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A Glimpse Behind the Curtain: My Internship with The Advocates for Human Rights

The following post was written by JD/MAPJ Dual Degree in Law and Peace & Justice student Emily Kawahara.

Last summer, shortly before starting the Masters of Peace and Justice Program, I wrote a blog post for the Kroc School of Peace Studies about my thoughts transitioning into the MA program after spending one year at the School of Law. As a MAPJ/JD Dual Degree student, I had finished 1L and was excited to shift my focus to another side of justice at the peace school. In that blog post, I wrote that I was drawn to the Kroc School because the curriculum provides students with the tools to create change and the opportunity to put theory into practice.

During this last academic year, through MAPJ courses and a graduate student assistantship, I engaged with the United Nations’ system and databases, conducted extensive desk research on country-specific human rights developments and violations, and documented human rights-related information during nine months of country monitoring. I was ready, with this newfound understanding of international human rights law, to put these refined skills to the test.

As a Legal Intern with International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights, I immediately dove into the fast-paced work environment of the non-profit. The International Justice Program monitors and documents human rights conditions in countries around the world and, independently and with civil society partners, submits written and oral reports to international bodies, including the United Nations. Heavily influenced by reporting cycles of United Nations’ mechanisms and requests from partner organizations, The Advocates’ work ebbs and flows with anticipated deadlines and unexpected human rights-related developments.

IMG_2175[87] (1)My work-from-home coworker

Because of the internship timing, many of my early assignments were prompted by the fast-approaching deadlines for civil society organizations to submit reports on countries that would be reviewed during upcoming cycles of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR is a process that reviews the human rights records of all United Nations Member States and provides the venue for States to comment on the improvements it has made on its human rights situation since its last review. Reviews occur on a four-and-a-half-year cycle, so sessions throughout the year review around fourteen countries at a time.

I frequently reviewed UPR documents during the academic year, for paper research and while collecting information as part of my graduate student assistantship. Now, as an intern with The Advocates, I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I could peak behind the curtain and engage with the immense effort and passion that kept the wheels turning to produce these extensive monitoring reports and pointed recommendations of the State under review. I found myself assisting with written submissions that would be subsequently included in the Summary of Stakeholders’ Submissions by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. For one assignment, I worked with two other interns to draft the Stakeholder Report for Venezuela, on behalf of The Advocates.

Image 8-1-21 at 4.08 PM (1)

This assignment was particularly illustrative of how important collaborations and partnerships are to the success of civil society organization advocacy. The Venezuela submission was heavily influenced by client testimony provided to a partner of The Advocates. The testimony provided details of continued cases of extortion, surveillance, kidnappings, arbitrary arrests and detention, and torture at the hands of government authorities and exemplified the umbrella of impunity for State actors. These experiences augmented our desk research and brought government corruption to life.

One of my shorter assignments was to draft two oral statements to be presented during the Human Rights Council (HRC) session that took place in early July. During this session, the HRC would be adopting the UPR reports of the States that had been reviewed earlier in the year. How powerful, I thought, to critically analyze a report for the most important takeaways and most poignant recommendations, based on a report written by a colleague, based on research undoubtedly completed by another one or two colleagues, to then write an oral statement that would eventually be read, before the HRC, by a representative of a partner organization. In short, it takes a village.

I am grateful for the technical skills I developed and thankful for this opportunity to learn about countries – Togo, Mauritania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Sri Lanka to name a few – whose rich histories and human rights struggles and victories I knew very little of. From the internship experience, I am taking with me a refined understanding of how NGOs advocate for international human rights. And in these next two years of my program, I will be looking for ways to build on the skills I developed now that I have had a glimpse behind the curtain.

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