How American human rights lawyers fight for justice in U.S. Courts for international victims of violence

Table of contents

Chapter One – Lawyers Beyond Borders: Introduction and Overview
Chapter Two – The Seeds of a Rights Revolution
Chapter Three – Litigation as Recovery: The Birth of the CJA
Chapter Four – The Burmese Connection
Chapter Five – Rights and Redress in a “War on Terror”
Chapter Six – Private Military Profits and the Search for Justice
Chapter Seven – The New Impunity
Chapter Eight – The Globalization of Justice
Chapter Nine – European Collaborations for Justice in Syria
Chapter Ten – Re-trauma and Resilience: The Dynamics of Clients and Counsel
Chapter Eleven – The Making, Unmaking, and Remaking of a Rights Revolution


Despite international conventions and human rights declarations, millions of people have suffered and continue to suffer torture, slavery, or violent deaths, with no remedy or recourse. They have fallen, in essence, “below the law,” outside of law’s protection. Often violated by their own governments, sometimes with support from transnational corporations, or nations benefiting from human rights violations, how can these victims find justice?  Lawyers Beyond Borders reveals the inner workings of the advances and retreats in the quest for redress and restoration of human rights for those whom international legal-political systems have failed. The process of justice begins in the US, with a handful of human rights lawyers steeped in the American tradition of advancing civil rights through civil litigation. As the civil rights movement gained traction and an ample supply of lawyers, this small cadre turned their attention toward advancing international human rights, via the US legal system. They sought to build another piece of the rights revolution, this time for survivors of egregious human rights violations in faraway lands. These cases were among the most unlikely to be slated for victory: The abuses occurred abroad; the victims are aliens, usually with few, if any, resources; the perpetrators are politically powerful, resourced, and well connected, often members of governments, militaries, or multinational corporations. The legal and political systems’ structures are mostly stacked against these survivors, many who bear the scars of trauma and terror.

Lawyers Beyond Borders is about agency. It is about how, in the face of powerful interests and seemingly insurmountable obstacles—political, psychological, economic, geographical, and physical—a small group of lawyers and survivors navigated a terrain of daunting barriers to begin building, case-by-case, new pathways to justice for those who otherwise would have none.

Maria Armoudian is Senior Lecturer of Politics and International Relations at the University of Auckland.

Lawyers Beyond Borders is a virtual encyclopedia of relevant Human Rights cases, meticulously documented and detailed . . . it makes an exciting read. Although the book records few full successes in winning justice . . . in getting courts to recognize the standing of the complainants, and indeed to win some settlements . . . just getting past the question of ‘standing’ represents a major achievement. Armoudian concludes the book with some optimism, even in this age of callous cynicism.”
—Richard M. Abrams, Emeritus Professor of History, and former Associate Dean of International & Area Studies, University of California, Berkeley

- Richard M. Abrams

“Maria Armoudian has created an inspiring book that at once acknowledges the often invisibilized work of human rights lawyers in holding powerful state and non-state actors such as corporations accountable and the traumas and challenges of continuing that work. Connecting cases and lawyering in US and transnational sites, the book is an invaluable resource for scholars (and practitioners) of international law, human rights and law and society.”
—Jinee Lokaneeta, Chair and Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Drew University

- Jinee Lokaneeta

Lawyers Beyond Borders is a wonderful addition to the scholarly literature on cause lawyering. It is written in an engaging and accessible style and offers a compelling account of lawyers who devoted themselves to vindicating the claims of people whose human rights are violated. This book highlights their complex commitments and willingness to put themselves at risk to use legal devices to pursue justice.”
—Austin Sarat, William Nelson Cromwell Professor Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College

- Austin Sarat

“Maria Armoudian lucidly documents the creativity and persistence of lawyers fighting for human rights around the world. Building on narratives of select legal struggles, she underlines how human rights are given meaning and force by the efforts of attorneys and courts, although the gains are often fragile and short lived. The book is inspiring, informative, and incisive about the challenges of advancing social justice.”
—Michael McCann, Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for Citizenship, University of Washington

- Michael McCann

Read: Litigation as Recovery in Psychology Today | 05/05/2022
Listen: Interview with the Free Forum Podcast with Terrence McNally 
Read: Maria Armoudian's op-ed in the Washington Post | 01/31/2022
Listen: Maria Armoudian interviewed on Law and Disorder Radio | 01/24/2022
Watch: Maria Armoudian speaks on a panel discussion with the US Embassy New Zealand | 11/16/2021
Watch: Maria Armoudian interviewed on Well Read | 11/7/2021 
Read: Lawyers Beyond Borders reviewed in The Markaz Review | 10/15/2021
Read: Maria Armoudian's op-ed in the Washington Post | 10/14/2021
Listen: Maria Armoudian is interviewed on the Scholar's Circle | 10/04/2021
Watch: Maria Armoudian discusses "Advancing Rights Through Local Laws and Courts" on Free Speech TV | 09/29/2021
Watch: Maria Armoudian discusses topics included in her book on TV3 | 09/13/2021
Read: Asbarez, "Armoudian’s New Book Tackles Advancing Human Rights Through Local Courts" I 9/07/2021
Winner: Maria Armoudian wins 2023 Early Career Research Excellence Award for Social Sciences from the Royal Society of New Zealand | 11/13/2023