New Chair in Human Rights Law

By Lianne Hall

A gift to create Melbourne Law School's first endowed chair in human rights law will see the school advance understanding of a body of law that promotes dignity and equality for all.

Professor Di Otto
Professor Di Otto
Professor Dianne Otto has been named the inaugural Francine V McNiff Chair in Human Rights Law. The establishment of this endowed Chair in perpetuity enables the Law School to further promote this important area of law. 

"We are honoured and privileged to appoint Professor Otto to this new role," said Dean of Melbourne Law School, Professor Carolyn Evans.

"She has a remarkable ability to help students understand human rights issues using both theory and practice and she encourages them to see both local and international dimensions to human rights law," said Professor Evans.

Professor Otto brings extensive experience to the new Chair, with over a decade teaching human rights law subjects to LLB students and JD students. Since 2006 she has been Director of Studies for the Graduate Diploma in Human Rights Law. She has a distinguished record of published work, an international reputation in the field and is Director of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities (IILAH).

"It's an honour to be the first Chair in Human Rights Law at Melbourne Law School," said Professor Otto.

"This is a great opportunity. We are recognized for our strong program in human rights law and this gift will enable us to showcase our fantastic work and take it to the next level."

The Chair's immediate goals include the creation of a masters program in international human rights law (currently offered as a graduate diploma in the Melbourne Law Masters) and the organisation of an annual regional human rights law symposium.

Before she entered the realm of legal academia, Professor Otto worked in community development as an outreach worker assisting disadvantaged communities in Melbourne: homeless young people, domestic violence survivors and people with psychiatric disabilities. She says that this experience brought home to her the importance of translating human rights laws into everyday lived realities.

"I still feel as though I have a foot in both camps. I certainly encourage my students to bring their experience into their research and into their studies and to take what they learn here out into the community and use it to engage critically," said Professor Otto.

"I think that my main aspiration is to ensure and encourage links between academic research and human rights activism at the more grass roots level… To try and do what I can to break down the barriers to those two groups having a productive relationship with each other."

Image: Professor Dianne Otto
Photographer: Peter Casamento

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 10, December 2013.