A human rights lawyer talks tough trafficking cases and inspiring acts of kindness

American mother-of-three Kimberley Motley, 44, shares her life as one of the world's most respected and successful international human rights defenders

‘I’ve always wanted to fight for other people. When I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be lawyer, and as I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I studied law and worked in the public defender’s office. During my years at home I also entered the Wisconsin beauty queen pageant on a dare – this is an example of my impulsive behaviour – and won…

In 2008 a nine-month assignment arose. It was to train Afghan lawyers in Kabul, and going meant I would more than triple my salary – I had children to support and tuition debt to pay off – and I also thought it would be a great opportunity to leave the US for a year, as I’d never been overseas before.

When my time was up, I decided to stay, and set myself up as the first foreign lawyer to practice in the male-dominated and conservative courts of Afghanistan.

Cases I work on can be both upsetting and disturbing. Some human trafficking cases stay with me, because you’re trying to rescue a victim from horrible people. Cases involving child marriages always get to me too. I have met girls that have been horrendously sexually abused and physically abused. One woman was viciously attacked by her husband and brother. She was axed to the point that her brain was exposed. Incredibly, she survived. It’s my job to protect my clients and try to make sure those perpetrators are accountable for their horrifying actions with the use of the law.

Do I ever cry in front of my clients? Definitely not. Have I ever cried in court? Absolutely not. I don’t think that is appropriate. Crying in those situations is not really helpful to me. Being angry about those situations, that is super helpful.

But I am optimistic about the world. I meet people all the time who are good people, people that you’ll never read or hear about, but they are trying to lift up their community. For example, teachers in Afghanistan are underpaid or not paid at all, but believe in the power of education and so continue to teach children. Witnessing small acts of kindness is very inspiring to me.

I hope I inspire my three children, who are 13, 18 and 23. I don’t share a large percentage of my work with them because if you are not mentally prepared, a lot of my cases are complex and depressing. But I try to educate them on human rights issues that are happening around the world.

How can you help raise awareness about human rights? Funding is incredibly helpful. I was recently involved in a case that saw people being sold as slaves via an app, and we have created a GoFundMe page to try and go after the app companies that should be criminally brought to justice.

You can also raise awareness about human rights issues by physically getting involved with protests – I’m not just talking about posting ‘support’ on social media. If we don’t get involved, technically we become complicit and almost indirectly support bad acts.

A lot of the world leaders disappoint me. But what inspires me is to see people rising up against policies they don’t agree with – like in Hong Kong – to make the world better for the future. Because even though a woman being raped or a protester being silenced today may not be something that affects you personally, it will affect your future. We all have a responsibility to protect human rights for all.’








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