“In the real world, as lived and experienced by real people, … the longing for liberty and justice and opportunity, the hatred of oppression and corruption and cruelty is reality.”
Senator John McCain, “Why We Must Support Human Rights” New York Times Op-Ed 2017

The International Rule of Law and Security program, jointly developed by the McCain Institute for International Leadership and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, promotes global rule of law, human rights, sustainable international development, and national and international security through its academic and operational components.

International Development Programs


The International Rule of Law and Security program is committed to helping countries in transition to develop and strengthen their legal systems. The program tackles current challenges and plans for the future through programs that are sustainable and rooted in a thorough understanding of the local context. The program integrates training and education to ensure that the next generation of leaders is equipped with the skills to improve their local and national legal systems and governance structures. The program’s approach is based on best practices from international development experts with decades of field experience, faculty members, and a vast network of in-country partners across the globe who have successfully worked on similar challenges.

Areas of Expertise

Rule of Law

Strengthening the rule of law in transitioning countries is a key pillar of the program and is a target outcome for the program’s international development projects. This focus includes tracking and exposing anti-corruption, engaging civil society, improving legal education, and providing legal expertise to advise government leaders.

Through a grant from the Open Society Foundation in Albania (2018), IRLS legal experts provided support to the Albanian the Ministry of Justice in forming an advisory council comprised of legal experts to assist in the implementation of newly adopted judicial reforms. The program also assisted the Albanian School of Magistrates in developing courses for future prosecutors, and judges on ethics and on legal reasoning and writing.


The program’s work on security extends from countering and tracking disinformation to providing cybersecurity training to vulnerable, international human rights groups with support from top cybersecurity experts.

The IRLS program at the McCain Institute led the Tracking and Refuting Disinformation in Georgia project, funded by the Department of State Global Engagement Center to track and refute disinformation in Georgia. The project used Looking Glass, a machine learning technology, to track Russian disinformation on social media in Georgia. The Economic Policy Research Institute, a Georgian think-tank, worked with Georgian broadcaster Rustavi 2 to refute the disinformation to develop a broader public discourse of fake news and encourage Georgian citizens to scrutinize sources and sensational headlines before accepting them as facts. By doing so, the project introduced an element of caution and skepticism to Georgians as news consumers, working to neutralize the power of Russian disinformation by empowering Georgians to discern real news from fake. A summary of the project’s findings can be found here.

Legal Education

In partnership with the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, IRLS seeks to strengthen legal education as a long-term effort to improve the rule of law in countries around the world. The IRLS program draws on ASU’s expertise in education to provide assistance on topics ranging from investigations, specialized training for prosecutors and judges, advocacy training for civil society organizations, human rights research and reporting, legal education (including practical training such as clinics, moot courts, legal research and writing), and development of laws and implementation plans.

IRLS led the Legal Education Support Program in Pakistan, funded by the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The project improved the practical legal skills of Pakistani law students, including increasing the quality of legal research and writing, strengthening professors’ knowledge of curriculum development and teaching methodology, and expanding legal clinics, moot court programs, and law journals. The Legal Education Support program produced better trained, more effective lawyers whose practical experience in research, writing, and advocacy will enable them to be strong advocates.

IRLS participated in another INL-sponsored project in Mexico, which draws upon the program’s expertise in the clinical law field to implement reforms to Mexico’s criminal justice system. Through the project, IRLS developed and implemented programs at each of Tecnológico de Monterrey’s five largest law school campuses to train law students, professors, and administrators, as well as civil society practitioners, in the effective use of Mexico’s new oral advocacy system.

 Transitional Justice

The unparalleled experience of the ASU faculty and international network of experts enables the International Rule of Law and Security Program to offer assistance to build transitional justice mechanisms, including atrocity prevention and response.

The International Rule of Law and Security program is led by Ambassador Clint Williamson, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues. Williamson has led war crimes investigations as a prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia and as special prosecutor for the European Union, served as a senior White House national security policy official and as a United Nations special envoy, and held senior positions in peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and the Middle East. Williamson has also been responsible for negotiating disputes between parties in former Yugoslavia, in central Africa and in Cambodia. Currently Williamson serves, on appointment from the International Court of Justice, as presiding arbitrator of the Arbitral Tribunal for Brcko – the body responsible for resolving inter-ethnic conflicts in this strategic and highly contested region of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Balkan Platform

The McCain Institute/IRLS program has partnered with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), a network of Balkan NGOs, and Bakamo, a strategic social listening consultancy, to form the Balkan Platform (or “Platform B”) that aims to foster open debate about issues, trends and events shaping the future of democracy in the Western Balkans.

The Balkan Platform will bring together leading Balkan organizations and individuals from Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia with policy analysts and experts in Washington D.C. and Western Europe to address specific issues that pertain to the regions’ security, human rights, economic development, transitional justice and the rule of law.

The purpose of the Balkan Platform is to amplify the voices of strong, credible civil society actors in the Balkan region that seek to drive meaningful change, grassroots organizations that empower and engage citizens in democratic processes, and independent media organizations that inform matters of public interest. This comes at a critical time when democracy is deteriorating and several key trends are emerging: abuse of power, cronyism and authoritarian tendencies, assaults on transparency and media freedom, disregard for the rule of law, shrinking space for civil society, ideological entrenchment and polarization, demographic and social change, heightened geopolitical tensions, and a fractious Europe.

IRLS Academic Program

The International Rule of Law and Security program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University is an academic and experiential learning program designed to prepare students for jobs that promote justice, human rights, sustainable economic development, and equality under the law across the globe.

Based in Washington, D.C. and Phoenix, AZ, the program teaches students about the development of the rule of law and good governance in fragile and post-conflict states, and prepares them for international development and policy jobs in the public and private sectors. It is the only program of its kind in Washington, D.C.

Led by Distinguished Professor of Practice Clint Williamson, former U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Issues, and Professor Julia Fromholz, former Senior Director of Rule of Law at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, this program offers courses taught by faculty members with years of practical experience and prepares graduates for international development and policy jobs in the public and private sectors.

The program is open to candidates pursuing a JD, Master of Laws (LLM), or Master of Legal Studies (MLS). JD students may take courses in Phoenix and in Washington, while LLM and MLS students have the option to earn their one-year degree entirely in Washington, or split their time between Washington and Phoenix.

Students participating in the IRLS program will benefit from challenging and enriching academic and field experiences, which allow students to obtain valuable skills and expertise from leaders in the field while earning a degree from a top-25 U.S. law school.

To allow students to apply what they learn in law school into practice, the IRLS program developed a dedicated summer internship program focused on promoting rule of law, human rights, international development, good governance, and related issues in developing countries around the world. In these internships, students use the knowledge and skills gained in law school to help the host non-governmental organizations or government offices combat challenges faced by lawyers and ordinary citizens in countries with developing legal systems. The IRLS summer internship program operates in partnership with organizations and government entities in the Philippines, South Africa, and Timor-Leste, and the program is continuously looking to expand its work in other countries.

For more information on the program, visit our Frequently Asked Questions.