Human Rights Research at WSU Law

The School of Law’s research agenda has an overarching theme of social justice, and the ways in which law shapes vulnerability and resilience.  Our research on human rights law is central to our social justice mission, and spans work on rights specific to women, children and Indigenous peoples, as well as broader intersections of human rights law with environmental justice, bioethics, police powers and terrorism, and technology.

As part of a university dedicated to serving the people of Western Sydney, the School of Law’s research frequently focuses on the context and needs of our region’s diverse and growing population. The School of Law has a strong geographical focus on Western Sydney and strong ties to community, business and government organisations in the region, and we value our relationships with local research partners. We place emphasis, where appropriate, on elevating local context in fieldwork, community consultation and empirical research.

The School of Law is affiliated with the Diversity and Human Rights Research Centre at Western Sydney University.

Anna Cody

Professor Anna Cody

Professor Anna Cody has worked in human rights in a range of fora and methodologies over the last 25 years.  During her work at the University of New South Wales, Kingsford Legal Centre, she developed a specialisation in anti-discrimination law and has contributed to numerous law reform initiatives at state level and nationally to improve the anti-discrimination law regime. Most recently she was co-author of a report into the experience of vulnerable participants in conciliation proceedings (Having my Voice Heard, Fair practices in Discrimination conciliations).

She has also documented human rights abuses through non-governmental organisation (NGO) reports which were presented to United Nations human rights committees.  She has made submissions before the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, the Human Rights Committee and contributed to the Universal Periodic Review of Australia.  Professor Cody has also worked internationally in the area of human rights with the Center for Economic and Social Rights in New York, as well as in Mexico in the area of migrant rights and disability rights.

Dr Amira Aftab

Dr Amira Aftab’s research examines the tensions that arise between the often-competing rights of religious freedom and gender equality. This appears most prominently in the context of Western multicultural states, where minority religious groups request greater recognition and accommodation of religious laws and practises. More expansive religious accommodation is frequently argued to be incompatible with protecting and upholding the rights of women, particularly minority women. Amira draws on theories of feminist institutionalism to examine the way that these debates around greater religious freedom (particularly the Sharia debates), and the subsequent concerns for women’s rights, are shaped by formal and informal institutions that carry and reinforce gendered norms and values – especially where state laws and policies claim to be championing women’s rights, and are promoted as being gender neutral.

Sonia Allan

Professor Sonia Allan

Sonia Allan's research focuses on the regulation of contentious areas of health research and practice, emerging health technologies, and public and global health law. As a Global Health Law Fellow, at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. she won the CALI award for Health and Human Rights Law. Sonia has undertaken extensive research on the regulation of assisted reproductive technologies (ART), surrogacy and donor conception and related health and human rights issues. She has contributed to numerous legislative reviews in this regard, and led reviews in South Australia and Western Australia having been appointed by respective Ministers for Health. She was an invited presenter in November 2019 at the United Nations Palais Des Nations for the 30th Anniversary on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, where she led a group of donor-conceived people to the United Nations to speak of their lived experiences of being denied access to information relevant to their identity and familial relations. Sonia has also been an invited presenter and expert at forums related to surrogacy led by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH), World Health Organization (WHO), UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), where she has addressed issues related to commodification, exploitation, human trafficking, legal parentage, birth registration, nationality, identity, and access to information. Since 2014, Sonia has been an invited member of the 'Surveillance' Committee of the International Federation of Fertility Societies, a non-state actor in official relations with the World Health Organization - the Surveillance Committee conducts research on the worldwide regulation of ART, surrogacy, donor-conception, related research and emerging technologies.

Maria Bhatti

Dr Maria Bhatti

Maria Bhatti researches Islamic law, including the role that Islamic law plays in the contemporary world in the context of Islamic finance and women's rights. Her recent book Islamic Law and International Commercial Arbitration proposes that ShariĘża can effectively apply to and harmoniously exist with international commercial arbitration if its rules on arbitration are further developed, and if there is mutual respect and recognition between Islamic law and international law.

Meda Couzens

Dr Meda Couzens

Dr Meda Couzens conducts research in the area of children's rights, both domestically and internationally. Although for the last few years her work has focused on the application of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by domestic courts, Meda has researched many other issues, the most recent being anti-terrorism legislation and measures and the rights of children, harmful cultural practices, the best interests of the child, and children's rights in constitutional law, to name just a few. Meda has experience and interest in children's rights in the developing world.

Azadeh Dastyari

Associate Professor Azadeh Dastyari

Dr Azadeh Dastyari is Associate Professor in the School of Law at Western Sydney University. Azadeh’s research spans human rights, refugee rights, law of the sea and constitutional law. She has written widely about the impact of laws and policies on vulnerable groups such as refugees and asylum seekers. She is a Chief Investigator on the Comparative Network on Refugee Externalisation Policies (CONREP), a project co-funded by the European Union under the Eramus+ Programme - Jean Monnet Activities (599660 EPP-1-2018-1-AU-EPPJMO-NETWORK). CONREP, in part, examines the human rights implications of externalisation policies carried out by European States and Australia on vulnerable groups such as refugees, irregular migrants and stateless persons.  Azadeh has been a consultant to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva and is regularly sought by both Australian and international media for comment on human rights issues.  Her research has been cited by federal parliamentary bodies such as the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee; the Bills Digest section of the Parliament of Australia; the Joint Standing Committee on Immigration Detention;  the Senate Standing Committees on Legal and Constitutional Affairs; and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Reference Committee. She has also presented her research at the European Parliament to a group of Members, their policy advisers and numerous NGOs and other stakeholders.

Patrick Foong

Dr Patrick Foong

Patrick’s research interest lies in the regulation of emerging biotechnologies, including the regulation of human genome editing. It is a human right of an Australian citizen to benefit from scientific research and its applications as proclaimed in Article 2 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 15(b) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the Australian government has ratified. In his publications, Patrick argues that the current Australian law on human genome editing must keep up with scientific progress. We have to explore an appropriate way to realise the potential of this potent technology ethically. The way forward, if supported by the Australian public, could entail an amendment of the legislation (Section 15(1) of the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002) that makes it explicitly clear that the conduct of human germline activity by scientists solely for research purposes is allowed under very stringent conditions. The unprecedented potential, as well as peril of this novel technology, deserve cautious deliberation by all.

Steven Freeland

Professor Steven Freeland

Professor Steven Freeland is Professor of International Law and has spent almost 20 years leading research and practice in areas of international law that closely intersect with a broad range of human rights issues. He worked closely with Judges at the International Criminal Court for years, focusing on fair trial rights, the protection of victims and witnesses, and international criminal responsibility and accountability for international crimes and gross violations of human rights. He is co-editor of the world’s leading book series annotating the major decisions of all of the international and hybrid criminal tribunals, and also has written a seminal book on the intersection between international criminal law and environmental justice. He is also regarded as a world-leading expert and advocate in relation to issues relating to the global commons, in particular the law relating to activities in outer space and their impact on the lives and livelihoods of humanity. His work involves an important analysis on the interdependence between the use of technology and individual and collective human rights. Professor Freeland has advised the United Nations, many Governments, industry and NGOs, and has published over 300 articles and been invited to give key-note speeches in approximately 45 countries on a broad range of international law issues.

Elizabeth Handsley 

Professor Elizabeth Handsley

Professor Elizabeth Handsley conducts research on the human rights of children as media users. In this work she applies both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. She has published in the International Journal of Children’s Rights and UNSW Law Journal on food advertising regulation, and co-authored the chapter on Article 17 of the CROC in the recently published Oxford University Press Commentary on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (2019) ISBN 9780198262657. She has also advised UNICEF Australia on children’s rights in relation to advertising and co-hosted a conference, with the National Commissioner for Children and Young People, on the Rights of the Child Consumer (2015).

Daud Hassan

Associate Professor Daud Hassan

Associate Professor Daud Hassan conducts research on climate change, human rights and environmental security. In this work he applies the core international instruments relating to human rights such as the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. His work has been published in the Environmental Policy and Law Journal and the Indian Journal International Law. These publications are focused on climate change and related human rights violation and the legal controversy of the status of the unborn child in international human rights law respectively. In addition to ocean governance, he supervises HDR students in the area of climate change and human rights law.

Michael Head 

Professor Michael Head

Michael Head’s research focus is on the defence of human rights, particularly basic democratic rights, against police-state developments. His most recent book in this area is Domestic Military Powers, Law and Human Rights: Calling out the Armed Forces' (Routledge, 2020). He has also written extensively on military call-out powers, emergency powers, the power to declare war, and crimes against the state. He is currently writing a book, jointly with a Southern Cross University colleague, on ‘Democracy and the Right to Protest’, to be published by Routledge in 2022.  Professor Head has also published numerous journal articles and book chapters on human rights issues.

Sarah Hook 

Dr Sarah Hook

Dr Sarah Hook researches on freedom of speech and privacy. Her latest two articles with co-author Sandy Noakes looked at the freedom of speech and privacy concerns of employees on social media. Dr Hook recently compiled a consultation paper written by the academics of the law school (led by Professor Renshaw) for the Human Rights Commission project looking at Human Rights and Technology. Dr Hook was also asked to attend a Human Rights Roundtable discussion on human rights by design.

Simon Levett

Simon Levett is a PhD candidate in the School of Law. Simon’s PhD Thesis is based in the WSU School of Law but also the WSU School of Media and Communication Arts as an interdisciplinary thesis.  It looks at the special protection of journalists reporting on conflict in International Law; the notion of special status is raised by Saul (noting that - through interviews with media experts and media professionals in Israel, Palestine and Australia - that International Law is frequently referred to). The human rights of the war correspondent specifically are relevant to special protection through finding a remedy for the interference in their activity by States and Non-State actors in conflicts (as also seen in a publication in the Griffith Journal of Law and Human Dignity). Additionally, war correspondents are the subject of International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law which are co-dependent with International Human Rights Law. In this way, the aim is that the contested notion of special protection is restored not only for war correspondents but also for marginalised journalists such as local journalists, freelancers and fixers in the context of Afghanistan and Israel and Palestine and other conflicts.

Catherine Renshaw

Professor Catherine Renshaw

Dr Catherine Renshaw is Professor in the School of Law at Western Sydney University. Catherine’s research spans freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, women’s rights, minority rights and human rights in the Asia Pacific. She has written widely about the theory, policy and practice of human rights. Her publications include five books and numerous journal articles and reports. Her research has been funded by the Community of Democracies, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Rotary International. She has facilitated human rights training for a number of government and professional bodies around the world, lectured widely and carried out first-hand human rights field research in a number of countries including Myanmar, Jordan, Samoa, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea. She is a regular contributor to the media on human rights matters.

Jennifer Whelan 

Jenni Whelan

Jenni Whelan’s PhD research in human rights relates to the promises and limits of international human rights law to respond appropriately to the complex vulnerabilities of unaccompanied child asylum seekers through the provision of adequate environments of care, access to special assistance in processing their claim for asylum and the provision of guardianship. Jenni’s previous human rights research has involved analysis of the relationship between NHRI legislative provisions and the realisation of rights in practice, worker rights to carer’s leave, the proscription of hate speech in Australia, comparative analysis of State responses to unaccompanied child asylum seekers in the Asia-Pacific region, legal redress for migrant domestic workers in Malaysia and children’s right to participation.  Jenni also works with Western Sydney University Justice Clinic students on human rights research and project work targeting law reform and increasing access to justice.