Sally Alghazali: Refugee, Musician, Human Rights Activist, Law Student
Second-year Scalia Law student Sally Alghazali was scheduled to begin an internship in the summer of 2020 with the Department of State at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. When she learned at the end of April that the program was cancelled due to the pandemic, she asked herself how she could still work in human rights.
The result was Human Rights Weekly, a blog she founded to discuss policy and legal perspectives around human rights. Contributors include Nobel Peace Prize nominee and peace activist Kathy Kelly.
Pivoting due to unforeseen circumstances is not new for Alghazali. When asked how her interest in human rights began, she replies, “The short answer to that is I am from Iraq.”
The long answer began when Alghazali was born to a family of musicians during the regime of Saddam Hussein. On her blog, she calls the period in 2003 when the U.S. invaded “the worst months of my life.” By then, Alghazali, a violinist, was a student at The Music and Ballet School of Baghdad, the only music school in the country. After the invasion, religious extremists took over the city and the family was no longer able to play music publicly.
Alghazali and her family remained in Iraq for a few years after that. “We didn’t leave Iraq right away,” she says. “It doesn’t come as the first option for people. You think this is just going to be war, like the regular ones that we’ve been through before and it’s just going to end.”
The family continued to play music secretly, “but then my father received multiple death threats that we either quit music or basically the whole family will be killed.”
So in 2006, Alghazali, then about 10 or 11 years old, fled to Jordan with her mother, four siblings, and violin. The family was “planning to stay for a week,” she says. The family learned that Alghazali’s mother had cancer shortly after arriving. Her father followed the family to Jordan after learning of the diagnosis, but had to return to Iraq to earn money for the treatment. The rest of the family did not return to Iraq.
After nine years and multiple applications, Alghazali and her brothers and sisters were granted United States visas and went to live with their grandparents in San Diego. Alghazali’s mother had died in Jordan.
In San Diego, the siblings formed a musical group called Melody for Peace, which donates proceeds from its appearances to refugees.
As a young girl in Iraq, Alghazali says, “society chose a path for you.” But in the U.S., she became interested in law school.
“It’s a responsibility that I need to be able to do this because I’ve been on both sides and I lived in a world where I didn’t have rights and I didn’t have opportunities and then I was offered these rights and opportunities in the United States,” she says of her choice to pursue law. “So I was enlightened and then at the same time empowered to be able to give back and give those people who are still struggling, who are still oppressed, giving them the opportunities that I was offered when I was in their situation.”
After earning her Bachelor of Science in Public Policy at Georgia State University, Alghazali chose Scalia Law because she of her interest in international law. She notes that the D.C. area is the “perfect place” to pursue that interest.
“I’m mostly thinking about government,” she says of her career plans. Despite the setback in the spring of 2020, she continues to set her sights on the State Department.
“Always keep your options open,” she says, “and try and create your own opportunities.”