Karima Bennoune, a leading international law and human rights specialist, returns to Michigan Law.

Karima Bennoune, JD/MA ’94, began her legal education at the University of Michigan through a joint program in law and Middle Eastern and North African studies and earned a graduate certificate in women’s studies. Now an internationally recognized specialist in public international law and international human rights law, she has come full circle back to Michigan Law. 

Bennoune will join the faculty as the Lewis M. Simes Professor of Law, pending Regental approval. Earlier in her career, the Law School gave Bennoune one of her first teaching opportunities as an adjunct professor in 2001, and she again taught U-M law students as a visiting professor in 2008.

“It’s an honor to follow in the footsteps of some of the great international lawyers who have taught, and are still teaching, at  Michigan Law,” says Bennoune.

She recalls that her own career was shaped by influential U-M law professors such as Bruno Simma and Catharine MacKinnon. 

I became an international lawyer and a human rights lawyer because of my Algerian family’s experience during the war of independence. I wanted to seek global solutions, so other families would not experience similar histories.

Michigan Law’s highly respected program, prominent scholars, and strong commitment to an overall global approach to law make it a wonderful place for an international lawyer to teach, she adds.

“I am committed to working with the next generation of international lawyers, as well as human rights lawyers in particular, from different backgrounds in the U.S. and all corners of the world,” says Bennoune. She received the Law School’s L. Hart Wright Award for excellence in teaching in 2001. 

Inspired by personal experience

Spending part of her youth in Algeria, Bennoune watched her father, Mahfoud, a professor at the University of Algiers, speak out against fundamentalism and terrorism in the 1990s. Numerous family members had earlier been imprisoned, wounded, and even killed by colonial forces during Algeria’s independence struggle.

“I became an international lawyer and a human rights lawyer because of my Algerian family’s experience during the war of independence,” Bennoune says. “I wanted to seek global solutions, so other families would not experience similar histories.” 

In 2013, she wrote an award-winning book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism, which was inspired by the efforts of her father and his colleagues in Algeria to counter extremism during the 1990s conflict.

With her book, which won the 2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for nonfiction, Bennoune sought to challenge stereotypes about Muslims and to generate international support for those who are working to stem the rise of repressive fundamentalist regimes and terrorist groups. 

Over the past 20 years, Bennoune’s law practice, research, and writing have focused largely on human rights.

She served as United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights from 2015 to 2021 and has provided legal expertise for organizations such as the International Criminal Court, Amnesty International, and UNESCO

This summer, she organized—with Afghan women’s rights advocates—an online training to help Afghan women human rights defenders, both inside and outside the country, understand how they can access the UN human rights system to advance human rights in their country. 

“One year after the Taliban take over of Afghanistan, it is critical for international human rights advocates to remain engaged with Afghan women human rights defenders who are continuing the fight for equality,” Bennoune says. “Given the human rights crisis in the country, my first thought was to work on cases myself. However, it is as important to support the efforts of resolute Afghan women advocates to do so themselves.”

Bringing her legal scholarship and practical experience to the global classroom

Bennoune is a frequent contributor to global news outlets.

She is a member of the Board of Editors of the American Journal of International Law, and her academic publications have appeared in leading journals. She has lectured at colleges and universities worldwide, and the TED talk based on her book, “When people of Muslim heritage challenge fundamentalism,” has received more than 1.5 million views.

Before joining the Michigan Law faculty, she taught at the University of California-Davis School of Law, the Rutgers School of Law, and in the Oxford Summer Human Rights Programme.

“I try to bring my perspective from my practice, advocacy, and scholarship to my classroom teaching in a dynamic synergy,” Bennoune says.

This fall, she is teaching a basic International Law class, which is designed both to prepare those who want to specialize in the field and to offer useful skills to students who will practice law in other areas. 

Bennoune also is teaching a United Nations Human Rights practicum, which will give students an opportunity to work on human rights cases and will familiarize them with the UN’s human rights system. In the future, she plans to develop new courses in areas, such as public international law, human rights law, global women’s rights, international criminal law, climate change and human rights, and healthy living strategies for lawyers.

“I am also interested in teaching courses related to Muslim and Arab issues, both here in the U.S. and abroad,” Bennoune adds. “I think it would be great to develop a course on Arab-Americans and the law because this state has a significant Arab-American population.” 

She looks forward to doing more research on timely issues, such as the role of international law in decolonization, and is currently publishing a major article on the gender apartheid taking place in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule.

In addition, Bennoune hopes to compile writings, including translated material, on international law from around the world to provide students with a broader global approach to the field.

“I try to get students to look at the globe from all ends, because considering diversity of perspectives and interests is vital in international law,” she says. 

“I also encourage them to think big, take an out-of-the-box view, and never lose sight of the international law we will need in the future,” Bennoune continues.

“We cannot give up on the progress we need to make, even if it seems very difficult to achieve right now.”

Claudia Capos