Essex’s world-leading Human Rights Centre is celebrating 40 years of pioneering research and ground-breaking academic work.

The centre boasts a rich and diverse alumni, all of which are now making a real difference in the world and upholding the core values and principles of human rights.

From working with high profile organisations such as the UN and national governments, to global charities such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, our former students are using the skills and knowledge they learned from the Human Rights Centre to support communities across the world.

As part of a new series of blogs, we’ve been catching up with some of our alumni to see what they’re up to now, and how our Human Rights Centre helped shape them for their successful careers:

Brian Griffey (LLM International Human Rights 2009-2010)

Brian Griffey

Originally from the west coast of America, Brian worked with Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch before studying at Essex to further his understanding of human rights.

“I was amazed by the depth and comprehensiveness of each of the courses,” says Brian, whose interest in human rights was peaked while he was studying racial discrimination in the US as part of his BA History and Social Sciences.

“The brilliantly curated extracurricular opportunities of the HRC - alongside Essex's profound human rights courses and readings, in-depth seminars, challenging written assignments and tests, and the community of practice both of our fellow students and distinguished professors - helped me not only to learn new skills and technical expertise, but also to operationalize all the professional experiences I had from previous work prior to my studies.

“It felt as though I suddenly understood in much greater dimension and depth all of the aspects of the human rights project that I had been working within for years, though previously only with a partial view and understanding of the history, technicalities, and new directions of the movement as we moved forward in the midst of it.”

From Essex to the United Nations

After graduating, Brian took up a short role with the UNDP in New York before moving to Nepal and working with the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCH).

His work there saw him monitor protests and the situations of refugees; conducting prison visits and legal observation in Supreme Court hearings; advising on transitional justice measures and mechanisms; investigating attacks on minority communities and journalists by State and non-State actors; training peacekeepers on IHRL and IHL.

Brian has since worked in eastern Europe, as well as back home at the time of the Trump administration, where he served as Amnesty International's Regional Researcher and Advisor for North America, based in Washington.

This included working on both sides of the US/Mexico border, as well as global human rights issues such as homelessness and protecting right to health, to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Brian has since moved to Geneva where he now works as a Human Rights Officer in the Special Procedures branch of the Office of the United Nations.

“In all of my professional experiences, I have drawn and relied on not only the body of knowledge I developed at Essex and the professional experiences I had since then, but also the network of dear friends and colleagues from Essex, who were coincidentally represented at every workplace I have had in my post-Essex professional life,” Brian continues.

“Those networks have been helpful for reaching out to the right advocacy contacts in some cases, gaining local insights at a duty station, or even just to seek advice on a challenging human rights problem in order to develop the strongest analysis and recommendations possible to address it.

“The Essex family remains a vital touchstone today in my professional life.”