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Graham Turnbull essay competition - hear from a previous winner

by Debra Stanislawski
5 September 2018

Debra Stanislawski

Debra Stanislawski, 2017 prize winner

The greatest moment after winning a Graham Turnbull Award was meeting the others involved in the scholarship, in particular Graham's family. It meant so much to be surrounded by such an inspirational group of people and reminded me why I pursue a career in law.

Since winning, I have joined Justitia Chambers, a top-notch set providing the type of support, excellent leadership and amazing legal skill for which human rights awards have been won and which addresses gaps minorities face when entering the profession. They are a group of people from whom I have the absolute privilege to learn.

Having discovered the essay just before the deadline, my social calendar and phone were placed on hold and every drop of energy left after work and study went into a few days' legal research and writing. I applied legal research skills learnt doing my Masters in Human Rights Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies. I read everything I could: from journals to blogs to case law to UN and EU reports and newspaper articles to formulate my argument.

As soon as I read the title, I knew had to write. It asked whether UK armed forces should be protected by immunity or held to account (‘Should UK forces have immunity against civil claims brought against them claiming breach of rights protected under the ECHR in situations of conflict, peacekeeping, or policing?’).

I heard the voices of previous clients: human rights defenders, journalists and families of enforced disappearances. Images of their distress, their tears, their losses, their confusion, their hurt, their mourning, their funerals, the ongoing investigations, the court cases, flashed instantly to mind.

I knew the injustices they had faced was ultimately the reason I felt compelled to write and research about ending impunity for a protected class (namely state forces). To not have done so would have been to further deny those victims access to justice and is something I will not do. They are the reason I shall continue in this profession and I will fight for justice for as long as I am able.

Anyone who is interested in human rights should consider applying for the Graham Turnbull Scholarship for the chance to move in the direction of their dreams.