Satter Fellowship recipients battling for human rights and peace

Three young lawyers out in the world are among the country's best and brightest, and are determined to help people in countries that have patterns of severe human rights abuse and/or mass atrocities.   

All three are recent recipients of Satter Fellowships, which helped to launch and support their work on humanitarian and peace programs in the Middle East and Myanmar. According to the Satter Foundation, the Satter Human Rights Fellowship, launched 10 years ago and housed within the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law, deploys students and graduates to areas around the world that are facing urgent mass atrocities.   These fellows work with on-the ground organizations to apply their knowledge and expertise to some of our most crucial challenges. 

Peter Stavros, C. Danae Paterson and Marian Ingrams, all Harvard Law School graduates, took time out to discuss their work and lives in various parts of the world.

Peter Stavros


Stavros started his Satter Fellowship working with UNICEF out of Amman, Jordan. His focus was on the protection of children, particularly refugees from Syria, of which there are an estimated 650,000 in the country.

While he was helping the UNICEF operations in the refugee camps, Stavros also contributed to the implementation of the country's first dedicated juvenile justice law.

"Before this bill, Jordan had a lot of gaps in its juvenile justice," Stavros said. "Minors who came into contact with the law were for all intents and purposes treated as adults."  This included their passage through the courts and sentencing.  Advocates pushed for change and a law passed the legislature. Passage is one thing, implementation is another, the 25-year-old explained.

He worked with members of the judiciary, lawyers and the bar associations; and also received advice and guidance from other UNICEF offices in the region.

One element of the new law, Stavros explained, is dispute resolution and mediation. The traditional Bedouin culture does have a process where if someone is wronged senior clan members gather, talk the problem over, then likely forgive the perpetrator and move on.

"That kind of communal forgiveness is great, but it is not mediation," Stavros said. 

The new law means those juvenile found to have committed wrongdoing must do something for their actions, even if it is public service.

The key, according to Stavros, is to get the players on board, particularly the police. If the police at the local level are not supportive, then little will happen, he said.

Juvenile justice is particularly important in Jordan, not least because the country has one of the highest percentages of refugees per capita in the world.

"There (are) a lot of vulnerable people who live in Jordan and with vulnerability comes a lack of stability," Stavros said.

Among refugees, 45 percent are under the age of 18; there is little gainful employment; and many older male teenagers are out and about, walking the streets, trying to live and hustling for what they can make.  

"Naturally that attracts the law," Stavros said. "If there is no specialized way of dealing with them, that is a problem."

Stavros, who is from Canada, admits working with legal professionals in Jordan is challenging in terms of communication, expectations of work and even what might be considered a crime.

While most lawyers and child protection advocates will argue strongly against forced marriage of sometimes pre-teen females, which is illegal, there is some pushback from within the legal profession, he said.

Overall, it is best to adjust expectations, Stavros said, adding that the new law is great but probably not sufficient in the U.S. It is best to work in context without drawing an image of perfection, he said.

Stavros began working with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) during his fellowship, which ended in August this year. He is now a staff attorney with IRAP.

He works on refugee advocacy and individual case work, helping people understand the process and their rights, and helping them move forward. His organization is also involved in litigation against the Trump administration over its refugee policies, while engaging with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security.

IRAP has assisted thousands of people in the resettlement process. When Stavros started work in this area in May, there were new policies on refugees coming out of Washington. Since then many individual cases have stalled with Syrian refugees effectively banned from the U.S.

It makes little sense to Stavros, who described the refugees as incredibly well vetted by multiple UN agencies even before they attempt to receive security clearance from the U.S.

"We continue to put people in the pipeline, but the end of that pipeline is blocked," said Stavros, who said his journey to this work was an evolution that combined his interest in international law and other cultures with wanting to do something practical on the ground.

C. Danae Paterson


C. Danae Paterson works for the Public International Law and Policy Group, a Washington D.C.-headquartered pro-bono global law firm. It offers free legal assistance to state and non-state actors on developing peace processes, and to international tribunals pursuing war criminals.

Paterson is currently working on one of the most pressing issues of our time - peace in Syria. She works mainly out of Istanbul, where many of the Syrian opposition are based. But Paterson travels widely to Doha, Geneva, Stockholm and southern Turkey to meet other players, both political and military, playing a role in the nascent  peace process.

At a young age, Paterson is close to the center of a deeply complicated and deadly serious global issue.

On the one hand, there are the Russia, Iran and Turkey-brokered ceasefire talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, which are being attended by Syrian government representatives and some opposition groups. On the other, in Geneva, the UN is attempting to also thrash out an agreement. 

Paterson spends much of her time in Geneva, working with clients within the Syrian opposition to prepare them between each round of talks.  

The experience, she said, has had a profound impact on her.

 All involved have been impacted directly and personally by the conflict, and that is true of every Syrian she meets.

Despite the mammoth problems, many in the opposition often remain optimistic, she said, adding that these are greatly inspired individuals from widely different backgrounds. 

"They have tenacity, resilience in the face of truly unimaginable obstacles," Paterson said. "They are carrying on in (the) face of immense challenges." She describes her work as a "privilege and honor."

While knowing for a long time that she wanted to be a lawyer, it was exposure during her undergraduate years to mass atrocities that first led Paterson to lose sleep over what she could possibly do to combat something so immense. 

Then came Luis Gabriel Moreno Ocampo, the International Criminal Court's first prosecutor and currently a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. Paterson was inspired after meeting him, and went on to work with the peace corps and spent time in Rwanda.

Armed with a legal degree, Paterson believes she can have a more powerful voice and use it to advance human rights.

Marian Ingrams

Marian Ingrams spent time in Myanmar on her Satter Fellowship. She worked with a U.S.-headquartered NGO on land reform, particularly the transfer of land to households headed by women.

In Myanmar, there is a history of land grabs by the military dictatorships or closely affiliated companies and individuals, and a deep history of abuse of land rights, said Ingrams, adding it particularly affected ethnic minority groups in a widely diverse country of more than 100 ethnic groups.

Her work included advising on legislation in parliament, including advising on appropriations, titling and land rights for women. She was also focused on advising different regional governments; going out into the field to meet with officials, advocacy groups and community representatives; and then trying to link groups together.

Ingrams describes it as an "inspiring experience" to work in Myanmar, which she describes as a complex country with deep history and with a diverse government, most trying to bring about positive change.

Working with the communities, she said, was "just amazing, such an energy for change after the 2015 election of the new government, such energy for addressing rights and promoting a new democracy."

But there were huge challenges. Conditions varied but most of those in the villages were poor, living in unstable thatched houses prone to flooding.

Then there were those days when she witnessed land handed over to the people, more than 1,000 acres transferred in title -- all to women.

"It was amazing seeing people honestly winning the lottery, having 3 acres when they previously had no access to land," Ingrams said. "Their eyes lit up."

Ingrams has thoughts on the dangers of societies developing so that those living in rural poverty are forced into the cities' slums and also how agricultural workers who do not own their own land often have the worst nutrition. Owning land is key on both fronts, she argues.

She had been to Myanmar prior to her more recent extended visit. It was "thought provoking," she said, adding that it spurred her to return as an attorney to help combat those lingering civil and human rights abuses. The Satter Fellowship grant enabled her to do so.

These young lawyers armed with a degree from Harvard and support from the Satter Fellowship enthusiastically take on the challenge of working in these critical areas of need, and are part of a larger network of experienced and dedicated human rights leaders around the world.