Student Profile: Shouman Dedicates Studies and Career to Human Rights

Mohammad Shouman, JD Candidate '14, outside his externship at the World Bank across the street from the Law School.

It is common for law students with engineering backgrounds to study patent law. But 3L Mohammad Shouman has chosen a different path for his legal career:
he has dedicated his legal studies towards international and human rights law.

"Since I had an engineering background, a lot of people advised me to consider patent law, and I have to admit it was tempting," he says. "But I believe you should wake up in the morning and want to do your job and this is the law I want to practice."

Mohammad's interest in human rights began to develop while he was studying in Ontario, Canada.

"I am a Jordanian and Canadian citizen, and was born and raised in Abu Dhabi," he says. "Going to college in Canada allowed me to see a bigger picture, and it exposed me to a lot of new ideas."

The transition from science to human rights was not immediate.

"During my University studies, my main focus was on engineering," says Mohammad. "But I was also doing work for Amnesty International in my spare time. We were working on letter writing campaigns for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience."

While he was earning his master's degree, there was a moment when his engineering studies overlapped with his extracurricular work with Amnesty. Mohammad had spent a year doing testing and research for BlackBerry, the Canadian communications giant that, at the time, was manufacturing the smart phone of choice for businesses and institutions all over the world. Upon finishing the internship, Mohammad discovered that Amnesty was starting a letter writing campaign to encourage BlackBerry to stop using so-called "conflict minerals" in their products. Conflict minerals are minerals that are procured from war-torn regions, usually with the help of forced labor.

Working to enact real change in human rights began to seem like a fulfilling and worthwhile career for Mohammad, and earning an advanced degree in law or international policy became the next logical step. By coming to Washington, D.C.―and GW Law in particular―, he has managed to work towards both of these goals simultaneously. In fact, Mohammad will take leave of law classes this fall to complete a dual Masters in International Economics and International Relations he has been working on at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Relations (SAIS), and will return to GW Law classes in the spring to finish his 3L year.

He immediately began putting his legal studies to work in his professional life, even if it wasn’t human rights focused. "Towards the end of my 1L year I interned with the Public Interest Division of the Attorney General of the District of Columbia, and that involved a lot of contract and property issues," he says. "I ended up bringing my Civil Procedure book, because the cases that we were working on involved a lot of the same issues in our 1L curriculum."

Mohammad has been very active GW Law, both working on events and programming with the Human Rights Law Society and attending many other events and speaker opportunities.

Here, Mohammad stands with Moroccan Ambassador to the United States Rachad Bouhlal; Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies Susan Karamanian; Minister Delegate to the Head of Government in Charge of Moroccans Living Abroad Abdellatif Mazouz; and Moroccan-American lawyer and panel moderator Leila Hanafi during a discussion on engaging the Moroccan diaspora at GW Law in June.  And on the right, Mohammad takes a break from studying for finals to enjoy SALDF's Pet Study Break.

Mohammad kept involved in student human rights work during his 1L year by joining the GW Human Rights Law Society, first as a 1L representative, then serving as a Vice-President for Publicity.

After completing his 1L year, Mohammad traveled to England to earn a Certificate in International Human Rights Law from Oxford University through the GW―Oxford Program in International Human Rights Law.

"I loved England," he says. "It has been one of the best parts of my law school experience so far. The classes at Oxford were more like discussion groups, and they were more focused on my areas of interest. 1L classes can be overwhelming, and a summer program at Oxford was quite refreshing after that."

Studying in the GW―Oxford Program helped Mohammad in other ways. "Taking International Criminal Law there gave me the confidence and background to volunteer for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (ICC) last year," he says. "I wrote policy notes for Leila Hanafi, Middle East and North Africa regional coordinator, which were used at the Assembly of States Parties at the ICC that year."

While he enjoyed his time in the United Kingdom, Mohammad was glad to come back to Washington. "There are countless opportunities here that simply can't be found anywhere else, whether it is in courses or extra-curricular activities," Mohammad says. "In terms of courses, I was able to study under Professors Ralph Steinhardt and Sean Murphy, who are two of the most eminent international law scholars in the world. Outside of the classroom, I have been able to meet two Supreme Court Justices. I even had the opportunity to ask a question to Kofi Annan at a Brooking Institution event this year."

He also got an internship at the World Bank. "I worked very hard to establish relationships with people in the World Bank," he says. "I took the initiative to ask for informational interviews, and met people for coffee and lunches, to learn about their work and how I could best prepare to work there."

His internship has concluded, but the World Bank has kept Mohammad on as an extern.

"I am working on a project that studies laws and regulations in more than 140 countries around the world that affect the ability of women to work independently," he says. "The indicators that we are examining include accessing institutions, getting a job, building credit, and providing incentives to work. I am also working as a co-author with World Bank staff on case note on violence against women laws in India, which will be published in the 2014 report of Women, Business, and the Law. I don’t know of any other extern who was given the opportunity to produce a World Bank―publishable written product, and for that I am honored."

Between his studies at GW Law, his studies at SAIS, his work at the World Bank, and his other extra-curricular activities with the Young Professionals International Law Committee at the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, Mohammad does not have a lot of free time. But that didn’t stop him from recently accepting the appointment to the Steering Groups of the following ABA Section of International Law Committees: Middle East Committee, International Criminal Law Committee, and International Human Rights Committee, which will run from August 2013 to August 2014. But wanting to spend his time in pursuit of something worthwhile is one of the reasons he moved from engineering to human rights in the first place, and there is a lot of work to do, so Mohammad will remain busy.

- Adam Dawson