Document Type


Publication Date



Law reform, Death penalty, Clinical legal education


Human Rights Law | Legal Education


Human rights advocacy in foreign countries raises complex ethical, moral, and political questions. Legal scholars have challenged the legitimacy and accountability of international human rights activists that impose foreign agendas on local partners in the Global South. Development economists have raised related concerns about the impact of foreign assistance on government accountability. In this article, I use narrative storytelling techniques to illustrate the fraught strategic judgments and moral choices that permeate human rights advocacy. These narratives are drawn from my international human rights clinic’s twelve-year engagement in justice reform work in Malawi, where my students and I have been instrumental in the release of nearly 300 prisoners from Malawian prisons. Over more than a decade, we have periodically fallen prey to cultural misperceptions and ethical dilemmas that threatened to derail our success. The lessons derived from these experiences underscore the value of a long-term, incremental approach to human rights advocacy that prioritizes deep collaboration over short-term success.