Publication Date



American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law


In settler colonial contexts, law and educational institutions operate as structures of oppression, extraction, erasure, disempowerment, and continuing violence against colonized peoples. Consequently, clinical legal advocacy often can reinforce coloniality--the logic that perpetuates structural violence against individuals and groups resisting colonization and struggling for survival as peoples. Critical legal theory, including Third World Approaches to International Law (“TWAIL”), has long exposed colonial laws and practices that entrench discriminatory, racialized power structures and prevent transformative international human rights advocacy. Understanding and responding to these critiques can assist in decolonizing international human rights clinical law teaching and practice but is insufficient in safeguarding against human rights clinical pedagogy and practice that contributes to settler colonial violence.

This Article proposes not only decolonizing human rights clinical advocacy but also incorporating Indigenous values in human rights clinical practice and pedagogy in settler colonial contexts. In particular, the authors offer a method of human rights law teaching and advocacy that moves beyond client-centered or community-based lawyering that acknowledges oppressive power dynamics toward a collaborative model of co-creative strategic legal advocacy. At the same time, incorporating Indigenous values in human rights clinical pedagogy and practice transforms human rights practice to counter Eurocentric epistemologies by decentering human beings themselves toward a practice that rejects anthropocentrism and strives for balance with all living things. This method--rooted in epistemic pluralism and in adopting Indigenous worldview concepts of kinship, relationship, and reciprocity--requires a relinquishment of control over the process and a shift away from the dominant worldviews of knowledge production, power, and coloniality.

Incorporating Indigenous values in human rights practice means acknowledging and redressing past and present collective harms, reorienting clinical pedagogy and practice to adopt new methods based on Indigenous epistemologies of familial relationship and reciprocity with one another, and all living relatives, deep listening, authentic trust-building, practicing gratitude and transforming allyship to kinship. With this methodology comes a process of unlearning and relearning (through different modes of learning) and of giving and receiving in a collective, reciprocal struggle in which all are invested and equal co-collaborators toward not only stopping or preventing human rights violations, but also in building community to transform the legal, educational, and other structures at the root of settler colonial violence.

“Decolonization offers a different perspective to human and civil rights-based approaches to justice, an unsettling one, rather than a complementary one. Decolonization is not an ‘and.’ It is an elsewhere.”



First Page



American University Washington College of Law


Human Rights Law | International Humanitarian Law | International Law | Law | Legal Education | Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility | Legal Profession



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