Career Choice: Human Rights & International Trade Law

Career Choice: Human Rights & International Trade Law

Eun Jung (Jenny) Lee


If you have a wide range of interests and are interested in both trade and human rights, consider exploring both fields as a career. Take Honorable Delissa A. Ridgway as an example. By day, she serves as a judge for the United States Court of International Trade in New York. When she is not working, she is an advocate for human rights issues and travels all over the country to raise awareness about them.

For example, Judge Ridgway organized two panels for the 2017 Spring Meeting for the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of International Law. This meeting featured more than 60 panels and hosted notable speakers, including Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Valerie Plame, a former CIA operations officer and the author of Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.

Judge Ridgway took the opportunity at this prestigious meeting to call attention to human rights abuses against a minority group in Myanmar. The Rohingya Muslim population is a minority group that has not been officially recognized in Myanmar. The government, even after the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party in 2015, has continuously denied the Rohingyas citizenship.

The panel began by describing the plight of this minority group. The Rohingyas have been suffering human rights abuses by the Burmese military, including killings, torture, forced labor, forced displacement, religious persecution, marriage restrictions, sexual violence, and denial of citizenship.  The panel then presented a report published in early 2017 by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which stated that the violence, which “seems to have been widespread as well as systematic,” indicates the “very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The panel further discussed an issue of whether the abuses in Myanmar against the Rohingya rises to the level of genocide under the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a higher level of crime than the commission of crimes against humanity. Two of the panelists, who wrote a legal analysis for the International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, stated that even though it is not definitively conclusive, they found strong evidence that genocide is being committed against the Rohingya Muslim population. Judge Ridgway, along with other panelists, ended the panel with a strong message that the world needs to take immediate action against these human rights abuses.

Another panel Judge Ridgway organized was on the unfair treatment of former “comfort women”, who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. As sensitive as this topic may be, she fairly presented two panelists who provided divergent views to the audience. Ronald J. Bettauer, former Deputy Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State, shared his views on the U.S. government’s position; and PeiPei Qiu, a professor at Vassar College and an author of Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan’s Sex Slaves, shared the opposite view. The topics from her two panels have been, and are still, ongoing matters, and the panelists introduced the audience to the voiceless.

Judge Ridgway sets a precedent for those who are entering law school—or those with a J.D. degree for that matter—with a variety of career paths, some of which may involve ambitious goals. Whether you want to build a career by speaking for the less-privileged or making important decisions on international trade matters that could affect millions of people, you can be assured that you don’t have to choose one.

Posted in Law

Leave a Reply