Human Rights Research, Advocacy, and Education
In honor of Robert and Helen Bernstein’s deep commitment to human rights, the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at NYU School of Law promotes participatory research, education, and advocacy on human rights issues around the world, with a focus on advancing legal empowerment and defending dissent.
The Institute, with Professor of Clinical Law Margaret Satterthwaite ’99 as faculty director and Sukti Dhital as Executive Director, supports community-driven justice initiatives at the Law School and University, and acts as the coordinating hub for existing human rights work at NYU.
Our Focus Areas
Legal Empowerment Learning Lab
Check out our updated Legal Empowerment Learning Lab website! The work of the Lab is now accessible through a living resource library with distillations of sessions, information about participants, icebreaker videos, and more.
The Lab is a groundbreaking workshop with participants hailing from all around the globe committed to advancing research and learning around legal empowerment with a focus on participatory methods.
Article: Offering legal advice must not be illegal
Co-authored by Rohan Pavuluri, Co-founder of Upsolve and the American Justice Movement; Devon Simmons, Project Director of the Paralegal Pathways Initiative at Columbia Law School; and Sukti Dhital, Executive Director of the Robert and Helen Bernstein Institute for Human Rights.
"Legal fees are akin to a modern-day poll tax, one that four out of every five low-income Americans can’t afford. And if you try to defend yourself in court? Then you’re faced with modern-day literacy tests — legal forms designed to be too complicated for anyone but lawyers to understand. This injustice is one of the most urgent civil rights violations of our time, but it’s more than that. It’s also a human rights violation, happening right here in America."
Critical Legal Empowerment in the United States: Strategies for Community-Built Justice
Thank you for joining us for Critical Legal Empowerment—a series of community action workshops, panel sessions, and music to uplift the knowledge that comes from lived experience. Community activists, attorneys, law students, researchers, and justice allies from all over the world shared their experiences in advancing critical legal empowerment, an approach that embraces community-based efforts to redistribute legal power and demands space for communities to engage directly in legal work and the legal profession.
Rooted in heart, wisdom, and collective-problem solving, our incredible community of speakers shared concrete lessons on how accompaniment, community driven litigation, community paralegals, and the building of alternative structures create space for community participation. They also discussed challenges in a legal system and legal profession that actively harms and silences community voice. In response, we explored strategies to reform existing regulations and create partnerships between communities and attorneys that are grounded in trust, humility, and collaboration. Our work is just beginning.
Visit the conference site to check out the recordings, learn about critical legal empowerment, and stay tuned for articles co-written by our collaborators as part of the NYU Law Review's annual symposium volume. Join us as we build a US network for critical legal empowerment!
Watch our Jailhouse Lawyer Initiative's Event,
Clemency: Justice Solutions from the Inside Out
Clemency is a tool relied on by incarcerated people to gain release from unjust prison sentences. Join NYU School of Law’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) in partnership with the Legal Empowerment and Advocacy Hub (LEAH) for a panel exploring how jailhouse lawyers and justice-impacted people have led movements for freedom through clemency. The event features formerly incarcerated human rights defenders, Jhody Polk, Jason Hernandez, Alejo Rodriguez, and Monique Baker who will share insights on clemency as a tool of empowerment and a pathway to freedom at the state and federal level. Panelists will reflect on the role and power of narrative in the clemency process, share insights on how jailhouse lawyers are on the frontline of this justice work, and discuss ways for attorneys and law students to be better partners and allies in achieving justice from the inside out.
The event is part of the Jailhouse Lawyers Initiative (JLI), a national project of LEAH and a core legal empowerment project of the Bernstein Institute that aims to re-conceptualize the role of jailhouse lawyers as agents of empowerment.
A Virtual Teach-In on Community Legal Advocates
Our most recent Justice Power teach-in focused on how community legal advocates advance the rights of migrants and refugees in the US and around the globe. Often referred to as community paralegals in the global context, these paraprofessionals provide legal representation and information to migrant and refugee clients and communities, making access to justice more accessible to communities that cannot access lawyers.
Hosted on November 4th at 2pm on Zoom, this event was joined by panelists Michele Pistone (Professor of Law), Charles Widger (School of Law and Founding Faculty Director of VIISTA), and staff from Kito Cha Sheria in Kenya. Our own Sukti Dhital from the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights moderated.
At "Human Rights in Hong Kong," organized and hosted by the Bernstein Institute, human rights activists and lawyers at the epicenter of the unfolding crisis in Hong Kong shared reflections and strategies on the role international advocacy can play in supporting a pro-democracy movement.
The Justice Power Project is a joint effort of the Bernstein Institute, UNHCR and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU Law to document legal empowerment strategies used by various immigration organizations. This video on the "Pro Se Legal Clinic" strategy features the organization New Sanctuary Coalition.
Hear from our 2021 fellow, Rebecca Guterman as she reflects on her Masiyiwa-Bernstein Fellowship. Through her work at Beyond Legal Aid, she practices community empowerment.