"My experiences studying human rights in both Arizona and Central Asia"

Sept. 13, 2022
Map of Central Asia


by Alena Sulaimanova
Human Rights Practice M.A. graduate

As a 17-year old girl, I couldn't have imagined the academic path that lay ahead of me after graduation. At such a young age, it was difficult for me to choose a profession. Eventually, I decided to study at the Department of International Relations at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University (KRSU) in Bishkek, the capital city of the Kyrgyz Republic. There were many interesting subjects and excellent professors but some vestiges of the Soviet past still existed. Thus, some professors lectured on the book and students were required to take notes. The opportunity to ask a question or express one's opinion was provided only during the seminars.

Alena at Issyk-Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan, 2022

During my studies I had several internships in state institutions such as the Mayor's Office of Bishkek and the Administration of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic. After graduating from the University, I began to work at the Kyrgyz National University as an Instructor. Later I focused on the process of raising my wonderful daughter and moving to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Time passed, my daughter grew up, and I decided that it was time to move on. I found information regarding the dual degree master program provided by the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) and the University of Arizona (UA). The spheres of law and protection of human rights have always interested me. Subjects related to law were among the most beloved during my studies of international relations. Considering the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic had begun, I was also attracted by the fact that both programs were completely remote and I could study online while living in the UAE.

The first year of studies was provided by AUCA, where I was pursuing a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree. I was impressed by the high level of qualifications of the professors, the very convenient online platform, and the fact that all education took place entirely in English. After all, I had received my first education in Russian. Unwittingly I compared educational methods. There is no clear division into seminars and lectures in AUCA, as is also the case with UA. Students should read all required literature before each class and can always ask questions and share their opinions. The second year of studies was held by the UA. I gained a lot of experience and new knowledge through my study in the following courses. 

Advancing Human Rights was taught by Professor William Simmons. This course contains an overview of human rights practice and is perfect for people who never dealt with this sphere. Professor Simmons delighted me with his great involvement in various types of human rights practice and projects. For instance, I remember the story about the demonstrations against femicide that took place in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. As part of this course, among other things, my group and I helped organize a webinar on the topic of climate change. Thanks to Professor Simmons, we were able to attract significant experts in this field and arrange a truly useful and informative webinar for all participants.

Advancing Human Rights Organizations was taught by Professor Leonard Hammer. In this course, we studied the promotion of human rights through civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We had the opportunity not only to get acquainted with theoretical knowledge but also to meet practitioners, who were always happy to share their experience. Moreover, Professor Hammer taught the course Cutting-edge Advances in Human Rights: Social Media, Advocacy and Human Rights as a summer course provided by UA and AUCA. As part of this course, students worked in groups with various NGOs. My group and I worked with the Socio-Ecological Fund (Kazakhstan) to create a podcast about ecotourism.   

Furthermore, Professor Hammer was one of the supervisors of the Master’s paper that I wrote as a capstone project. The topic was “The Legal Regulation of Free Speech on the Internet.” I am very grateful to Professor Hammer for all his suggestions, comments, and very kind attitude during the work on this paper! 

Understanding Gender-Based Violence was taught by Dr. Amalia Mora who prepared excellent lectures, involved students in the dialogue, and invited very interesting guest speakers.

Media and Human Rights was taught by Professor Maggy Zanger. She is a wonderful woman, an experienced journalist who has worked in different parts of the globe. She always put a lot of emphasis on the importance of reading different news sources every day to ensure access to the situation around the world.

The program was sometimes difficult emotionally. A large number of articles, books, documentaries, and news articles were studied during this period. And all were filled with terrible violations of human rights in different parts of the world. I often cried for a long time even while analyzing this information.

However, on the other side of the scale there have always been incredible top-notch professors who always showed by their example that they are not only theorists in their field, but also direct participants in many programs and projects on human rights. Most of all I was inspired by the guest speakers. Most of them have experienced difficult life situations, which is in fact why they decided to help other people. All guest lecturers were always open minded, happy to share their experience, and to answer questions. Communication with them made an indelible impression on me.

I am convinced that no matter how many terrible events happen in the world, it is caring people, full of inner strength and faith, who will be able to change the world for the better, step by step. I hope I can become one of those professionals. At the moment I am looking for interesting projects in the field of human rights protection. I am open to any suggestions and will be glad to collaborate!

Image above: Alena in 2022 at Issyk-Kul Lake in the Kyrgyz Republic.