Susan H. Farbstein

Clinical Professor of Law

Co-Director, International Human Rights Clinic


Susan Farbstein is a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic.  Her current work focuses on Southern Africa; economic, social, and cultural rights (in particular the right to education); transitional justice; litigation under the Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act; and community lawyering. She is an expert on South Africa, having worked on a variety of human rights and transitional justice issues in that country for fifteen years. Her writing has been published in scholarly journals including the Harvard Law Review and the Harvard International Law Journal, as well as more popular outlets including The New York Times and SCOTUSBlog. She was selected by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as one of the Commonwealth’s “Top Women of Law” in 2015.

Farbstein served as co-counsel in In re South African Apartheid Litigation, a suit against major multinational corporations for aiding and abetting human rights violations committed by the apartheid state. She is also co-counsel in Mamani v. Sanchez de Lozada, which brings claims against the former Bolivian president and defense minister related to a 2003 civilian massacre. She participated in litigating Wiwa v. Shell, which charged Shell with complicity in the torture and killing of non-violent Nigerian activists in the mid-1990s and successfully settled in 2009. Farbstein was honored as finalist for the 2010 Public Justice Trial Lawyer of the Year Award for her work on the Wiwa case. She has authored numerous amicus curiae briefs, including to the Supreme Court in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (on behalf of legal history scholars), Presbyterian Church of Sudan v. Talisman (on behalf of international law scholars), and Samantar v. Yousuf (on behalf of human rights organizations).

Over the past fifteen years, Farbstein has engaged on a range of transitional justice issues in South Africa, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Rwanda, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola, Myanmar, Thailand, and Argentina. Her recent projects focus on advancing the right to equitable, quality education guaranteed by South Africa’s constitution; seeking accountability for apartheid-era abuses in South Africa; and recommending options for post-harm assistance to civilian survivors of the armed conflict in South Sudan. Her prior projects have helped enshrine economic, social, and cultural rights in Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution, and promoted policy reform and accountability to improve civilian protection and change military behavior in Myanmar.

Farbstein has a strong interest in clinical pedagogy and received the Harvard President’s Innovation Fund for Faculty Grant in 2011-2012. Building on this interest, between 2012-2014 she developed and implemented a training and exchange program on clinical pedagogy with practitioners and academics in South Africa. She also actively supports and mentors students pursuing human rights careers, including by serving as an attorney advisor for the law school’s Office of Public Interest Advising.

Before joining the Harvard Law School faculty in 2008, Farbstein worked at the Cape Town office of the International Center for Transitional Justice. Prior to that, she clerked for the Honorable Morris E. Lasker of the Southern District of New York. She holds a B.A. from Princeton University, an M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

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