Cathy Albisa

'89 J.D.

Cathy Albisa is a constitutional and human rights lawyer with a background on the right to health. Albisa also has significant experience working in partnership with community organizers in the use of human rights standards to strengthen advocacy in the United States. She co-founded NESRI along with Sharda Sekaran and Liz Sullivan in order to build legitimacy for human rights in general, and economic and social rights in particular, in the United States. She is committed to a community-centered and participatory human rights approach that is locally anchored, but universal and global in its vision. She has also published in books and journals on a wide range of economic and social rights issues, including questions of enforcement, constitutional strategies and the relationship between law and social movements. Albisa clerked for the Honorable Mitchell Cohen in the District of New Jersey. She received a BA from the University of Miami and is a graduate of Columbia Law School. Read more.

What human rights work are you currently involved in?

I am the Executive Director of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, an organization that supports community led campaigns seeking economic justice through human rights.

In what ways were you involved in human rights during your time at Columbia Law School?

I was involved with the Amnesty International student group and was on the Human Rights Journal.  And while I didn't think of it as human rights at the time because I hadn't gotten the e-mail yet that human rights applied in the United States, I was also a student in the short lived AIDS clinic.

What motivates you to be a human rights lawyer?

I don't think of myself as a human rights lawyer.  I think of myself as a human rights activist who happens to be a lawyer.  And what motivates me is the beauty and simplicity of the vision that we are all equal in dignity and rights.  The values are what matters in a world of such needless pain, suffering and injustice.

What advice would you have for students interested in pursuing a career in human rights?

Don't think of it as a career.  You would be a fool to want a career in human rights.  So many other careers are far more remunerative and will give you more power and visibility.  But if what you want is life's work that is a different story.  Then you will never regret it and never look back.  If you want something larger than yourself that is driven by a desire to build a world organized around respect, dignity and even love, then human rights is for you.  You do human rights work as a matter of faith.

Cathy Albisa