participate in the PIL Pro Bono Project.  Successful applicants are assigned to one of the ‘streams’ of work we are currently undertaking – this year we are working with the IACtHR, Redress and the WRC, and opportunities with other organisations may arise during the course of the year. For each research stream, team members work in close collaboration with each other, as well as with the Co-ordinators and Directors, to produce research reports, memos and briefs tailored to the specific needs of the organisation / Court with which we are collaborating.

Students are requested to submit their written applications by e-mail to the PIL Pro Bono Project by Wednesday 10 October. 

A written application should consist of a CV (including grades for relevant international law and human rights courses) and a short (max. 400 word) statement of interest, explaining the contribution the applicant thinks they can make to the work of the Project. 

Subject to the number of applicants (which has in the past been very high) and the length of the eventual short-list, interviews may also be held for the purposes of finalising the 2018-19 PIL Pro Bono Project research teams.