Alumnus inspires the next generation of human rights lawyers

Final-year Law student Will Collinson met UWE Bristol alumnus Ciarán Suter during an internship at human rights charity Reprieve.

Ciaran Suter

Will spent his summer helping defend people with death sentences on internships at Reprieve and in the US. He was so inspired by these he set up UWE Bristol’s Anti-Death Penalty Society (UWE ADP) when he returned to UWE Bristol, and asked Ciarán to come back and present on the issue.

Ciarán graduated in European Studies with French and Spanish (2005) before getting his Graduate Diploma in Law (2006). After completing a graduate scheme at Bloomberg, he joined Ipsos-MORI to research Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and UK government policies. While here, Ciarán was so inspired by Reprieve’s human rights work he decided to volunteer at their London office.

Standing up for human rights

Reprieve is a small London-based charity made up of human rights lawyers and investigators. These provide free legal and investigative support to British, European and other nationals facing execution, torture and other human rights violations.

Ciarán’s voluntary role led to a one-year paid position in the US, before he returned to the UK to work full-time for the charity. Now he works in the London office as a Project Officer-Caseworker collaborating with lawyers, governments and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help people facing the death penalty. Sometimes travelling overseas, Ciarán also provides support and advice for condemned individuals and their families.

The best part of his job is, “When there has been some improvement in a person’s situation, giving that person and his or her family something to hope for and showing them that other people care and are willing to help fight their corner.”

Connecting back with UWE Bristol

On meeting Will, Ciarán said, “It was great to meet another UWE Bristol student interested in this area of work. Will spent a summer during his undergraduate degree working with a Capital Defence office in the United States. You could tell it had made a lasting impression on him.”

Will explained how UWE Bristol’s Anti-Death Penalty Society (UWE ADP) came about. “I didn't know a lot about the death penalty until I had the opportunity to go to America. It really opened my eyes to the situation. I spent last summer there, assisting Capital Defenders who defend people with death sentences in Virginia, US. While I was there, I found a news article on Reprieve and decided to contact them so I could continue working with the death penalty. Thanks to my experience, I was offered one and started when I came back to the UK.”

“After meeting Ciarán, we soon realised that we both went to UWE Bristol. So after I had finished my internship, I asked him to come and talk to other students about human rights and the work Reprieve does with the death penalty.”

Inspiring others to work in the third sector

To get the most out of Ciarán’s presentation, Will and fellow society members hosted a public event. Will said, “There was a lot of interest. Ciarán spoke about Reprieve’s work defending human rights in Guantanamo and against the death penalty. He talked about UK nationals facing the death penalty in foreign jurisdictions and how students can get involved. He also explained what opportunities were available to students in voluntary organisations.”

Talking about the experience, Ciarán said, “It’s fantastic that people took the time to come and listen. I had a chat with several students before and after the presentations and it was really interesting to listen to their questions. It’s reaffirming that students, busy with exams and coursework, took time out to hear somebody talk about issues that don’t necessarily affect them directly. The third sector is a tough area to break into. I was keen to tell my story and demonstrate that there’s a route in there. It’s about helping people realise what’s out there.”

The event was a success, reigniting the interest of UWE Bristol students in human rights, and inspiring law students to pursue careers in this field.

Will said, “A few students are already studying human rights, and the majority would like to make a career out of it. Ciarán’s speech really sparked their motivation. And a lot more students wanted to know how they could get involved after the talk.”

“Since then, the Society has kept on campaigning and raising awareness. We had a ‘Day against the Death Penalty’ in October. Students have written blogs on capital punishment. And we’re planning a conference and inviting big names in capital punishment to come and talk.”

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