focus november 2016 obrien fellows in residence-1888-700wClaudia Geiringer, Sarwat Bashi, Shivaun Quinlivan, Faisal Siddiqi were at the Faculty during the fall term.

This fall, the Center for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (CHRLP) hosted four outstanding human rights academics and activists as O’Brien Fellows in Residence.

By Tanya Monforte

Created in 2011 thanks to a generous gift from David O’Brien, BCL’65, the program makes it possible for human rights professionals from all over the world to come to the CHLRP, work on their projects, and enrich the intellectual life of the Faculty.

The Fellows join law courses as guest speakers, give public lectures, and meet with individual students. In addition to sharing their expertise and experiences, the O’Brien Fellows in Residence also work on developing their own professional, research or advocacy projects.

Sarwat Bashi

Sarwat BashiSarwat Bashi (email, web) is a committed activist and lawyer from Aleppo, Syria. Mr. Bashi joined the Center after his relocation from Turkey where he worked on Syrian human rights issues for the past several years.

Mr. Bashi, who has conducted field research and legal analysis for several international organizations including Human Rights Watch, is fighting what he sees as an uphill battle to inform the world about the grave human rights situation in Syria.

Mr. Bashi noted how meaningful it has been to give public lectures at McGill on the situation in Syria. As Mr. Bashi settles in Montreal, he has connected with human rights organizations and individuals working on the Syrian problem, and plans in the future to continue his research and advocacy work on Syria. “This program provided me with the opportunity to focus, with resources and connections and stability. All these factors supported me here.”

Claudia Geiringer

Claudia GeiringerAward-winning professor Claudia Geiringer (email, web) is currently on sabbatical from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, where she holds the Chair in Public Law.

She has just completed her stay at McGill and praised the generosity of the community, saying “it’s fantastic to be here to talk to people –  not just academics, but people who work for the government, people who work in private practice – to get an insider’s perspective.”

She has been working on a major research project on the New Zealand Bill of Rights and immersed herself in the local community in order to “enrich her understanding of the Canadian context.” Pointing out how influential Canadian law is in New Zealand, Professor Geiringer is visiting different universities in Canada and explains that “whenever you write about the New Zealand Bill of Rights, you need to understand something about the Canadian Charter.”

Shivaun Quinlivan

Shivaun QuinlivanShivaun Quinlivan (email, web) is an innovator in disability law, having founded the LLM in International and Comparative Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland Galway, the only one of its kind. After spending several years setting up and directing the LLM program, Dr. Quinlivan is now co-editing a volume on the “International Human Right to Inclusive Education,” which is due for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2017.  Among other things, she has been writing up a chapter on what reasonable accommodation means in the education context for people with disabilities.

Noting the conceptual challenges of her project, Dr. Quinlivan mentioned how useful it has been writing here at the Center. “Everyone has been so welcoming and generous with their time and knowledge.  This has really helped me to develop this chapter and other projects I am working on while here.”

She has noted that the close contact she has had with the other O’Brien fellows has also been helpful to “challenge your thinking.” Dr. Quinlivan will be with us through December.

Faisal Siddiqi

Faisal SiddiqiFaisal Siddiqi (email, web) is a renowned practicing lawyer specializing in human rights cases in Pakistan. When he speaks of human rights, he speaks both in the language of aspirational promise as well as of decision-making pragmatism.

This is unsurprising, given he has an impressive human rights record of working on high profile Supreme Court cases advocating for labor and educational rights and freedom from sexual assault. Likewise, in his role as an advisor to the Attorney General to Pakistan, he deepened his pragmatic understanding, explaining that “you are often choosing the best option between two bad choices.”

Discussing his time at McGill, Mr. Siddiqi described a symbiotic relationship between the Center’s utilization of his expertise and the value he derived from giving lectures. He remarked he has been able to write about topics he had been working on for many years, for example mentioning that without “giving my talk on Islamic militancy in Pakistan, I would never have put it down in words.”


The Centre and the Faculty have been greatly enriched by this diverse and engaged group of visitors. This fall term, the O’Brien Fellows in Residence have collectively offered upwards of 15 classroom and public talks, not to mention the informal meetings, activities, and engagements.

And, in all the right ways, this term is not unique.

With contributions from Sharon Webb. Photos by Lysanne Larose.