Research project

Arbitrary Detention Redress Unit

Principal Investigator
Dr Matthew Gillett and Dr Sabina Garahan
United Nations building

The Human Rights Centre Clinic will run an Arbitrary Detention Redress Unit (ADRU) this academic year under as a stand-alone project. The ADRC team will work under the supervision of Dr. Matthew Gillett and Dr Sabina Garahan. Dr Gillett is a United Nations Special Mandate holder, as an expert member and Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Dr Garahan is an expert on protections against arbitrary detention in international human rights law.

Arbitrary detention is a human rights violation. It is prohibited under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It can constitute a gateway to further violations, including torture, enforced disappearances, and violations of fair trial rights. Thousands of people around the world are subjected to arbitrary detention every year, including human rights defenders, journalists, and members of civil society organisations.

Over the course of the year, the ADRU team will work with Dr Matthew Gillett, Dr Sabina Garahan, and other UN experts to redress cases of alleged arbitrary detention. The team will receive specialized training on key legal and human rights concepts related to protecting people from having their freedom improperly taken from them. They will learn how to review and analyze submitted complaints of arbitrary detention, assess government responses concerning allegations of human rights violations, and research novel issues regarding detention-related human rights violations. Team members will work on real cases and help prepare briefings for country visits, including inspections of detention facilities. Team members will be required to sign non-disclosure agreements covering their work in the ADRU.

Applications for 2023-2024 are now open and will close on Monday 9 October 2023 at 5pm BST.

How to apply for 2023-24

How to apply

If you want to join the ADRC in 2023-24, please submit your application by Monday 9 October 2023 at 5pm BST to, with the subject line "Re: Arbitrary Detention Redress Unit".

The application should include three attachments: a) your CV (two pages maximum), including reference to any foreign language abilities; b) a statement (between 200 and 300 words) explaining why you want to take part in the ADRC and what you expect to learn; and c) a writing sample (max 5 pages - this can be an excerpt from a piece of university work or any other formal writing - it does not need to be written specifically for this project and can concern any topic or discipline. Additionally, it can be in English, French or Spanish).


Interviews will take place via Zoom on 11 October 2023. You would be allocated a time slot for a short conversation with Dr. Matthew Gillett and Dr Sabina Garahan.

We will communicate the decision during the week of Monday 16 October, and we expect to have the team in place late that week.

Who can apply?

  • The ADRU is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students at Essex from any discipline (it is not restricted to law and human rights students).
  • When applying for this stand-alone project, you do not need to take HU902 (but if you still wish to take the module you're welcome to apply).

Thank you for your interest in this project, and we look forward to receiving your application.

Important information

Time Committment 

You are free to apply to module-based projects and to the stand-alone arbitrary detention project at the same time, but note that this stand-alone project will require 4-6 hours of your time per week from late October to the end of June (and the module-based projects will require approximately 8-10 hours of your time per week from late October to the end of June) on top of the coursework for all other modules. We recommend you do not overstretch your commitments.

Student Activity 

You will be assigned tasks in conjunction with the cases. These tasks will include:

  • receiving specialized training on key legal and human rights concepts related to arbitrary detention
  • reviewing and analyzing complaints of arbitrary detention, as well as government responses thereto
  • researching novel issues regarding detention-related human rights violations, and discussing potential approaches to these issues within the ADRU team
  • preparing briefings on countries of particular interest in relation to arbitrary detention, and briefings of thematic issues regarding arbitrary detention
  • adhering to non-disclosure obligations

Skills and experience you'll aquire

  • you will develop exceptional skills regarding the assessment and redress of human rights violations
  • you will obtain extensive knowledge of the law and key UN human rights institutions regarding arbitrary detention
  • you will form strong research and writing skills
  • you will develop the ability to analyse, process and summarize legal texts, as well as an understanding of the requirements of confidentiality

About the working group on Arbitrary Detention 

The Working Group was established by the then Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution 1991/42, and was most recently extended by the Human Rights Council resolution 42/22 of 2019.

The group is composed of five independent experts of balanced geographical representation: Africa; Latin America; Western European and Other States (which includes New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the USA, and Israel); Eastern Europe; and Asia. UN Special Mandate holders act with independence, impartiality, and integrity.

There are three main areas of activity. First, the Working Group investigates individual complaints of arbitrary detention. In this respect, the Working Group invites responses from the relevant governmental authorities and, based on all the information received, it issues opinions as to whether the detention is arbitrary and in violation of international human rights standards. Second, the Working Group conducts country visits to assess the situation regarding detention in particular states. Third, the Working Group carries out broader inquiries into patterns of arbitrary detention and its impact.

Dr Matthew Gillett with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention during their visit to a Mexican prison
Dr Matthew Gillett leads UN visit to Mexican detention centres

Arbitrary detention, ill treatment, torture, and even executions are still occurring in Mexico, according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

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