Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient, Chidinma Umahi Odi Nwankwo attended the Global Human Rights Certificate Program by University of Pennsylvania  Carey Law School Global Institute for Human rights virtually from June 8 to June 19th 2020. Chidinma is an LLM Student, Class of 2020, Majoring in International and Comparative Law.

June 8 marked the beginning of a Virtual Global debate on human rights in the 21st century at the Global Human Rights Institute, University of Pennsylvania Law School. The two weeks discourse had in attendance over 100 young leaders from across the world and more than 30 distinguished renounced human rights scholars/ advocates. The theme for this years’ engagement is titled Building a new generation of Human Rights advocates. Considering that human rights are imperative for the protection and promotion of the human rights of all persons globally, the goals of the institute are of three folds:

  1. To introduce students to a rigorous study of human rights theory;
  2. To explore current and pressing human rights issues; 
  3. To expose future proponents of human rights to the ways that human rights advocacy might interact with their career, aspirations whether in law, policy, or other fields. 

Prof. Rangita de Silva de Alwis delivering the open speech to all participlants.

Since its inception, the center has been dedicated to the legacy and leadership of Nelson Mandela. Remarkably, 2020 marks the 20th anniversary for the Women, Peace, and Security agenda, a decade of action towards the sustainable development goals, the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the 25th anniversary of the 4th world conference on Women, and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. However, with the challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and the fight for racial discrimination initiated the discussion was focused on: Great Debates on Human Rights in the 21st Century in a Time of Covid-19.

In his Keynote speech in the second week, His Excellency, Ambassador Matthew Numetz focused on his role as a United Nations representative for the renaming dispute between Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia. He has dedicated 24 years towards finding a peaceful and sustainable solution to the problem. In his speech, he highlighted four solutions: –

  • Use of names and words count – the use of names is important and has its implications.
  • Process- It is important to have an important process as a human rights advocate. The process must respect the people.
  • The idea of timing- Not everything can be solved at a time. Keep the relationship going, build trust in the process and wait for the right time
  • The willingness of the people to accept the compromise. Remember that name is about heritage and identity.

Although I wished the events were in-person, the organizers were able to produce an innovative engagement by adopting the use of storytelling and design thinking as a tool to solve some of the complex social problems discussed in class. The course schedule was divided into twenty-five modules that examined the intersection of human rights and other broad areas using the different treaties, laws, and stories of practitioners in the field. On the final day of the engagement, my group (Group 4) presented on the representative of the United Nations a Policy Memo: Human Rights Legal Education for Girls/Women. Our policy Memo was focused on The aim of the policy report is to illustrate the need for promoting the human right of women and girls and to create awareness about the existence of such rights. An Attempt will be made to examine the legal provisions of some nationals law, international treaties, and various conventions.


Cover page of the policy memo to the representative of the United Nations – Antonio Cisneros on the Human Rights Legal Education for Women/Girls

As a human rights lawyer interested in Women’s rights and policy development, I am aware of the cultural inequalities, low compliance to laws, lack of accountability by different actors that have hindered the equal participation of women in the society and enhanced the perpetration of violence against women. My experience at the Global Human Rights Institute has inspired my change-making journey towards conducting further research on the protection of the rights of women titled “SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND GENDER INEQUALITY: AN APPRAISAL OF THE PROTECTION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN FOR A PEACEFUL AND INCLUSIVE SOCIETY IN AFRICA”. As we may know, Sexual violence against women is a human rights violation that affects the economic, social, and political welfare of every country. It is peculiar to all women globally regardless of their race, class, religion, marital status, and age whether in times of peace or conflict. My current research seeks to examine sexual violence suffered by women in peace and conflict situations across Africa to ensure the protection of the rights of women using Nigeria as a focus. The bedrock of my research is  linked with the Security Council Resolution UNSCR 2467 and 2493 which recognized, that sexual violence in a conflict occurs on a continuum of interrelated and recurring forms of violence against women and girls

Three takeaways that stood out to me for my career were based on the importance of accountability as the basics of human rights, the ability to use the law as a call for social change at different just like Mandela to demand for what is concrete, and the importance of adopting an interdisciplinary approach for the promotion of human rights (whether in research, legal scholarship or advocacy).


Finally, I am encouraged as a human rights lawyer and scholar through the wise words of :

    1. Justice Sisi Khampepe – the journey I have travelled has taught me that you must never let adverse cicumstances define your destiny.
    2. Phumzile Mlambo – Ngcuka,  Nelson Mandela dedicated his life trying too find the goodness in people that could change the way they are, unlike a lamb in your body, racism is not something that is attached to us. We can actually unlearn it although it is hard.
    3. Prof. Rangnita de Silva de Awila – Women’s bodies are contested spaces where collisions of human rights takes place.
    4. Dr. Monde Muyangwa – It should  not take conflict for women to be acknowledged in Politics.
    5. The african Proverb “UBUNTU” – I am because we are.