Dr Shahram Dana is using the lessons he learnt at the United Nations to inspire the next generation of crusading legal eagles.
A deeply personal passion
The senior law lecturer is a lifelong advocate of international human rights, a passion instilled at an early age. As members of the Baha’i Faith, Dr Dana’s parents fled religious persecution in Iran in the 1970s, eventually settling in Kingaroy, in regional Queensland.
“I was always interested in international law and human rights. I think that has to do with my own background – my parents were forced to leave Iran due to religious persecution and that always had an influence on me,” he said.
“I wanted to use my abilities and training to help people who are victims of human rights violations.”
Dr Dana started his career as a journalist and worked across print, radio and broadcast media in the US before deciding to study law.
“The goal never changed – journalism allowed me to shine a light on issues like social injustice and discrimination, and as a lawyer, I knew I could have an influence on policy and help create change.”
Fighting injustice on the world stage
Dr Dana practised as a criminal trial lawyer in the US, before taking up an internship at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.
“It was daunting – I was leaving a well-paying job, my family and social network,” he said.
“There was no pay or promises, but the work was immensely interesting and rewarding.”
During his six-month internship, Dr Dana helped prosecute senior political and military figures involved in genocide and crimes against humanity.
He was then appointed as a legal officer in the Office of the Prosecutor – taking witness statements and gathering evidence to help build cases against senior figures in the Bosnian War, including former President Slobodan Milosevic.
“It was very difficult to hear story after story of the horrific things that had happened to these people and their families,” he said.
“ The brutality of what they had suffered was excruciating, and to see the physical and emotional pain they were still going through took a toll.
“But I knew that the work I was doing was vital to the victims. I saw the darkest and worst of humanity up close, but I also saw the hope, the longing for justice and a more peaceful world.”
A remarkable career
In a career spanning stints with the United Nations to special adviser roles, criminal law practice and academia, he has worked around the globe to further human rights.
In the United States, Shahram was appointed as a Commissioner to investigate allegations of torture by police officers in Chicago.
In The Netherlands, he was selected by The Hague Forum for Judicial Expertise to train judges, prosecutors, and government officials on crimes against humanity, human rights, and the International Criminal Court.
He led a human rights delegation to Vietnam which helped open the doors to Amnesty International for the first time since the Vietnam War.
The International Law Initiative invited him to be the lead facilitator in their training program for social workers and legal professionals from more than twenty African countries at the African Center for Legal Excellence in Uganda.
Inspiring the next generation
Now, Griffith Law School students are the beneficiaries of Dr Dana’s remarkable career. His expertise includes international law, criminal law, human rights, and international criminal justice.
“Coming to Griffith felt like coming home,” he said.
“I really admired the focus on social justice and a commitment to provide access to a legal education for marginalised groups.
“Many of my students are the first in their families to attend university, and my work here is in line with the focus of my whole career – opening up opportunity and access to people from all kinds of backgrounds.”
Dr Dana has inspired students like Amiel Nubaha – a former refugee who used his studies at Griffith as a springboard to a career as a community justice advocate.
“My first class at Griffith with Dr Dana gave me so much hope – he inspired me to use my past experiences as a way of bringing people together,” Amiel said.
“It’s a powerful lesson I continue to use every day, helping disadvantaged young people overcome their own challenges and advocating for refugee communities.
“Thanks to lecturers like Dr Dana I was able to build a career helping others.”