Law students explore human rights after conflict at Oxford University

By Connor Ballif Arrington

The world is integrating with accelerating speed–social, political and economic problems we once thought were thousands of miles away are beginning to affect each of us. Local problems are becoming global and global problems are haunting us on the local front.

With this backdrop, I was honored to participate in the week-long workshop of the 2018 Oxford Human Rights Consortium in March at Oxford University. Not only did it educate and inform us on the transnational concepts of justice and human rights, it also specifically offered space for participants to engage with local problems and local solutions in a manner which offered potential answers to shared global challenges.


I was one of four S.J. Quinney College of Law students selected to participate in this year’s workshop on Human Rights in Conflict and Peace Building. The others were 3L Walter Mason, 2L Clancey Henderson, and 1L Tim Nielsen. We stayed at Hertford College and the workshop took place at Magdalen College, which is one of the oldest of 37 Oxford colleges. The workshop concluded with—what felt like—a   regal medieval banquet where each participant was recognized and received a certificate of completion with the Oxford logo.

The Oxford Consortium is a partnership between Oxford University and several U.S. universities, three of which are PAC-12 schools, including the University of Utah. Each year the workshop gathers a select group of students from the participating U.S. universities committed to dialogue with Oxford and U.S. faculty about human rights in all of their complexities.

Deen Chatterjee, a senior fellow at the College of Law, who is a faculty director at the Oxford Consortium, convened several study sessions in the weeks leading up to the workshop and travelled with us as a member of the Consortium teaching team.

“The University of Utah has plans for an expanded engagement with Oxford via the Consortium, thanks to the support of the U faculty, administrators, and various units,” said Chatterjee.

I found the Oxford experience incredibly energizing and inspiring, as did the rest of us. “The Consortium was an amazing experience.  I was humbled by the faculty and students alike,” said Tim Nielsen of his experience. “It was an honor to converse and collaborate with global human rights leaders both present and future.”

Likewise, for Walter Mason, it was one of the most significant highlights of his entire educational career. Participation in the Oxford Consortium provided him “the wonderful combination of being surrounded by inspirational peers, learning from world-class lecturers, and enjoying the cultural exchange of international study—all while being engrossed in understanding the gravest problems of humanity and discovering our unique contributions to their solutions.”

Prior to attending law school, Clancey Henderson served in the U.S. Army for nine years as an intelligence analyst and was deployed multiple times. He was named the Army Soldier of the Year in 2009. For him, the focus of the Oxford workshop brought to bare the complexities of warfare necessities, the intimacy of individual suffering among the non-combatant population, and the moral implications of diplomatic decisions.

What is more, for Clancey, the Consortium showed him that the universality of human rights does not cleanly translate to consummate rights; and where rights are in conflict, balancing is necessary to realize the ultimate purpose of preserving the inherent dignity and equality of all.

This is the message that resonated well with all four of us. The Oxford experience taught us the complex modalities of human rights, making vivid the idea that human rights are an umbrella concept with pillars of multiple applications. That is, human rights are universal in reach and contextual in application. We learned that the human rights considerations are integral to the questions of justice and equity where economic, environmental, legal, political, and security concerns play a crucial role in determining the metrics of human wellbeing locally and globally.

On the last day of the workshop, each student group was asked to consider how the ideas discussed during the week can help inform local contexts. The four of us from the law college joined together with our Utah cohorts to give a group presentation on the theme of Bringing Human Rights Home. Walter, Clancey, Tim, and I have been active in the local application of broader human rights mandates, so we enthusiastically took up the challenge.

Walter calls himself an interdisciplinary problem solver who is focused on civil litigation that improves our community. In addition to his studies in both law and business, he has interned for the Utah Supreme Court. Tim has been active in improving access to both legal and political representation for underrepresented populations and encouraging effective conflict resolution through education and constructive discourse.

Clancey was awarded the Bronze Star in 2013 for his analytic contributions in combating terrorism in Afghanistan. And I have worked on territorial disputes in Central America on behalf of the Organization of American States and also worked with the United States Agency for International Development as a member of its global tuberculosis team.

Together, our Utah team was well poised to address this broad challenge of human rights and human wrongs in its global narratives and local encounters. We had as much fun in presenting as in listening to and learning from our distinguished peer groups, along with getting feedback from our world-class faculty.

The workshop was empowering. Not only did it help offer clarity on some of humanity’s gravest problems but it also pushed us to discover our own unique contributions to potential solutions. In addition, we made lasting friendship and developed opportunities for collaboration with like-minded peers from other U.S. institutions and became acquainted with many thought-leaders from Oxford and participating U.S. universities. All this would prove invaluable in pursuing our future projects. We came back energized and inspired.

I hope every law student applies next fall for this unique experience.


About the author: Connor Ballif Arrington is a first-year law student at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. He holds a master’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution from American University in Washington D.C.