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A safe haven for human rights work

The law school’s focus on human rights work and justice continues to expand as global scholar, Dr. Mihreteab Tsighe Taye, joins the faculty.

Taye, a native of Ethiopia, came to UB through the university’s Scholars at Risk fellowship program, which provides a safe and supportive academic home to scholars who face threats in their country of origin.

“We are very fortunate to have Dr. Taye join us this fall,” says Professor James Wooten, vice dean for research and faculty development. “He is a gifted young scholar who has done highly regarded research on the creation and development of regional international courts in Africa. He also has expertise in international commercial law, criminal law and human rights law that will be welcome additions to our curricular offerings in these areas.”

Taye’s academic background includes a Ph.D. in law from the Center of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts) at Copenhagen University, an LL.M. in international law from Erasmus University Rotterdam, and a bachelor of laws degree from Addis Ababa University. Most recently he was a postdoctoral fellow at New York University and a researcher at NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. At UB Law, he will teach courses on international commercial arbitration and comparative regional human rights systems, and will continue his research into the workings of international courts.

You’ve studied at universities in Addis Ababa; Rotterdam; Trento, Italy; Copenhagen; and now New York City and Buffalo. What have you gained in perspective by continuing your scholarly work in the United States?

Studying at various universities across different countries has given me a unique and diverse perspective on scholarly work. Continuing my studies in the United States, specifically in New York City, has exposed me to a rich academic environment with a global outlook. Interacting with scholars from diverse backgrounds and engaging in cross-cultural discussions has broadened my understanding of international issues and human rights on a global scale. Additionally, the U.S. education system’s emphasis on critical thinking has enriched my research, allowing me to approach complex problems from various angles.

Your appointment at the law school comes through UB’s Scholars at Risk program, which welcomes those at risk of persecution in their homelands. How does that risk present itself in Ethiopia?

The risk of persecution in Ethiopia manifests in several ways, particularly for those who advocate for human rights and engage in scholarly work that challenges the status quo. Academics and researchers who address sensitive topics or expose human rights violations face threats to their personal safety and academic freedom. In the past two years, the risk of persecution has been deeply concerning, particularly regarding academics targeted based on their ethnicity, as seen during the conflict involving the Tigray region. The government’s military campaign against Tigray gave rise to alarming instances of discrimination, arrest, harassment and even loss of life among Tigrayan intellectuals and academics. The conflict led to a distressing environment where those of Tigrayan ethnicity, including scholars, were unfairly singled out and subjected to grave violations of their rights. Many were arbitrarily arrested, detained or worse, highlighting the severe curtailment of academic freedom and the broader erosion of human rights.

This grim reality underscores the critical importance of initiatives like UB’s Scholars at Risk program, which offers a safe haven for academics at risk and serves as a beacon of hope amid such challenges. Institutions like UB Law affirm the fundamental value of knowledge, dialogue and the unimpeded pursuit of understanding by providing a platform for persecuted scholars to continue their work. Moreover, they shed light on the urgency of advocating for human rights, justice and equality within Ethiopia and on a global stage.

What academic resources does UB Law offer that you wouldn’t be able to take advantage of at other institutions?

The academic resources offered at UB are distinctive and set it apart from other institutions. The program’s strong focus on law and society, along with its specialization in international and cross-border aspects of law, and human rights, will provide me with a unique scholarly experience. What truly stands out is the diverse and distinguished faculty members who possess vast expertise and real-world insights, enriching the educational journey.   Moreover, UB Law’s commitment to fostering practical skills through clinics, and interdisciplinary collaboration through research centers like The Baldy Center, presents an exceptional opportunity. The chance to engage in hands-on learning, working on real cases and projects, will significantly enhance my scholarly work. This combination of specialized focus, faculty excellence and practical exposure makes UB Law an institution where I can access academic resources that are truly unparalleled.

You have several major research projects ongoing, on backlash against the African international courts; lawyers who have left Africa for the United Kingdom and the United States; and land claims by indigenous peoples in Tanzania. Will you focus on one of these projects during your term at UB Law?

At UB Law, I plan to focus on the research project that aligns most closely with the institution’s academic priorities and the pressing issues in the field of human rights law and international courts. While all three projects are important, at UB I will focus on my research on international courts, specifically the African Human Rights Court and the East African Community Court. I’ll examine Tanzania and Rwanda’s engagement with these courts, shedding light on state behavior toward international human rights institutions and their impact on regional human rights protection.

Your expertise and experience is largely in human rights work. Are you confident that the rule of law will eventually prevail in places where basic human rights have been curtailed?

Despite the challenges and setbacks, I remain hopeful that the rule of law will eventually prevail in places where fundamental human rights have been curtailed. History has shown that societies can progress toward greater respect for human rights and justice. The efforts of human rights advocates, legal scholars and global institutions play a crucial role in promoting accountability and advocating for positive change. By continuing to address human rights issues through research, advocacy and education, we can contribute to a collective momentum toward a world where human rights are universally upheld and respected. While the path may be arduous, the persistence and dedication of individuals and organizations working in this field give me hope for a better future.