Rebecca Smyth

Lecturer in Law

Rebecca is a Lecturer in Law, specialising in international human rights law. She focuses on women’s and LGBTQ* rights, and the tensions arising from historically oppressed groups engaging with the language and mechanisms of human rights. She is also conducting research in the areas of postcolonial/decolonial theory, and disability rights and activism.

  • Expert
  • Lecturer
  • Activist
  • Human Rights


I am an interdisciplinary feminist scholar specialising in intersectional feminist approaches to international human rights law. I’m particularly interested in how oppressed groups use the language and mechanisms of human rights to advance their claims for recognition: for example, feminists using human rights law to challenge the criminalisation of abortion; disabled activists challenging their exclusion from education and public life; and racialised minority groups challenging the historic and ongoing legacies of colonial violence. 

Academic expertise

My main area of research is abortion, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHRs), and reproductive autonomy and justice. My doctoral research focused on the Republic of Ireland and El Salvador, and how feminists engage with national, regional, and international human rights mechanisms to advance abortion access. In 2022, I was awarded a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant for my project “Abortion, reproductive freedom, and sexual and reproductive health and rights: lessons from El Salvador.”

Building upon my doctoral thesis, I conducted interviews with Salvadoran feminists, transnational feminist and human rights organisations, and inter-American and UN human rights experts to reflect on the opportunities and obstacles that international human rights law presents for advancing abortion access and reproductive autonomy/justice. Two journal articles relating to the project are in press with Signs and Human Rights Quarterly. As part of the project, I also collaborated with Safe Abortion for Everyone (S.A.F.E) to create a database of abortion laws on paper and in practice across Europe. This database will be going live shortly. I’m also in the early stages of assisting Amnesty International in their development of policy guidelines for supporting human rights defenders who work on SRHRs.

In addition to my work on abortion and SRHRs, I have gained expertise in critical approaches to international refugee law and disability studies. I am fluent in French, Spanish, and Italian, and I am an intermediate German speaker.

Industry connections

I am working with S.A.F.E to maintain an up-to-date database of abortion laws across Europe. I will also be working with Amnesty International on the development of policy guidelines for supporting human rights defenders who work on SRHRs.

As part of the UPR Project at the BCU Centre for Human Rights, I have contributed to expert stakeholder submissions on abortion access concerning the United Kingdom, El Salvador, and Fiji. The UK expert stakeholder submission report was written in collaboration with colleagues at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. The Fiji report is being written in collaboration with International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) East & South East Asia and Oceania Region and The Reproductive and Family Health Association of Fiji (RFHAF). BCU students have regularly been involved in contributing to the UPR Project, which is always a joy.