International Service for Human Rights (01.2010-06.2010, Geneva, Switzerland)

My time working with the International Service for Human Rights was an incredibly rewarding six months. Working with a small dedicated staff, and a host of enthusiastic, intelligent, and professional interns was a truly valuable experience.

ISHR Interns June 2010
ISHR Interns June 2010 at Palais des Nations (Kylie Marks, Elena Cerescu, J. Deng, Tjasa Polutnik, Ariel Ricker, Christopher Gully)

ISHR’s internship program is unlike any other that I have since experienced. They take their job as human rights educators seriously; all interns were provided with a full week of training prior to beginning our work. The training consisted of background exercises on the UN and the various human rights mechanisms (such as the Human Rights Council, the UPR, and the treaty bodies such as CERD, CEDAW, etc), and how civil society organizations and human rights defenders can interact with them. The training was expertly provided by Lizzy Openshaw, a woman who takes education seriously, and clearly enjoys her role. I owe her great thanks for the confidence she provided to me and the other interns in our first few weeks.

Following our training, the internship position consisted of monitoring of UN human rights mechanisms, and producing reports for the ISHR website, and printed publications (a list of articles I contributed to their Human Rights Monitor Quarterly can be found here on my publications page). Monitoring involved taking verbatim or summary notes of the meetings, then on a tight deadline, turning around and producing a short factual description of the session along with some analysis and criticism. An example of a short article I produced can be found on the ISHR website here.

The Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council

Sitting in on these meetings was an educational experience. I was able to view the political complications of the implementation of human rights treaties, and perhaps most interestingly the role that individuals played in negotiations and drafting of resolutions and reports. While a great deal can be learned from reading UN press releases, the subtleties gained from being in the room cannot be understated; the additional subtleties gleaned from simply keeping one’s ears open in the Serpentine Bar in Palais des Nations is a whole other story.

Particular issues that caught my attention during my six months were:

  • The development of a resolution on human rights education and training (something I continued to work on during my time with LRWC)
  • The political issues behind the series of Defamation of Religion resolutions
  • Debate around the Gaza Flotilla of May 2010
  • Issue of the “speakers list” at the Universal Periodic Review

Gaining knowledge of and insight into these and a host of other topics and issues has informed all of my studies and work since then. I am grateful to the other interns – particularly Kylie Marks and Kara Apland –  and all the staff at ISHR. A special thanks is reserved for Michael Ineichen and Katrine Thomasen who gave me more than they perhaps would realize.