Protecting communities across boundaries

Published on 7 July 2021

From engaging with indigenous communities to drafting legislation and policy for state governments, Harum Mukhayer talks to us about how she has used her legal skills to push for sustainable and equitable distribution of the world’s natural resources.

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As a child, Harum was drawn to the natural environment. 

“My parents helped us cultivate this curiosity in the natural world and enforced a family tradition of watching nature documentaries. A big part of how we were raised as followers of Islam is the sense of responsibility to our environment and waste-free living” said Harum.  

This curiosity was further instilled in her by her mother, a fellow LLM graduate at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law & Policy (CEPMLP).  

“We learned intricate details about the River Nile’s ecology and its transboundary reach. Every time we flew over my home country of Sudan my mother would show us the confluence of the Blue and White Niles in Khartoum and tell us about their origins in the Ethiopian Highlands and Lake Victoria.” 

The huge dependency that many communities have on natural resources like the River Nile was brought into sharp focus on a field trip to Sudan’s Nuba Mountains in her final year of her undergraduate studies.  

“We were required to spend two weeks with a community in the Korongo Abdullah area deep in the Nuba Mountains. They relied predominantly on natural resources for subsistence. It was during this trip that I realised the significance of environmental and natural resources, not just for our everyday lives but for those who would have nothing if natural resources were not sustainably managed.” 

After graduating and working with the UN Environment Programme in Sudan and South Sudan, Harum decided to move to Dundee to pursue an LLM in Natural Resources Law and Policy in 2010.  

“I love Dundee— it’s a petite city that really packs a punch. My favourite spot has to be the walk along the river especially in the summer when you can see the grey seals lounging on the islands on the River Tay.”

Harum Mukhayer

"The University, specifically the CEPMLP, place an emphasis on theory and practice, industry focus and commitment to staying academically and practically relevant. I’ve made some of my closest friends during my time in Dundee and learned more about the diversity of the African continent from colleagues at the Centre than from a lifetime in Sudan!” 

Harum graduated from Dundee in 2012 and immediately began working as a Natural Resources Legal Specialist with the UN in Somalia, helping the Somali government prepare their national commitment under the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. It was a chance to directly apply her LLM experience.  

Harum was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship where she worked providing legal research in disputes entailing the Winnimum Wintu and Pit River Tribes in northern California.  

“The Winnimum Wintu are not yet federally recognised but have for centuries practised their traditional culture and ceremonies in their territory along the McCloud River watershed in Northern California.”  

“Salmon is integral to the tribes’ way of life and they have long campaigned against interventions in the river which have brought salmon stock to near extinction. I benefited enormously from meetings with the tribe, including with their Spiritual Leader and Tribal Chief, Chief Caleen Sisk. It facilitated my understanding of the needs and priorities of the tribe and enabled us to better provide relevant and useful legal advice.” 

After completing her PhD in International Law at the University of Cambridge, Harum secured her dream role as Legal Counsel at the World Bank’s Environmental and International Law Unit. This role is the culmination of her career so far as she advises the unit on international law, disputed areas, land and fragility, conflict and violence issues. Using her legal experience to meet the needs of marginalised communities, be it indigenous tribes in Northern California or in the Nuba Mountains, continues to motivate Harum.  

“I have a desire to connect international law to the people who need it the most. This can only be done by ensuring that international principles reflect the lived experience of those who are often pushed to the margins.”  

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