Ruth Cormican

A graduate of NUI Galway, Ireland, her 2016-2017 Fulbright-University of Notre Dame LL.M. Award in International Human Rights Law focuses on human rights issues arising in the context of international and internal armed conflict.

“One month into my time at Notre Dame, and I’m still finding it slightly surreal to see shamrocks, leprechauns, and “Go Irish!” emblazoned everywhere I go. And yet I’m actually the first Irish student to be admitted to the LL.M. programme in International Human Rights Law here, an opportunity made possible thanks to Fulbright’s support. There are 22 of us altogether, from a total of 19 different countries (our current class profiles can be viewed here.) Many of my classmates have already practiced human rights law in their home countries for several years, and the breadth of experience and variety of perspectives that they bring to the programme is just one of its many strengths.

This curriculum encompasses mandatory modules on core areas of human rights law and practice, along with elective modules in our particular interest areas. This semester I am taking mandatory courses in Foundations of International Human Rights Law, International Law, Accountability for Gross Human Rights Violations, and Human Rights Research and Writing, along with an elective in International Environmental Law. I will have the chance to take several more electives during the spring semester. My professors are at the tops of their respective fields: one is a former President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for example, while another played a central role in negotiating the recent peace agreement in Colombia. US law schools tend to emphasise student engagement and interaction, so we are encouraged to talk to our professors one-on-one about their experiences and expertise. Interdisciplinary work is also prioritized, and we have the option of taking modules with other faculties over the course of the year such as the institutes for International Studies and for Peace Studies.

This is one of the longest-running and best-respected LL.M. programs in human rights law. It has an alumni network of over 300 lawyers in more than 85 countries all over the world, many of whom now hold senior positions in major human rights bodies. Beyond studying legal theory, it places a strong emphasis on developing the skills necessary to work in human rights in practice. I have wanted to study at a US law school for a long time, and the experience so far has more than lived up to my expectations. Not only is the law taught in a very different way here, but the level of resources and the range of events open to students is truly phenomenal. Just last week, the Law School hosted a conversation with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There are also lunchtime seminars and debates almost every day of the week, at which the promise of a free lunch is just an added bonus!

Attending a US law school, and especially being at the Center for Civil and Human Rights here at Notre Dame, is already enhancing my understanding of human rights law and practice. I am gaining an awareness of the vast array of challenges to human rights worldwide, while also having the chance to focus on the specific areas most important to me. I hope that my time here will allow me to gain the skills necessary to become an effective practitioner, and to forge valuable academic and professional for the future. Although it’s only been a few weeks, I’m already starting to appreciate how important this award will be for advancing my career – the fact that I am here as a Fulbright student has already facilitated introductions with staff and other students at Notre Dame, and the prestige associated with Fulbright is even more striking here than it is at home.

It’s not all work, fortunately – I’m also trying to take advantage of the many social opportunities here, and already went to my first American football game! I will be sorry to have to come home next summer, but I know that this year will be of lasting value to me academically, professionally and above all personally.”