April 25, 2014
Aminta Ossom ’09 is the Crowley Fellow in International Human Rights at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. With an ongoing interest in international issues as a first generation American, Ossom was inspired to pursue a career in human rights after taking an undergraduate course in religion and foreign policy that profiled faith-based human rights campaigns. She entered law school knowing that she wanted to work in the public interest but was torn between pursuing a career in international human rights or domestic civil rights law.
After completing internships working on children’s rights issues with the International Justice Mission and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Ossom committed to a career in international human rights work. She enrolled in the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), conducting research and advocacy for its West Africa projects as a student. Her positive experience with the IHRC led her to pursue a Frank Knox Memorial Traveling Fellowship in London, where she studied African politics for a year while volunteering at Amnesty International. Her experience there was so fulfilling that she applied for and received a Satter Fellowship to return to the organization as a legal fellow the following summer.
Ossom’s Satter Fellowship allowed her to research the national justice systems of Sierra Leone and Ghana. Living and working in both countries, she interviewed government officials and local legal experts to outline the domestic legal framework for trying crimes under international law in their national courts. Amnesty International uses the reports Ossom drafted as part of its national and international advocacy.
Ossom’s experience at Amnesty International led to her current position at the Leitner Center, where she spends most of her time organizing research and logistics for an overseas documentation project, meeting with students, and coordinating a speaker series on international human rights law. Ossom takes pleasure in working directly with students and connecting them to other professionals that work in human rights law. She also appreciates that her job allows her to travel abroad frequently; she enjoys adjusting to other cultures and environments and loves learning how the people in other countries live their lives.
Ossom recently had the opportunity to teach a seminar on disability rights for a select group of students preparing to research access to education for people with disabilities in Rwanda. This experience was particularly rewarding because it allowed her to combine her passion for student mentoring with her desire to work directly with communities suffering from human rights abuses and amplify their voice.
Ossom also advises law students to think of each job as a learning experience and to view their career development as a lifelong journey. Ossom emphasizes that students today will likely take many different jobs in a variety of practice areas over the course of their careers, and may not find the job that is the right fit for them immediately after law school. She also advises that students take advantage of any opportunities to reach out to people who work in their interest areas. For example, students should go to speaker events or lunch talks given by professionals who work in their field of interest and shouldn’t hesitate to approach the speaker afterwards to make connections and learn more about their work. In fact, Ossom recommends that you email interesting speakers after the event both to thank them for speaking and to stay abreast of relevant opportunities as you begin your career.
Ossom notes that without significant field experience, entry-level positions or opportunities for recent graduates in international law are limited. Participation in clinics and extracurricular activities, such as the Human Rights Journal, will go a long way in strengthening your resume for potential employers after law school. Finally, Ossom reminds students that they should pursue work that they truly want to do, and not to hesitate to give interesting opportunities a try.
Alumni spotlight written by OPIA Fellow Kim Schroer