JUNTENG ZHENG is an international lawyer specializing in human rights law, international criminal law, and law of armed conflict. He is the Mark Haas Fellow of Columbia University (2018-19), now serving as an advisor to human rights organizations on rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity. He served as a researcher for the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights and a consultant to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. At Columbia Law School, where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, he worked on issues on U.S. targeted killings and drone strikes and the right to mental health in Yemen in the Human Rights Clinic. He clerked for the Honorable Justice Edwin Cameron in the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He was named the 2017-18 Arthur C. Helton Fellow by the American Society of International Law (ASIL). Junteng holds a Bachelor of Laws from Renmin University of China School of Law, a Juris Doctor from University of California Davis School of Law, and a law degree from Columbia Law School.
What human rights work are you currently involved in?
I am currently a legal advisor to NGOs on human rights issues in relation to gender equality, sexual orientation and gender identity. Some of my work involved the decriminalization of homosexuality, campaign for equal protection and combatting employment discrimination, comprehensive education on sexuality, right to privacy, sexuality minorities in refugee law, and LGBT rights issues under international criminal law, among others.
In what ways were you involved in human rights during your time at Columbia Law School?
While in the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, I worked on issues related to the U.S. targeted killings and drone strikes, as well as the right to mental health in Yemen. I assisted with Professor Sarah Cleveland on her work for the U.N. Human Rights Committee and the Venice Commission. I also offered research and editing assistance to Professor Amal Clooney's forthcoming book on the right to a fair trial under international law.
What motivates you to be a human rights lawyer?
What motivates me is truly complex with multiple elements – including but are not limited to my background, my self-identity, the human rights abuses that I have witnessed, the guidance from my mentors, and the courage I gained from other human rights defenders. I had the realization of not only how significant human rights truly are but how many of us take them for granted.
What advice would you have for students interested in pursuing a career in human rights?
Never treat it as a career or a job. Human rights work is a dedication and belief in life. It is always very challenging but beyond rewarding. Think of human rights work as reaffirming our own faith in human dignity, in the universality and inalienability of human rights, and in the worth of this civilization. The best way is to learn about it, respect it, embrace it, love it, and defend it – do it for yourself and your fellow members of the human family.