Andrew Hudson (LLB(Hons)/ BA(Hons) 2001)

28 July 2015

  • Executive Director
    Crisis Action

A University of Melbourne alumnus, Andrew Hudson is an international human rights lawyer with more than 15 years of varied UN and international advocacy experience. Based in New York City, he was recently appointed Executive Director of Crisis Action, an organisation that works with individuals and other organisations from global civil society to protect civilians from armed conflict.

What do you hope to achieve as Executive Director of Crisis Action?

As Executive Director, I will be leading a global team of over 40 incredible individuals, in 10 locations, with a budget of $US4 million and a partner network of over 150 NGOs. I hope to make Crisis Action as effective in every global centre of power as it is in the West. This means being able to deploy powerful coalitions to affect change throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

I would like us to be able to effectively work with Chinese and Russian voices to convince their governments to play a constructive role in stopping conflict. We should further diversify our team to reflect that we are a truly global organisation and engage in even more innovative and tech-savvy storytelling techniques to communicate compellingly.

What sparked your interest to study law and to pursue a career in Human Rights advocacy?

My father naturally attributes my success to my excellent upbringing as a child! When I was eight years old, my parents took me out of school (grade one, 1984) for much of the year to travel the world. It was a formative experience seeing many communities less affluent than my own in places such as Thailand, Egypt and India. The trip framed how I saw the world and I've always had a fascination with the rich tapestry of global cultures and societies.

At secondary school I joined the UN Youth Association of Australia and became national President, which confirmed my keen interest in the universality of human rights and the importance of the United Nations. Law appealed more generally as I was drawn to precision, drawing distinctions and categorising accurately. So I always wanted to study law with a desire to learn more about how societies are structured and protected around the world and the practical use of international law.

What was your experience like at MLS? How did your studies give you a greater clarity in what you wanted to use your legal degree for?

I studied law (1996–2001) in the old quadrangle and remember fondly the rabbit warren of a law library! I also studied law alongside a Bachelor of Arts which focused heavily on international relations. I even took a year out of the law degree to pursue an honours degree in Arts (political science). I really enjoyed that simultaneous inter-disciplinary approach to studying international issues.

Human rights law with Di Otto was perhaps the biggest highlight academically. In her classes, I was fascinated each week with real life examples of how law could stop and prevent horrific human rights violations.

Somewhat unusually, I had a busy schedule outside of MLS.  I became the first Australian youth representative, and member of the Australian government delegation, to the UN General Assembly (1999). I leveraged that experience into consultancies promoting the human rights of young people in the Pacific Islands at UNESCO and the UN Regional Commission in Thailand. Juggling these consultancies with my studies at MLS was challenging but thoroughly worthwhile.

What was a highlight for you during your time at MLS?

There were so many highlights: Tort law in first year in an overflowing classroom with the eccentric Ian Malkin (who then wrote an exam paper about the legal consequences of an overflowing TPL classroom in the event of a fire). International law with now national human rights commissioner, Gillian Triggs. International trade law with Anne Orford and helping to set up the Melbourne Journal of International Law and then edit it, with wonderful support from Tim McCormack and others.

Lastly, finishing my law degree on exchange at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. But when I reflect on why my time at MLS was so special, there is no doubt it was the incredible collection of brilliant students. Most of my best friends were made at law school and the social times were the best.

What advice would you give to recent MLS graduates entering the workforce?

If you want to work in the global human rights movement you'll need perseverance and luck. My advice: from a young age engage in local community volunteerism. That experience is valuable and shows commitment. Try to develop regional or thematic expertise, since most human rights jobs are structured around these two areas.

Obtain some "field" experience to demonstrate you have a real understanding of human rights violations. Be prepared to take on several internships or fellowships, as sadly the demand is so high that it is usually difficult to break straight into a paid position. Even if you are in the corporate world there are lots of pro bono opportunities that can grow your human rights expertise.

Lastly, make the most of the wonderful faculty at MLS – they are world leaders, well-connected and can help propel you in your career.

Can you describe your career path up to now. Did it take you in any unexpected directions? For example, did you always aspire to work internationally?

My career path has been very expected: my friends from secondary school and MLS say that I'm doing exactly what they thought I would do. After MLS, I took a year off and volunteered with the UN Refugee Agency in Ecuador to protect Colombians fleeing civil war.

Even though I was committed to working internationally I thought it was important to qualify as solicitor, so I did my articles at Mallesons Stephen Jaques (now King & Wood Mallesons). It wasn't just about corporate law at Mallesons: I helped to strengthen the firm's Human Rights Law Group and volunteered as an international humanitarian law speaker at the Australian Red Cross. An early career highlight was helping to successfully lobby the Victorian Government to enshrine into law a Bill of Rights, an achievement that has provided protection to some of Victoria's most vulnerable people.

Mallesons generously sent me on an extended secondment to the Brimbank Melton Community Legal Centre in Deer Park, with fellow MLS alumnus Hugh de Kretser, where we upheld the rights of marginalised prisoners. I also volunteered as a migration agent at the Refugee and Immigration Legal Clinic, interviewing traumatised refugees fleeing persecution in Iraq and Afghanistan and experiencing first-hand Australia's cruel refugee policies – it still appals me that 13 years later, our refugee policies have not improved.

Seeking an international career, I was fortunate to receive a Sir John Monash scholarship to study a Masters in Law (LLM) at New York University School of Law where I provided research assistance to MLS alumnus and then UN special rapporteur for Extrajudicial Executions, Professor Philip Alston. The LLM, and connections I made, enabled me to work at the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York.

How did you come to work at Crisis Action?

Before Crisis Action, I worked for four years in New York at Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights). I managed the Human Rights Defenders program and helped to establish a UN Commission against impunity in Guatemala that has rooted-out extensive corruption; release unjustly detained political prisoners from jail in Colombia and Guatemala; prosecute former Guatemalan officials for atrocities.

I also testified before US Congress, took cases to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. This experience confirmed my desire to work on the worst human rights violations and active armed conflicts.

Can you explain the philosophy behind Crisis Action and why this is so important.

Crisis Action amplifies powerful individual and organisational voices to protect civilians from armed conflict. We are a catalyst and convener of joint action to prevent and stop conflict. What is unique about Crisis Action is that we work entirely behind-the-scenes to build coalitions and other innovative collaborations. Unlike most human rights organisations we do not engage in advocacy in our own name; we have no organisational voice. This enables us to act as neutral arbiter or honest broker to coordinate impactful action and focus on building a powerful coalition voice.

What I love about Crisis Action's model is that we can amplify whichever actor is most likely to influence policymakers to stop conflict, whether it is religious leaders, military generals, artists, celebrities, NGOs or more.

Crisis Action is currently working to stop human rights violations in Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, Burundi and Yemen. In Syria, for example, we have brought together humanitarian organisations from the Middle East and around the world to convince the UN that aid must be delivered to those Syrians who live in towns literally under medieval siege conditions.

Last year, in order to stop spiralling ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, which developed dangerous Christian/Islamic religious fault lines, we brought together the country's catholic archbishop and a leading Muslim Imam to successfully convince world powers to dispatch a UN peacekeeping force to protect innocent civilians. We also worked with Arab NGOs to successfully call for action to prevent a massacre in Benghazi, Libya. I have led many of these teams and have also chaired briefings of the UN Security Council on the Lord's Resistance Army and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about working for Crisis Action?

Clearly the most challenging aspect of our work is finding solutions to some of the most intractable problems on the planet. Conflict is frequently driven by entrenched national interests which are hard to overcome. But that makes the rewarding moments all the more enjoyable such as when we see our actions having clear impact on the ground in terms of saving lives, reducing conflict, improving livelihoods or bringing war criminals to justice.

What's next for you?

What's next for me is leading a global human rights organisation, Crisis Action, to protect some of the most vulnerable people on the planet from the horrors of war. It's a huge challenge but one that I'm eager to take on. At some stage in my career I am keen to return to Australia to prevent and stop the many human rights violations that should not occur in our lucky country.