International Law and Human Rights Fellows’ Blog

The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, in cooperation with the Institute for International Law and Justice, administers the International Law and Human Rights (ILHR) Fellowship Program.  The Program combines academic and practical experience in international law and human rights. As Fellows, selected NYU law students complete a specialized training program in international law, undertake a summer internship at a leading intergovernmental institution or civil society organization, and complete a substantial research paper after their work experience. This year’s Fellowship group includes 29 NYU law students (first year, second year and LLM) who have internships at 22 organizations in 20 countries. Throughout the summer, Fellows write short updates about their experiences and impressions at their placements. The posts are written by the ILHR Fellows and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice or the internship organization. Their blog posts appear below.

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Internship Organization: Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Office of the International Co-Prosecutor

ILHR Fellow: Nasser Alreshaid, LLM 2015

August 20, 2015

A person may read a lot about the features of a hybrid tribunal  that will enlighten them on the topic but not nearly as much as to what they would experience and learn from actually working at one. Working at a hybrid tribunal is a unique experience, but the fact that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has emerged in a devastated country like Cambodia, which lost close to 2 million or more souls in a period of about 4 years, makes it even more fascinating.

ILHR Fellow Nasser Alreshaid (LLM 2015) during his 2015 internship at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, in Phnom Penh.

ILHR Fellow Nasser Alreshaid (LLM 2015) during his 2015 internship at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, in Phnom Penh.

The Office of the Co-Prosecutors (OCP) is co-headed by a Cambodian and an international Co-Prosecutor and is staffed by both national and international staff and interns. While interning at this Office, I had the opportunity of partaking in some of its core functions, which involved processing victim complaints, preparing portions of draft submissions, and attending the judicial proceedings in both the Trial Chamber and Supreme Court Chamber. In light of the vast number of documents related to the consecutive cases that have been decided or are still ongoing judicial proceedings, i.e. Cases 001 to 004, the OCP resorts to advanced case and information and document management software including CaseMap and Zylab, as crucial tools in large-scale and complex criminal prosecutions.

ILHR Fellow Nasser Alreshaid (LLM 2015) during his 2015 internship at the ECCC in Cambodia with a sign to commemorate International Criminal Justice Day on July 17, 2015. The Arabic phrase reads “enhancing the role of local communities and acknowledging their concerns, in order to move forward."

ILHR Fellow Nasser Alreshaid (LLM 2015) during his 2015 internship at the ECCC in Cambodia with a sign to commemorate International Criminal Justice Day on July 17, 2015. The Arabic phrase reads “enhancing the role of local communities and acknowledging their concerns, in order to move forward.”

Outside the ECCC premises, the country is so rich in what it has to offer, mostly by changing any perception you may have had about Cambodia. The first day I arrived, I went to the rooftop of my hotel to witness how developed Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, is. Walking the streets of this city proved to be so intense, there is a certain character to it with wariness being its core, but also the passion of keeping an open eye to all the mysterious activity that happens on the streets such as men and women sitting on the pavement gambling, the non-stop motorcycles and tuk tuk rush hour, topped with the smells of all the street food that offer what your eyes may have never seen, is always tempting.

The poverty in the country is really sad, but the fact that everyone is always smiling just elicits a smile and reminds you of how strong some people are even in such unfortunate situations. Once outside the capital city, indications of development fade away to a certain extent and one is left with the beautiful traditional lifestyle of rural Cambodia. A hopeful developing Cambodia seems to be in the horizon, although that still must come at great cost. Participating in such a historical moment of a nation starting to shine after so much darkness and misery is what makes my experience one I will continue to reflect on in the future.

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Internship organization: UNHCR Senegal, Dakar, Senegal

ILHR Fellow: Peter Speelman, Class of 2016

August 10, 2015

This past June, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released its annual Global Trends Report, revealing that worldwide displacement has reached an all-time high – what the High Commissioner for Refugees described as “a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.” This reality reflects not only the scale and scope of humanitarian crises around the world, but also a failure on the part of the international community to provide for those displaced.

In this context, it’s been exciting to work in the UNHCR regional office for West Africa in Dakar this summer. For the most part I’ve been working in the Refugee Status Determination unit, which provides support to UNHCR country offices throughout the region on status determination procedures and policies, and also conducts some status determination interviews of asylum- seekers in Senegal under the UNHCR mandate. The projects I’ve worked on have focused on fairly discreet aspects of refugee law, ranging from drafting proposed amendments to national asylum legislation in Sierra Leone, composing a standardized form for assessing claims to refugee status based on the right to family unity in Ghana, to compiling country information on Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria to be used as a reference tool by status determination officers. The work represents a small subset of the office’s activities in the region, yet I’ve also had some opportunity to see a broader picture of what UNHCR does and the challenges it faces in fulfilling its mandate in West Africa.

ILHR Fellow Peter Speelman (Class of 2016) at the June 2015 Regional Protection Meeting on Nigeria and the Central African Republic Situations in Dakar during his internship at the UNHCR Regional Office for West Africa.

ILHR Fellow Peter Speelman (Class of 2016) at the June 2015 Regional Protection Meeting on Nigeria and the Central African Republic Situations in Dakar during his internship at the UNHCR Regional Office for West Africa.

A constant question for me this summer has been what role international law and international institutions like UNHCR can play in providing protection to displaced persons, and what difficulties arise in the performance of this role. Some recurrent themes I’ve encountered have included the mobilization of national systems (to conduct status determination, to protect those meeting the criteria of refugees or other persons of concern, to ensure that persons are not “refouled” to countries where they are at risk of being persecuted); the facilitation of burden-sharing between countries and regions (both through financial support and activities such as resettlement), and coordination between different components of the international humanitarian response machinery (where should UNHCR take the lead in humanitarian response, how do organizations and agencies determine and resolve mandate overlap, what is the interplay between the response systems in place and the UN, national governments, independent organizations, other actors).

The last theme, coordination, was highlighted at a regional protection meeting hosted in Dakar in June, concerning the crises in Nigeria and the Central African Republic. It was fascinating to hear how complicated and unsettled many of these issues can be, involving a complex mélange of international conventions (including the Refugee, OAU, Geneva Conventions, and the ICCPR), human rights principles (significantly the rights of freedom of movement and against arbitrary arrest and detention), and national laws and policies (especially on issues such as nationality and documentation.) The unique advantages and responsibilities of an international institution like UNHCR were apparent in the discussion of these two situations (as were a number of the limitations), each situation involving multiple states, nationalities, and substantial cross-border movement.

It has so far been a rewarding experience, both working at UNHCR and living in Dakar. While I’ve learned a great deal about refugee law this summer, I’ve also encountered a number of questions related to the above themes and protection challenges, which I hope to be able to delve into further in the future.

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Internship organization: International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland

ILHR Fellow: Juergen Bering, LLM 2015

August 9, 2015

Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice at the International Law Commission

Introduction

The ILC was created in 1947 as a subsidiary organ of the United Nations General Assembly, tasked with “the progressive development of international law and its codification.” Throughout its long existence, the Commission has expedited and influenced some major developments in the realm of international law, among them the creation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the International Criminal Court, the 1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea, and the Articles on State Responsibility. These, however, are only the tip of the iceberg that consists of 67 years’ worth of reports, ranging from arbitral procedure to ways and means for making the evidence of customary international law more readily available. These reports get turned to and cited by courts and tribunals – whether domestic or international – States and academia. In this year, the Commission has focused its work on the topics “Immunity of State Officials from Foreign Criminal Jurisdiction”, “Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice in Relation to the Interpretation of Treaties”, “Most-Favoured Nation Clauses”, Provisional Application of Treaties”, “Identification of Customary International Law”, “Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict”, “Protection of the Atmosphere”, “Crimes against Humanity”, and “Jus Cogens”. This array of subjects reflects the range of areas that Members of the Commission are continuously facing, encompassing aspects of the law of treaties to human rights, the law of armed conflict, and environmental law. In this context, the Commission is tasked to address even contentious issues in a nonpolitical and academic manner.

Even though I – as most students of International Law – have encountered the work of the ILC early on in my studies, the process of how the Commission produces such highly influential reports remained a miracle for a long time. While access to the reports as well as preliminary documents are publicly available, the sheer amount of information that they contain and eventually are used to create a set of norms – called inter alia articles, conclusions, and guidelines, depending on scope and effect – seemed overwhelming. As an ILHR Fellow, I finally got the chance to take a peek behind the curtain and catch a glimpse of the process that leads to the creation of the ILC’s annual report.

NYU Law at the International Law Commission at the UN in Geneva in summer 2015: from left to right: Andrew Larkin (Class of 2017); Emily Buist-Catherwood (LLM 2015); Daniel Peck (Class of 2017); Haley Anderson (JD 2014, LLM 2015); Regina Hsu (Class of 2017); Cristina Passoni (Class of 2017); Kexin Zheng (Class of 2017); Hendrik Denys (LLM 2015); Juergen Bering (LLM 2015).

NYU Law at the International Law Commission at the UN in Geneva in summer 2015: from left to right: Andrew Larkin (Class of 2017); Emily Buist-Catherwood (LLM 2015); Daniel Peck (Class of 2017); Haley Anderson (JD 2014, LLM 2015); Regina Hsu (Class of 2017); Cristina Passoni (Class of 2017); Kexin Zheng (Class of 2017); Hendrik Denys (LLM 2015); Juergen Bering (LLM 2015).

Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice

Specifically, I was given the opportunity to witness the work of Professor Georg Nolte, the Special Rapporteur for the topic “Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice”. As a Special Rapporteur, Professor Nolte is tasked with preparing specific reports on the topic that then act as the background for the discussion of the specific topic. “Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice” is a topic in the realm of the law of treaties and seeks to clarify the role of subsequent conduct in the interpretation of treaties under Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This year, the Special Rapporteur’s report focused on subsequent agreements and subsequent practice involving the constituent treaties of International Organizations. The following paragraphs will focus on this specific report’s way through the Commission in order to illustrate the working methods of the ILC. However, it should be noted that the ILC uses different methods depending on topic and desired outcome. In the context of “Subsequent Agreement and Subsequent Practice”, the ILC has focused on existing precedents and practice – without going beyond it.

The process the ILC uses to address each subject can roughly be divided into three phases: The discussion in the Plenary, the sessions of the Drafting Committee, and the final adoption of Draft Articles or Conclusions together with Commentaries by the Plenary. All of these proceedings are based on the works of the Special Rapporteur – both his written report as well as his oral remarks. He has the challenging task of becoming an expert on a specific topic capable of reporting to a Commission filled with experts in the field. As such, the works of the Special Rapporteur have to endure a high level of scrutiny by the other Members of the Commission. This scrutiny is applied throughout all of the working phases and ensure the quality of the results.

Initial Discussions in the Plenary

Starting from the time that the previous session has ended, the respective Special Rapporteur will have worked on a report that addresses one sub-question regarding the topic. In the case of “Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice”, this sub-question was the role subsequent agreements and subsequent practice regarding constituent treaties of International Organizations. This report is then submitted to the Plenary of the ILC which uses it as a basis for its discussions. Individual statements by the Members of the Commission will address all aspects of a report, which usually focuses on past and present practice concerning a specific area. One specific focal point, however, is formed by proposed Draft Provisions – which, as mentioned before, may bear different names. In general, however, they aim to express a rule that is based on the results of the report. For instance, on the topic “Subsequent Agreement and Subsequent Practice”, ten Draft Conclusions have been provisionally adopted in previous years. The word “Conclusion” had already been used in the predecessor to “Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice”, the Study Group on “Treaties over Time” and adequately describes the proposal as a result stemming from the study of previous and present applications of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. In addition, the word indicates a slightly different style of drafting that might depart from the rule-like pronouncement of inter alia Draft Articles. This year’s report included one proposed Draft Conclusion which set out in a condensed form the findings of the Special Rapporteur concerning the constituent treaties of International Organization. Statements that were made in response to the report on “Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice” sometimes addressed the background research that was encapsulated in the report and sometimes the inferences drawn from it in the form of the proposed Draft Conclusion.

While the discussion – which was led with utmost scrutiny – surely suffices in highlighting even the tiniest weaknesses of a report, it at the same time appears inherent in the size and limited time of the plenary that no actual changes to Draft Provisions can be made in this forum. Instead, after its deliberations on a topic, the Plenary decides whether or not the proposals should be referred to the Drafting Committee. In the case of “Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice”, the proposed Draft Conclusion 11 was able to take that step.

The Drafting Committee

The Drafting Committee consists of a limited numbers of Members of the ILC and is tasked with the revision of those Draft Provisions that are referred to it – based on the discussion in the plenary. The sessions of the Drafting Committee itself are not open to the public. Similarly, no public records exist. However, after finishing its work, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee issues a statement to the Plenary which depicts the thoughts and discussions that were taking place during the meetings. Overall, when looking at initial reports of Special Rapporteurs in comparison to the outcomes achieved by the Drafting Committee, it can be determined that the revision ranges from particular words over splitting up paragraphs to dropping whole Draft Provisions. Also, some proposals are accepted without any changes.

However, while the Drafting Committee undertakes to produce a wording that is both clear and accurate, it nevertheless must be accepted that sometimes a challenging legal question cannot be answered in one concise sentence. Because of this, no set of Draft Provisions is complete without its accompanying Commentary – a first draft of which will also be prepared by the Special Rapporteur, after the deliberations of the Drafting Committee. This set of explanations and general deliberations is on the one hand based on the Special Rapporteurs initial report and the following discussions in the plenary but on the other hand also takes account of the specific debates and challenges of the Drafting Committee. The Commentary contains further information on how to apply the specific provisions but may also highlight dissents during drafting.

Concluding Discussions in the Plenary

Regardless of the level of scrutiny that the Drafting Committee has applied when dealing with the proposed Draft Provisions, it must be borne in mind that the Committee’s function is that of preparing the decision of the Commission as a whole. Hence, it is for the Plenary to ultimately adopt any provisions. However, it will only adopt them in connection with Commentaries – which highlights once again that both texts form one instrument. Thus, in cases in which the Commentaries have not yet been finalized, the results of the Drafting Committee will not yet be adopted as an act of the Commission itself.

Whereas the Plenary is informed about the outcomes of the Drafting Committee throughout the session, the challenging duty of adopting Commentaries is reserved for the end of the session. Thus, in order to adopt the Commentaries as its own and include them in their annual report, the Plenary goes through them paragraph by paragraph in order to ensure that everything that has been mentioned throughout the process is adequately reflected and no errors will have sneaked in. At the same time, this final revision aims to ensure that the Commentaries are streamlined to efficiently explain and elaborate on the Draft Provisions provisionally adopted. In the case of “Subsequent Agreement and Subsequent Practice”, this meant that the information that was contained in the original report of thirty-three pages was compressed to eleven pages in the annual report of the ILC.

Outlook

While it was fascinating by itself to see the Special Rapporteur’s report being discussed by the Plenary, noting the changes applied by the Drafting Committee, and then witnessing the final outcome represented in the annual report, it needs to be borne in mind that this year’s work on “Subsequent Agreement and Subsequent Practice” was merely one further step towards creating an ultimate outcome on the subject. It is for this reason, that Draft Conclusion 11 was only adopted provisionally. After all the reports that pertain to sub-issues will have been submitted, the ILC will eventually revisit every aspect it has addressed concerning this project and reconsider all these questions, in order to assure that the final report on “Subsequent Agreement and Subsequent Practice” has the highest degree of consistency and coherence. While I do not expect many changes to Draft Conclusion 11 and its accompanying Commentaries– after all, the provisionally adopted outcome has been based on well-substantiated research – I am nevertheless looking forward to the final outcome to see for myself what might have changed over the years.


Internship organization: International Organization for Migration, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific – Migrant Assistance Unit

ILHR Fellow: Jiyae Hwang, Class of 2017

August 7, 2015

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an intergovernmental organization created from the Resolution adopted on 5 December 1951 by the Migration Conference in Brussels, originally established as a Committee to help resettle people displaced by World War II. Now, IOM has evolved to become the principal intergovernmental organization in the field of migration with 157 member states and 10 observer states, undertaking a broad mission to promote humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all.

ILHR Fellow Jiyae Hwang (Class of 2017, far right) with colleagues during her 2015 internship at the International Organization for Migration in Bangkok, Thailand.

ILHR Fellow Jiyae Hwang (Class of 2017, far right) with colleagues during her 2015 internship at the International Organization for Migration in Bangkok, Thailand.

IOM’s responsibilities include promoting international cooperation on migration issues, to initiate and manage programs designed to solve problems associated with migration, and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants, including emergency relief. Headquartered in Geneva, IOM has regional offices and country offices. In the Asia-Pacific region, for example, each country (e.g. Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.) has an office to provide country-specific services and emergency aid. One Regional office oversees the country offices’ activities and coordinates funding, headed in Bangkok, Thailand. The Regional Office also initiates media/awareness projects and thematic policy initiatives. As a Migration Assistance Intern in the Asia-Pacific Regional Office of IOM, I took part in the office’s legal remedies initiative, developing tools for country offices to coordinate legal aid to migrants who experienced labor exploitation.

International law instruments seek to curtail human trafficking activities in the Asia-Pacific region: the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, adopted by General Assembly Resolution 55/25 of 15 November 2000, supplemented by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and The Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. The former Protocol mandates State Parties to adopt legislation persecuting human trafficking, and protecting victims of human trafficking. Prosecution-based regulation in the Asia-Pacific Region, however, has engendered many problems in practice. In Malaysia, corrupt police would use the legislation to threaten employers not to stop them from employing undocumented migrants, but to receive bribes in exchange of letting the employers to continue to employ them. The government also would authorize private militia called “RELA” to search for, harass, and apprehend undocumented migrants on the government’s behalf.

Recognizing that relying on criminal law sanctions to regulate human trafficking puts a heavy burden on victims’ wellbeing and safety, IOM’s legal initiative investigates possible civil litigation remedies for victims of exploitation, to be pursued remotely after the victim returns to his or her home country. Although in theory there should be no barriers for a non-national to bring a civil suit for an action in tort, e.g. for assault and battery, many countries in the region are generally not litigious cultures, therefore civil litigation for damages between private parties has not flourished as an established system for justice especially for indigent plaintiffs. However, if only these financial and practical barriers to hire a lawyer for an indigent migrant worker is solved through institutional cooperation (IOM is also involved in the Pro Bono legal networks in the Asia-Pacific region), research has been pointing to the conclusion that civil litigation for human trafficking victims is a legally viable option in Hong Kong, Singapore, and now in Malaysia (my summer project at IOM focused on these laws). The principle underlying this effort is to improve access to justice for migrant workers, human trafficking victims and victims of labor exploitation. Especially in an economy where one’s financial resources significantly impacts the options one may pursue to seek compensation when one is mistreated, many times it is not lack of law, but lack of access to justice that renders the law mere “dead letters.” Only with the cooperation and financial support of various institutions will it be possible to realize truly the “rule of law” for all.

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Internship organization: International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

ILHR Fellow: Natalia Restrepo-Ortiz[1], LLM 2015

August 4, 2015

One of the first things you notice when entering the building of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is a poster that includes this sentence: “Bringing war criminals to justice and justice to victims”. But what does this actually mean?

The ICTY has indicted 161 accused for international crimes committed during the worst conflicts that have happened in Europe since World War II. The Tribunal has prosecuted officials that were directly involved in the atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia and also high level officials such as heads of state, prime ministers and many other leaders.

ILHR Fellow Natalia Restrepo-Ortiz during her 2015 internship at the ICTY in The Hague, Netherlands

ILHR Fellow Natalia Restrepo-Ortiz during her 2015 internship at the ICTY in The Hague, Netherlands

If you are trying to understand what bringing justice to victims actually means, my experience at the Tribunal is that it can mean different things to different audiences. Therefore, for some victims it can mean identifying the causes and the motives behind the crimes committed, as well as telling the story of what happened; for other victims, it can mean the prosecution and conviction of the actual individual responsible for their suffering. Regardless, prosecuting high level officials can be considered as a huge step towards achieving this important goal. Not only because of what it actually represents to the victims and, in general, to the people in the former Yugoslavia, but also because of the message it sends to the international community. This notion is of particular importance for me, as a Colombian, where the discussion of how, and even if, to prosecute the heads of the FARC guerrillas has been one of the most complicated issues in the peace talks that are currently taking place in Cuba, between the guerrillas and the Colombian Government.

My internship at the Office of the President has proven to be a very enriching experience. Currently Judge Meron, who is the President of the ICTY, is also the presiding judge of the Appeals Chamber in charge of one of the biggest appeals case in the ICTY: The Prosecutor v Prlic et al. In this case, six accused were charged “with having participated in a joint criminal enterprise between 18 November 1991 and April 1994 that was designed to subject the Muslims and other non-Croats living the regions of the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, claimed as territories of the Croatian Community (and later Republic) of Herceg-Bosna, in order to remove them permanently and to create a Croatian territory with the borders of the Croatian Banovina”. As part of my internship I have been given the opportunity to actively participate in the discussions concerning this case with highly professional lawyers who come from a variety of different legal backgrounds. The fact that they encourage interns to be part of this process has made my internship more worthwhile.

Additionally, Judge Meron is also the President of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. Working in his Office has allowed me to acquire valuable knowledge on how both the Tribunal and the Mechanism work on a daily basis, not only from a legal perspective, but also from an administrative point of view. Just to name an example, since the Mechanism is in charge of the enforcement of the sentences of the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”), I have been able to learn about and to contribute to cases regarding decisions of early or provisional release, pardon or commutation of sentence of some of the accused or convicted persons who are currently in the United Nations Detention Unit or serving their sentence in an enforcement State. This has helped me understand that when we talk about “bringing war criminals to justice”, we can’t forget that in spite of what each of the convicted persons were found guilty of committing during the Yugoslavian conflict, they have certain rights that must be respected.

For someone as passionate about International Law as I am, working at the Tribunal has been the fulfillment of a dream I had since I first learned of its existence during law school back home in Colombia. Before coming here I had high expectations as to what my internship was going to be like, and I’m happy to say it has exceeded expectations in every possible way.

[1] The views expressed herein are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Tribunal or the United Nations in general.


Internship organization: UNHCR, Amman, Jordan

ILHR Fellow: Suzan ElTahhan, LLM candidate 2015

August 3, 2015

Refugees’ lives behind the curtains:

ILHR Fellow Suzan ElTahhan (LLM candidate 2015) during her 2015 internship with UNHCR in Amman, Jordan.

ILHR Fellow Suzan ElTahhan (LLM candidate 2015) during her 2015 internship with UNHCR in Amman, Jordan.

I always tried to imagine how hard a refugee’s life could be but interning with the UNHCR showed me that reality could be way worse than imagination! A person who flees human rights violations in his country of origin might think he’s fleeing all his problems not knowing that a new series of them is awaiting him in the country of asylum. According to the information I gathered through shadowing interviews with Darfurian asylum applicants, it might take a man 8 years of high-risk work in gold mines in order to be able to collect the money necessary for obtaining a passport and securing a trip to Jordan or Egypt. Through those years the Arab Janjaweed militia supported by the Sudanese government threatens Darfurians of African origin every day. People who survive all this arrive in the country of asylum without having enough money to live or find somewhere to stay. They are also not eligible for work permits. Thus, many of the applicants develop poor health conditions over time.

UNHCR Amman:

Governed by the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees and pursuant to the five grounds determined in Article 1A (2) of the 1951 Convention, even after getting a refugee status — knowing that practically this process in many cases may take years — a refugee still can’t get a work permit in Jordan. And only severely vulnerable cases are the ones who are eligible for financial support from UNHCR like the Syrian family whose interview I shadowed during my internship. The family has a child with a serious medical condition that needs special medical care.

UNHCR generally offers refugees three durable solutions: voluntary repatriation; local integration; or resettlement to a third country. In Jordan, most asylum seekers are people fleeing general instability, and life and freedom threats to entire population in countries of origin like Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Somalia. Thus, voluntary repatriation is not an expected solution to the refugee caseload. Also, the Jordanian nationality law imposes restrictions that make it difficult for a person to get naturalized no matter how long resident in Jordan. This prevents UNHCR from offering the local integration solution to refugees. Though the UNHCR office in Jordan applies the third solution and works hard to resettle as many refugees as possible, the office is bound to a limited number of resettlement placements compared to the increasing number of refugees in Jordan. Meanwhile, life for more than half million refugees living outside of camps in Jordan has become increasingly tough. The latest survey found 86% of these people live below the Jordanian poverty line of JOD 68 (approx. US$95) per capita per month.

An inspirational poster in UNHCR’s office in Amman, Jordan.

An inspirational poster in UNHCR’s office in Amman, Jordan.

Even though Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the government is said to be very cooperative with the UNHCR efforts. The 2014 Year in Review-UNHCR Jordan reported that Jordan received around 620,000 registered refugees inside and outside the camps across the country just in 2014. Through the devastating crisis, UNHCR Jordan is still managing the situation, in part by opening the Azraq camp in April, thus ensuring that essential services in Zaatari camp would not be overburdened. In addition, UNHCR Jordan has a cash assistance program that distributed almost USD $50 million to refugees living outside of camps. This program mainly runs on donations.

UNHCR recognizes as refugees, in addition to individuals who meet the criteria in the 1951 Convention definition, those who are: “outside their country of origin or habitual residence and unable to return there owing to serious and indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from generalized violence or events seriously disturbing public order.” This is the broader mandate refugee definition.

Although UNHCR applies both the 1951 Convention definition and the broader mandate refugee definition when examining eligibility for refugee status through the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Unit, UNHCR staff seeks to identify the basis for eligibility under the 1951 Convention wherever possible, as many States, including resettlement States, do not accept obligations towards refugees who do not meet the 1951 Convention criteria. Accordingly it may be more challenging for UNHCR to protect and assist refugees recognized under the broader refugee definition.

My work:

I work mainly with the non-Iraqi and Syrian team in the RSD Unit. I shadow interviews with Somali, Sudanese, and Yemeni asylum seekers, draft assessments, and research the latest country of origin information, all of which has enriched my knowledge about the region and governing regimes. I also shadow with other subunit teams, e.g., the exclusion and Iraqi RSD teams.

It was very helpful to have taken the asylum and refugee law seminar at NYU before the internship. The class provided solid legal background that helped me integrate with the process more quickly. As I’m trying to get the most out of the privilege of interning at such an active UNHCR office, I’m trying to also focus on different issues like SGBV-sexual and gender-based violence, recruitment by militia, etc. and learn more about different UNHCR units like resettlement and community services.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on a different topic, statelessness (governed by the 1954 convention). I focused on complicated cases of Bedoons. Bedoons are long-time inhabitants in Kuwait who have been denied Kuwaiti citizenship which renders them stateless. Reporting indicates that Kuwait has a system of institutionalized discrimination against Bedoons. They are barred from employment, denied education for their children, restricted in their movements, and living under the constant threat of arbitrary arrest and deportation. In 2011 many Bedoons participated in demonstrations asking for their rights in citizenship but the Kuwaiti government suppressed such movements. According to the cases I observed during the internship, many Bedoon men fled to the United Kingdom, got refugee status or temporary leave to remain there, and are now trying to bring their families who fled to Jordan to join them in the UK by applying to the British embassy for family reunification. These cases point to the many difficulties faced by refugees and the challenges in UNHCR’s work.

I can’t be more thankful for such an enriching experience both on the academic and personal levels. I’m now always thinking how to deploy my passion for international law helping the less fortunate get livable lives.


Internship organization: Protection Unit, UNHCR Lebanon, Beirut Lebanon

ILHR Fellow: Patricia Shnell, Class of 2016

August 3, 2015

While everyone knows the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated to address issues related to refugees, fewer know that UNHCR’s 1951 founding mandate also incorporates statelessness within the organization’s responsibilities. Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines a “stateless person” as “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”. The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness calls upon contracting states to extend nationality to otherwise stateless persons with connections to their state. In 2014 UNHCR extended and put a timeframe onto this legal framework through announcing The Campaign to End Statelessness, which seeks eradicate statelessness within ten years. Under the Campaign, UNHCR is making a renewed effort with governments and other stakeholders to organize the necessary changes to policies in order to make this goal a reality. This is an issue of critical importance as those suffering from statelessness may be denied access to public services (such as education and health care), unable to travel, work, or marry legally, and exposed to heightened risks of child labor, early marriage, illegal adoption, or sexual exploitation.

Statelessness affects an estimated 10 million individuals, although the undocumented nature of most of these individuals renders it difficult to determine the exact size of the population. Today’s stateless population can be divided into de jure and de facto statelessness. De jure statelessness refers to people who do not qualify for citizenship according to the legal system of any nation. This is largely a result of intentional discrimination, manipulation of or changing borders, or gaps in the nationality laws across and between states. De facto statelessness refers to persons who have a nationality but are unable to prove or access their nationality. This is typically provoked by issues such as lack of birth registration or documentation, migration, and difficulty accessing government services.

Statelessness disproportionately affects refugees, as these individuals suffer from higher rates of both de jure and de facto statelessness. According to Hugh Massey, Senior Legal Adviser to UNHCR Geneva, all refugees can be considered stateless as refugees who do not have a nationality are de jure stateless and refugees who do are de

ILHR Fellow Patti Shnell (Class of 2016) during her 2015 internship with UNHCR in Beirut, Lebanon.

ILHR Fellow Patti Shnell (Class of 2016) during her 2015 internship with UNHCR in Beirut, Lebanon.

facto stateless. Although it is not clear from the legal structure whether UNHCR’s mandate officially extends to both de facto and de jure statelessness, UNHCR has long considered all instances of statelessness as under their mandate.

De jure statelessness is a particular problem in the Middle East as states in the region have historically treated nationality as an identity inherited through one’s father, and thus nationality laws tend to discriminate on the basis of gender through allowing only father’s to pass on their citizenship. In the past decade or so, states in the Middle East-North Africa region have begun to recognize that these nationality laws violate their international obligations under CEDAW and have yielded to pressure to remove the gender discrimination. Lebanon however has not followed the regional trend for reform present in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, and Tunisia, and continues to discriminate so that only Lebanese fathers can pass their nationality to their children. This is problematic as nearly 18,000 Lebanese women are married to non-Lebanese men, which causes a high risk of statelessness for any children born to these couples. Additionally, Lebanon has a large and increasing de facto stateless population, provoked by the large number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon due to the ongoing Syrian crisis. According to statements made by UNHCR officials, 51,000 Syrian children were born in Lebanon between the start of the Syrian conflict and March 2015. Of these babies, nearly 36,000 are stateless due to a lack of identification documents.

As an intern with the Protection unit at UNHCR in Beirut, I have assisted the office with The Campaign to End Statelessness in Lebanon through projects aimed at decreasing de jure and de facto statelessness. UNHCR Beirut’s main focus for decreasing de jure statelessness is through reforming Lebanon’s Nationality Law. In this effort UNHCR acts as a coordinator and liaison between the government, non-governmental women’s rights activists, and regional interest groups in order to foster a dialogue that will support legislative reform. As part of this effort I helped developed UNHCR’s advocacy strategy through identifying important stakeholders, domestic circumstances, and regional trends to illuminate possible pathways to reform. UNHCR Lebanon is working with the Lebanese government to improve access to civil registration in order to address de facto statelessness. UNHCR Lebanon also supplies Syrian refugees with direct assistance in accessing Lebanese marriage and birth registration procedures. This largely takes place through a countrywide information campaign that advises refugees of the importance and process of registering marriages and newborns in Lebanon and provides refugees with necessary aid to successfully navigate the system. I had the opportunity to assist and inform this campaign through researching Lebanese domestic administrative law and the judicial decisions effecting the civil administration.

 

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Internship Organization: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Washington, DC

ILHR Fellow: Virginia Redkwa, LLM 2015

August 3, 2015

ILHR Fellow Virginia Redkwa (LLM 2015, on right) with Commissioner James L. Cavallaro, during her 2015 internship at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

ILHR Fellow Virginia Redkwa (LLM 2015, on right) with Commissioner James L. Cavallaro, during her 2015 internship at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“Human rights are social constructions.” With these words Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria, the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, opened his speech to an eager group of interns and fellows from the Organization of American States. That line, although short and simple, could not be more accurate.  And all the labor carried by the people that integrate the Commission is inspired in that though. They work relentlessly to develop broader margins to the concept of human rights, because they understand like no one else that we build the concept.

Having the opportunity of working here has given me a unique approach and a first-hand experience. And due to a combination of my background as a law clerk and the academic relevance that an LLM at NYU implies, I was assigned with one of the most interesting positions. That being said, I am working on the draft of the merits of several cases that will establish higher standards in the human rights field.

Moreover, the 155th Session of the Inter-American Commission took place during these last weeks, what gave us the chance to actively participate. In that context, we could not only interact with the Commissioners, but also discuss with them our perspectives and concerns.

In sum, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional life, but also as a human rights advocate.

 


Internship organization: UN International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland

ILHR Fellow:  Hendrik Denys, LLM 2015

August 2, 2015

As an International Law and Human Rights Fellow, I am doing an internship this summer at the United Nations International Law Commission (ILC). The ILC is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly that convenes annually at the European Headquarters of the UN, for the purpose of codifying and progressively developing select topics of international law. Since I had frequently consulted some of the previous products of work of the ILC during my legal studies, I was very much looking forward to gain first-hand experience with how this Commission operates in practice. Now that the end of the second part of this year’s session of the ILC is approaching, I have the chance to reflect on my experiences of the past months.

My daily tasks consist of taking notes during the plenary sessions of the Commission and the meetings of the drafting committee, where the draft provisions concerning the various topics on the Commission’s program of work take shape. I have closely followed the debates on, among others, the territorial scope of application of the obligation of States to prevent crimes against humanity and the role of the practice of an international organization for the interpretation of its constituent instrument. In this respect, it has been very interesting to see how the Commissioners carried out their tasks in a collegial manner and were thus willing to engage in a constructive exercise.

Another important part of my activities is conducting research for my Commissioner and thereby assisting him in his analysis of the reports that the Special Rapporteurs have submitted this year. Since I had started with this during the second semester at NYU, I was able to hit the ground running as soon as I arrived in Geneva. For instance, I have investigated how ‘crimes against humanity’ have been defined in national legislation, in light of the question whether or not States have adhered to the definition laid down in Art 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. In the context of the topic ‘Immunity of State Officials from Foreign Criminal Jurisdiction’, I have scrutinized immunity regimes for officials of States and international organizations provided for in various treaties, together with relevant case law on the subject. I have also explored how the concept of ‘State official’ has played a role in the preparation of previous products of work of the Commission, such as the Draft Articles on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property of 1991 and the Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind of 1996.

I have found it very rewarding to put the theoretical knowledge that I have acquired during my studies into practice, by conducting in-depth research on specific questions of international law and witnessing how they have been addressed by the ILC. Also, I very much enjoy how this internship has allowed me to improve my skills of working in both French and English. My time at the ILC has so far enabled me to gain a unique insight into the activities of the Commission and I am eagerly anticipating the upcoming week, when the annual report to the General Assembly will be adopted.

 


Internship organization: UN International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland

ILHR Fellow: Cristina Passoni, Class of 2017

July 31, 2015

As the 67th session of the International Law Commission enters its final week, I cannot help but reflect on the extent of my immersion into public international law this summer. Over three months, the ILC addressed gaps in international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international environmental law, and immunities—just to name a few examples. However, my exposure was not limited to the Commission’s immediate work alone.

Dinner in Geneva with ILHR Fellows and colleagues during their 2015 internship at the International Law Commission.

Dinner in Geneva with ILHR Fellows and colleagues during their 2015 internship at the International Law Commission.

The ILC cannot and does not act within a vacuum as its findings may impact large swaths of the international community. In accordance with its statute, the ILC regularly invites other international organizations to discuss areas of overlap in their work. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights discussed OHCHR’s interest in the ILC’s work on immunities of State officials from criminal jurisdiction.  The President of the International Court of Justice Ronny Abraham’s discussion of Croatia v. Serbia, paralleled ILC debates on the mens rea of ‘murder’ in the context of Crimes Against Humanity. Even regional groups such as the Organization of American States, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Legal Advisers on Public International Law, and the African Union spoke to the ILC on the importance of collaboration and coordination.

While this degree of exposure for me is astonishing on its own, I received even more as my research covered subjects outside of the ILC’s topics for this year. Since the ILC is composed of international law experts whose work is not limited to the ILC, I have had the opportunity to also conduct research for the Human Rights Council’s open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights. In preparation for its first session in July, I prepared a report on the development of law and norms regarding human rights and business activity. I am currently compiling a second report on State and corporate responsibility under international human rights law which addresses whether a State’s obligation to protect human rights extends extraterritorially and whether corporations may have direct obligations under international law.

It is difficult to imagine an internship opportunity that could afford me the same degree of exposure to public international law. In addition to exploring a range of substantive issues both within the ILC and outside of it, I have gained an understanding of the procedure that generates international—whether in the ILC or through independent working groups. With the closing of the session, I feel more prepared and more excited to continue my studies of international law this coming semester.


Internship organization: Center for Legal and Social Studies, Buenos Aires, Argentina

ILHR Fellow: Mimi Powell, Class of 2017

July 31, 2015

On January 13, 2015, I had the pleasure of confirming a summer fellowship with CELS, el Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The very next day, on January 14th, prosecutor Alberto Nisman submitted his “electrifying accusation” against Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and days later he was dead.

As the international media flew into a frenzy of speculation, I braced myself for what I knew was going to be a once in a lifetime experience working and studying human rights in Argentina – a country still undergoing enormous change since its 2001 financial crisis and continuing through this year, which is the last year of Cristina Kirchner’s presidency.

ILHR Fellow Mimi Powell (Class of 2017, second from right) with members of Derechos Economicos Sociales y Culturales team (from left to right), Santiago Sanchez, Leandro Vera Belli, Luna Miguens, Eduardo Reese (DESC Director) and Charly Pingaro, during her 2015 internship at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

ILHR Fellow Mimi Powell (Class of 2017, second from right) with members of Derechos Economicos Sociales y Culturales team (from left to right), Santiago Sanchez, Leandro Vera Belli, Luna Miguens, Eduardo Reese (DESC Director) and Charly Pingaro, during her 2015 internship at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Since 1979, towards the end of Argentina’s most brutal military dictatorship, CELS has been protecting and promoting human rights, justice and social inclusion through public policy advocacy strategic litigation, applied research and coordination with domestic and international organizations. To say that the organization takes a multidisciplinary approach is an understatement; it seems to be everywhere at once. In just my first week, CELS organized to participate in the historic #NiUnaMenos protest calling attention to Violence against Women and held a panel on the “Right to Protest and Institutional Violence: from Indo-America to Ferguson” with members of INCLO (International Network of Civil Liberty Organizations), including Executive Director of the ACLU, Anthony Romero.

My particular work with CELS has been in coordination with the Derechos Economicos, Sociales y Culturales (DESC) team which focuses on economic, social and cultural rights (“ESCR”). Unlike the United States, Argentina has signed and ratified both the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights as well as its Optional Protocol. Nonetheless, there is much more to be done before it can be said that Argentina has established structures to progressively protect, promote, and implement ESCR.

To achieve that goal, the DESC team has recently mounted a campaign around the right to land and to housing.  DESC’s campaign centers on the Law for Just Access to a Dignified Habitat (the “Law”) which governs in the province of Buenos Aires. The Law was drafted and sanctioned in collaboration with the DESC team and allied civil organization with the intention of using it as a model throughout the rest of the country.  It focuses primarily on:

  • Promoting the creation and management of affordable housing projects, social urbanization, and processes for the regulation of neighborhoods of informal housing
  • Addressing holistically the diversity and complexity of urban housing demand
  • Generating new resources to reduce land value speculation

In addition to hosting national conferences, the DESC team has engaged in strategic litigation brought under the Law. Through this litigation, DESC is helping a marginalized, low income neighborhood gain access to basic urban services, such as waste removal and sanitary water supply, and improved social inclusion in the urban layout. This is particularly pressing as a foreign corporation has recently launched a plan to develop adjacent land into a luxury condominium complex. DESC is working to ensure that this development does not endanger the neighborhood residents’ right to their homes but also to the land one which the homes sit.

My role in DESC’s work has been to aggregate a collection of resources that highlight the key debates at the forefront of human rights and development right now.  As the international community comes together this summer to hammer out the final details of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, this collection will help to provide DESC with an overview of the international conversation being held on ESC rights, in particular, in the development context.  Armed with this research, I hope that DESC can move forward in its work not only with the right to housing but with other ESCR as well.

As I approach the end of my internship, I cannot be more grateful for this experience. It has been incredibly inspiring to work on human rights with such a diverse group of brilliant minds; the DESC staff alone is made up of an urban planner and development specialist, a political scientist, a sociologist, a lawyer, and a psychologist. Stepping out of the purely legal context has given me an entirely new perspective on human rights, and I could not be more excited to return to New York charged with new ideas and approaches to bring to the table.


Internship Organization: UN International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland

ILHR Fellow: Andrew Larkin, Class of 2017

July 29, 2015

Anarchy in the ILC? (Probably not.)  Are all official acts criminal? In the most recent report to the International Law Commission (ILC) on the immunity of State officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction, the Special Rapporteur, who is in charge of researching the topic, seems to run the risk of saying so. She defines an “act performed in an official capacity” as “an act performed by a State official exercising elements of the governmental authority that, by its nature, constitutes a crime in respect of which the forum State could exercise its criminal jurisdiction.” (Id., para. 127).

While anarchists may believe there is malum in se in any official act, such a normative critique of the nature of authority is not what the Rapporteur was going for. Rather, she is wrestling with the thorny problem of figuring out just what conduct by a state official is beyond the power of review of a foreign country’s criminal courts. To narrow the topic, she simply pointed out that when we are talking about immunity from criminal jurisdiction, we are necessarily talking about conduct that can form the basis of criminal prosecution, because if there was never a crime the foreign courts wouldn’t be able to seek criminal jurisdiction in the first place.

Yet against this sensible narrowing effort, numerous members of the Commission pointed out that the Rapporteur’s definition seemed to require any State official claiming immunity to admit to having committed a crime at the outset of an investigation. If the official sought and was denied immunity (say, because the act wasn’t committed on behalf of a State, but was committed in the official’s own interests – a frequently-invoked example was that of a diplomat stealing a chicken to cook for dinner) would this individual have waived a presumption of innocence, or forfeit the ability to claim the criminal statute providing a basis for the charges is void for vagueness?

This is one small example of the kind of issue the Commission regularly has to resolve. How can you focus the subject of the discussion without risking saying something that is subject to dangerous misinterpretation? How do you clarify the scope of what international law covers without risking subtle conflicts with hundreds of municipal legal orders ostensibly governed by its content? And once you overcome these hurdles, how can you be sure your work product is still providing clarity to the judges and governments you are hoping to instruct?

Trying to figure out when a state official is immune from foreign criminal jurisdiction is a serious problem in international law. Attempts to prosecute foreign officials in France and Belgium have at various points led to litigation before the UN’s International Court of Justice, cessations of diplomatic relations, and serious interstate tensions (Paras. 15-16 of the previous Special Rapporteur’s second report provides a useful overview of the practical ramifications of some recent happenings and mishaps). The policy issues underlying the topic — where a desire to deter the commission of war crimes by ending impunity for state officials conflicts with a concern about the influence of power politics on broad assertions of jurisdiction, and the way in which a focus on criminal prosecution of wrongdoers can interfere with potentially more productive efforts at cooperation – are thorny, and not susceptible to easy answers.

These broad problems lurk in the background of all the Commission’s work on the topic – and the goal is to provide some resolution to them, or at least clarity about what the law currently provides for. As interns, we wait to see if they will be able to productively engage these issues, taking notes on their meetings and preparing memoranda on finer points. We also sit and hope: for today, at least, will these 34 august international lawyers be able to agree on what it means to steal a chicken?


Internship organization: UN International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland

ILHR Fellow: Kexin Zheng, Class of 2017

July 29, 2015

Conference room XXI in the United Nations Palace in Geneva is filled with (mostly) grey-haired diplomats and professors in dark suits. The debate has circled for hours on the single word choice of “undertake,” “shall,” or “has an obligation to” in a draft article concerning state obligation to prevent international crimes. The discussion among commissioners from 34 countries sometimes turns bitter and almost personal. The translation system hanging on my ear starts to feel heavy but my mind remains enlivened.

 ILHR Fellow Kexin Zheng (Class of 2017) during her 2015 internship at the International Law Commission in Geneva, Switzerland

ILHR Fellow Kexin Zheng (Class of 2017) during her 2015 internship at the International Law Commission in Geneva, Switzerland

As I sit inside the International Law Commission (ILC) plenary, the forefront of where international law codification and progressive development take place, I realize that this is not only a crash course on the various aspects of international law, but I am also witnessing the highly nuanced display of international diplomacy. What sounds like a blatant criticism of a commissioner’s scholarly qualification could simply be a difference in political stance. Some statements would raise eyebrows while others were repetitions from the lone voice hoping to change the mind of the majority. I am honored to assist the special rapporteur Madame Marie Jacobsson from Sweden—one of the only two female commissioners at the ILC—on the topic of “Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict.” She explained to me while her second report was being discussed, perhaps as a way of soothing my nerves, that she was quite used to the seemingly harsh criticisms. In fact, every commissioner has a fair share of criticism, but it is precisely these constructive comments that move a topic forward. As a diplomat, Madame Jacobsson often says, her job here is to get work done.

Although the ILC is comprised of a mixture of diplomats and academia, this sentiment of “getting work done” seems to be shared by many. Scholarly discussions centered on a definition or interpretation of a single term happen frequently, but compromises would be made willingly in order to keep moving forward. Topics on the ILC agenda are delegated to the individual special rapporteurs who would produce the original report. Nevertheless, the output of the Commission—the draft articles and the rationale behind each phrase—is always the result of collective wisdom.

It is rather inspiring to see these most renowned figures in international law at work, whether it is through their lengthy statements during the plenary, their humors, sarcasms and occasional slip of the tongue at the drafting committee, their long hours doing research in the library, their sudden question of “so what do YOU think about this,” and the fact that they eat at the same UN cafeteria as the interns (where the food was once described as what would be served at a “old people’s home”).

The work as an assistant varies depending on the personality and the role of the commissioner. Assisting a special rapporteur allows me to explore in-depth the topic she is undertaking. Precise note taking and the ability to make substantive sense from the interpreters constitute the bunk of my daily work during the plenary sessions. Before my commissioner’s topic was discussed, the major component of my work involved editing her report and footnotes, checking citations, compiling literature, reviewing translations, etc. The workload peaked during the two weeks the special rapporteur’s topic was being debated and sent to the drafting committee. Every remark had to be recorded, every position taken had to be backed with legal arguments and sources, every compromise and promise made had to be noted and realized. The final products of my assistantship include a 14-page summary of plenary statements, a 46-page report of the drafting committee, comments on many documents the Commission produced related to the topic, and the ongoing research and drafting of the commentary. More importantly, I have seen how my commissioner gracefully but firmly maneuvered through two heated weeks of criticism, disagreements, arguments on the record and conversations during coffee breaks, and in the end, got the work done.

A 2015 seminar at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, on the ILC topic protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict

A 2015 seminar at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, on the ILC topic protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict

The fellowship at the ILC has been a dream come true and a learning experience like no other. There are always skepticism regarding the work of the United Nations, the individuals inside and the institution as a whole. Granted, the Commission often spent too much time debating whether it should take an indicative vote on a procedural issue, but the people working at the ILC, including all the highly qualified assistants, have reinforced my passion for international law and belief that states could come together with good faith, to cooperate and strengthen the rule of law.


Internship Organization: International Center for Transitional Justice, Nairobi, Kenya

ILHR Fellow: Bryan Furst, Class of 2017

July 29, 2015

The Swahili proverb, haraka haraka, haina baraka (roughly: there is no value in hurrying) still gets a few laughs when the unassuming mzungu (white person) recites it, but it’s meaning is losing significance in Nairobi. Kenya is growing…fast. It is predicted to be the third fastest growing economy in the world according to the 2015 Bloomberg Survey. The Nairobi tech boom has captured global headlines. The 2010 Constitution potentially provides the people with more power to rule themselves than they have ever had. Kenya has many reasons to look forward, so why should they be looking back?

ILHR Fellow Bryan Furst (middle, Class of 2017), with fellow interns Kennedy Mwangi, left, and Jaqueline Wambui, right, during his 2015 internship at ICTJ Kenya

ILHR Fellow Bryan Furst (middle, Class of 2017), with fellow interns Kennedy Mwangi, left, and Jaqueline Wambui, right, during his 2015 internship at ICTJ Kenya

Dealing with your past is a hard thing to do. I still have trouble reconciling the time I was caught shoplifting when I was twelve.Or the time I got a D+ in my college chemistry class. Ignoring the past is often the easiest thing to do, yet doing so leaves us more likely to repeat our mistakes and less likely to grow as individuals. This is also true at the national level. A major goal of transitional justice is for a state to address its history of past human rights abuses and become a more cohesive, stronger society for having faced it.

Countries attempting to undertake such a process have various mechanisms that they can implement such as providing reparations to victims of human rights abuses, prosecuting those responsible for the abuses, law reform, memorialization, etc. Each country will face their past differently. So what does it mean to be “working on transitional justice” in Kenya?

Following the 2007/2008 election related violence, there was significant enough support in government to revive the 5-year old call for a Kenyan truth, justice, and reconciliation process. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) spent almost four years compiling a report of human rights abuses that had occurred in Kenya since the beginning of the colonial period. The commission was not without controversy but in the end they released a four-volume report detailing numerous gross human rights violations and providing recommendations for how to address these historical injustices. For a brief background and analysis of the report by ICTJ Kenya, see here.

By law, the recommendations should have been implemented after being presented to the president. However, there was a problem. Some of the most powerful men in the country are listed in the report as having committed violations of human rights. To name a few: Joseph Nkaissery- current Cabinet Secretary for the Minister of Interior Government, William Ruto- current Deputy President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta- current President of Kenya. Thus that document, the supposed guideline for Kenya to deal with its past and grow stronger, became a political grenade and nobody wanted to be caught holding it.

The TJRC Report had a host of recommendations, including security sector reform, providing reparations to victims of contemporary and historical injustices, prosecutions of high-ranking government officials, public apologies, and memorialization. About four years after the release of the report, little progress on any of these initiatives had been made. Parliament changed the law that created the TJRC, meaning the recommendations were no longer mandatory and the content of the report itself could be changed. ICTJ has been fighting an uphill battle for a long time.

In May, 2015, a glimmer of hope emerged. In a State of the Nation Address, President Uhuru unexpectedly apologized to the victims of human rights abuses in Kenya. What is more is he promised those victims a Ksh 10 bn (USD 98.1 Million) “restorative justice fund”. This caused some confusion, as Kenyatta was describing more of what looked like a reparations fund than any “restorative justice” process. Some people think this was emphasized to differentiate it from a retributive justice model to address human rights abuses, further burying the recommendations to prosecute those responsible but this is ultimately speculation because he has given no further comment. There are many unanswered questions but reparations for victims might actually be on the way. Or so we hope.

Given the political climate surrounding the TJRC Report, working on transitional justice in Kenya means being patient and opportunistic. The comments of the president created an opportunity to push ahead on the reparations agenda, even though other aspects of the report remain a political impossibility. Much of my work since getting here has focused on reparations.

My first assignment at the Nairobi office of the International Center for Transitional Justice was to compile a ten-page reference for policy makers to use when thinking about what the Kenya reparations program could look like. It was basically a snapshot of reparations programs around the world that could be used to pull best practices and avoid mistakes others had made. From there I began to work on the advocacy strategy on reparations for the Kenya Transitional Justice Network, a consortium of NGOs in the TJ field. This strategy will ultimately outline what an ideal reparations program would include, highlight the key government actors that can make it happen, and describe the strategy for targeting those individuals. That project is still underway.

I have taken part in several conferences and have been tasked with writing the follow-up reports for them. They were all on interesting topics and I enjoyed writing them but what I am most excited about is working with local human rights groups that I’ve met around Nairobi. This internship has allowed me quite a bit of freedom to go out on my own and see what people are getting into at the grassroots level.

Extrajudicial killings remain rampant in Kenya and while everyone knows it is going on, I’m repeatedly told that civil society groups and citizens are too scared to make too much noise about it. The last man to lead a serious nationwide effort to document disappearances and extrajudicial killings was assassinated in his car in front of several witnesses. His name was Oscar Kingara and his killing with his companion, John Oulu, came just weeks after reporting his information to Philip Alston during his visit to Kenya as UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings.

Not everyone is scared though. I’ve been speaking with a group of extraordinary individuals from Mathare (a slum made up of hundreds of thousands) that have seen too many of their friends killed to stay quiet. They are tired of hiding and have started an organization to document extrajudicial killings in Mathare and demand accountability from their government. The Mathare Social Justice Centre is just starting out and they have a long road ahead of them. I’ve been working with MSJC to develop a system of documentation and reporting as well as organizing trainings with local organizations and journalists.

The unlawful killings committed by Kenyan police are not a new phenomenon. The injustices of the past are inexorably linked to the injustices of today. As is well documented in the previously linked TJRC report, the security institutions that were designed to protect the colonial government were inherited by the current Kenyan elite. An important goal of the TJRC report was to examine these institutions and provide recommendations on much needed reforms. The efforts of the TJRC were a step in the right direction but without the political capital to make the recommendations a reality, they will not be the avenue for change that was once envisioned. At this point, this seems likely however with an active civil society and groups like MSJC empowering themselves, there are reasons to be hopeful.


Internship Organization: JUSTICE, London, UK

ILHR Fellow: Sarika Arya, Class of 2017

July 24, 2015

“Human rights” is the trendiest term in London these days, making a fellowship in the city especially interesting. The fate of the UK Human Rights Act (HRA), which implements the European Convention on Human Rights under domestic law, has been debated extensively. Critics believe the HRA relinquishes British judicial and parliamentary sovereignty to

The very-London facade of JUSTICE HQ, a stone's throw from St Paul's Cathedral, in the heart of London's legal district. The building dates to the early 1800s

The very-London facade of JUSTICE HQ, a stone’s throw from St Paul’s Cathedral, in the heart of London’s legal district. The building dates to the early 1800s

Europe, and advocate its replacement with a British Bill of Rights (the UK has no written constitution).

As part of my fellowship I also conducted research and contribute to ‘Just Security’, an online forum which features legal analysis regarding national security and counterterrorism issues. Its co-editor-in-chief, Professor Ryan Goodman, was recently appointed Special Counsel to the General Counsel at the Department of Defense.

The fellowship with JUSTICE places me at the forefront of this debate. Founded in 1957, JUSTICE is a law reform group intended “to strengthen the justice system and the rights of the people in the UK,” says its Director, Andrea Coomber. It is uniquely structured in that its members are lawyers – some of the most senior judges and public law barristers in the country – and so expertly positioned to advise policymakers from across the political parties. In the words of JUSTICE’s Director of Criminal Justice, Jodie Blackstone, “JUSTICE aims to be measured, authoritative and credible. Our members are predominantly lawyers who are embedded in the system and understand processes from within. They speak with that authority.” JUSTICE also participates in third party interventions at the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights – most recently in Belhadj & Ors v. Straw & Ors, regarding rendition and the foreign act of state doctrine. Because its work is deeply embedded in law and changing the legal system, rather than pure advocacy, JUSTICE speaks “with authority and expertise,” says Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy.

JUSTICE’s main focus areas are criminal justice, civil justice, administrative justice, access to justice and human rights. Besides providing insight into the potential ramifications of repealing the HRA, Justice has also been busy with other projects this summer. Since I joined in May, we’ve published ‘Law for Lawmakers’, a report educating parliamentarians with no legal background, which answers FAQs about basic legal principles, enforcement and how the UK operates without a written constitution. JUSTICE is also investigating potential procedural and architectural issues regarding complex and lengthy trials. Our recent assessment on the use of docks in criminal trials, and how they might inhibit the presumption of innocence has stimulated debate in the press. JUSTICE is working on a number of other projects, including: responding to the pending UK Investigatory Powers Bill (counterterrorism legislation), issues in compensation for the miscarriage of justice, the use of jury waivers and procedure surrounding defendants with mental health problems. I’ve been able to contribute a comparative assessment on some of these issues – now that I know a little more about American law (thanks 1L year, I guess you were pretty useful after all)!


Internship organization: The European Roma Rights Centre, Budapest, Hungary

ILHR Fellow: Amith Gupta, Class of 2017

July 23, 2015

Few issues touch on the failure of European society to confront its most fundamental issues of identity than the situation of the Roma. Roma, also known as Gypsies (though the term is sometimes seen as a slur), are Europe’s largest ethnic minority. Following centuries of discrimination and genocide, the Council of Europe has described the situation of the Roma as a matter of “widespread and enduring discrimination, rejection and marginalisation all over Europe.” Using strategic litigation, the European Roma Rights Centre pursues national and EU-wide cases on behalf of members of the Roma community as a means of tackling this discrimination.

ILHR Fellow Amith Gupta, Class of 2017, during his internship at the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest, Hungary

ILHR Fellow Amith Gupta, Class of 2017, during his internship at the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest, Hungary

Roma are a diverse ethnic group. Arriving in Europe from India between the third and seventh centuries, Roma have been subject to campaigns of persecution ever since, ranging from genocide, mass expulsions, and mutilation, as well as forced assimilation campaigns in the Modern Age. The pinnacle of these persecutions took place during the Nazi holocaust, or Porajmos, when some half a million Roma were exterminated alongside Jews and other ethnic minority groups. It was not until the 1980s that West Germany even recognized these acts to constitute genocide. Indeed, throughout Europe, potentially genocidal measures against Roma, such as forced sterilization, remained legal until the late 1970s. Anti-Gypsyism spiked further after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Despite severe persecution, anti-Gypsyism remains a mainstream prejudice throughout Europe. Blood libels about Roma stealing children, beliefs that Roma are intrinsically criminal, and social anxiety about the mere presence of Roma abound. It is in this context that EU member-states continue to engage in forms of anti-Gypsy discrimination, such as France’s explicitly discriminatory ongoing mass deportation of Roma, widely condemned as in violation of EU law.

As a legal intern with the Centre, much of my work has been research-focused in an effort to deal with a fundamental dilemma that the Centre must deal with. Despite efforts to litigate on behalf of individual Roma clients that have been subject to violence and/or discrimination, many national and EU-wide court rulings fail to address systemic anti-discrimination, particularly by police, leaving rare victories without precedent for future cases.

EU administrative law weaknesses & police discrimination

Many individual EU states do not regard discrimination in administrative law (such as dealing with police use of force) to be a matter of anti-discrimination law more generally, although the ERRC is  So, a significant amount of my research has involved looking at the tactics used domestically in the United States by civil rights litigators to prove racial profiling, where there have been significant legal advances on this topic. In particular, my research focused on the statistical analyses provided by  , whose methodology has been used to win reforms against racial profiling by police in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. In particular, I focused on the kinds of arguments that civil rights lawyers used in  . Particularly useful was the opinion’s lengthy statement on how denials of racial profiling were, in fact, rationalizations of racial profiling.

While EU member states and the ECtHR do not always have uniform procedures, and the ECtHR’s judicial review powers are politically limited, I argued that precedents in the United States could be used to make strong cases provided they used the mass data collection techniques mentioned in the research above.

Article 3 cases

Separately, I have been documenting every violation of Article 3 of the  , dealing with torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and nation-state’s obligations to investigate such behavior. In particular, I am documenting the kinds of cases that have been filed on such a basis for Roma clients or others subject to anti-Roma prejudice. Such documentation efforts are useful in finding patterns of discrimination, failures in the Court’s oversight, and strengths and weaknesses for litigation purposes within in each national judiciary before the cases proceed to the ECtHR.

Overall Conclusions

Some of my efforts to support the ERRC are frustrated by the significant language gaps. Because the Roma are a diverse, heterogeneous people who live all throughout Europe, much of the ERRC’s litigation is in various languages, requiring its lawyers to focus on particular countries. As a result, there are limits to how much support I can actually provide, as only one of the languages I speak are used by national judiciaries.

However, I believe a bigger problem with the Roma rights movement is not logistical, but political. Despite years of litigation, awareness of the plight of Roma by NGOs and human rights organizations, the Roma remain largely unseen in the eyes of a European public that sees itself as liberal, human rights-oriented, and tolerant. In spite of efforts by Roma activists to mobilize, their cause remains at the margins of European social consciousness while being one of the most blatant examples of the failure of European liberalism.

While I believe that strategic litigation is an important effort, I also believe that serious reforms must be political in nature. As with many of my experiences with law, I have found that many of the key limits to advancing struggles for justice cannot be answered in the legal realm alone.


Internship organization: European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Berlin, Germany

ILHR Fellow: Linde Bryk, LLM 2015

July 21, 2015.

“Strategic litigation,” a fashionable slogan, but what to litigate and what is strategic about it? This June I started my three month traineeship at European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) as I was anxious to see how an NGO strives to advance policies and tries to hold human rights violators accountable using legal means. With its legal interventions, ECCHR aims to impact human rights situations with a focus on three areas: International Crimes and Accountability, Business and Human Rights, and Gender and Human Rights.

ILHR Fellow Linde Bryk, LLM 2015, during her 2015 internship at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

ILHR Fellow Linde Bryk, LLM 2015, during her 2015 internship at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

ECCHR’s current work (with the NGO Reprieve) on the claim brought by a Yemeni family against the German government in respect of the use of the US military base in Ramstein for US drone attacks, illustrates both the ‘strategic’ and the ‘litigation’ aspect of ECCHR’s legal interventions.

What is at stake? According to Faisal bin Ali Jaber, on 29 August 2012 in a village in the East of Yemen two members of the bin Ali Jaber family that had gathered for a wedding celebration were killed by US drone strikes. Now, apart from justice, the bin Ali Jaber family is seeking protection against further drone attacks. This is where ‘strategic’ considerations have to be made. It has been reported by http://www.reprieve.org.uk/, Süddeutsche Zeitung and others that the US uses its military base in Ramstein to conduct drone strikes as it needs the base to transfer data from the US to the drones via satellite. Why? Because of the curvature of the earth and the geographic distance the US is unable to have a direct connection with the operational area of the drones. Thus, disabling the US from using its base in Ramstein for drone attacks would prevent further drone attacks.

To attain justice for the bin Ali Jaber family and to force the German government to stop supporting US activities that violate international law, ECCHR supported the family in bringing a claim against the German Government at the Administrative Court of Cologne. This reflects both ‘strategic’ and ‘litigation’ aspects. By choosing administrative law to sue the German government, the plaintiffs were able to base their action on Article 2 of the German Constitution, namely the duty of the German government to protect their right to life. Unfortunately, on 27 May 2015, the German Administrative Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim. Nevertheless, the court did find that the satellite relay station in Ramstein is a necessary part of the drone war conducted by the US, a fact never acknowledged by the US in response to questions by Germany so far. Furthermore, the Court extended the protection of the German constitution to foreigners living abroad and it also allowed an appeal.

In its legal interventions, ECCHR faces many challenges, such as politics, courts refusing to review government’s actions, difficulties in obtaining evidence as governments or transnational corporations restrict access to information, affectees and witnesses who are afraid to testify for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, I am convinced that NGOs like ECCHR should continue their very important work, as these cases are about people for whom, as stated by the bin Ali Jaber family: “it is – quite simply – a matter of life or death(…)”.

For more information on the work by ECCHR: www.ecchr.eu.


Internship organization: UN International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland

ILHR Fellow: Emily Buist-Catherwood, LLM 2015

July 20, 2015

From stepping into my first International Law Commission meeting over a month ago, I’ve had the privilege of observing discussions and negotiations among some of the world’s preeminent legal scholars and practitioners. Each day while the Commission is in session, the members discuss contemporary legal issues and propose innovative new developments that subsequently guide and influence states in their application of international law. The relationship between the members of the Commission and the collaborative nature of their discussions has been so interesting and has given me the opportunity to put some of my international law study into practice.

One of the topics covered so far in the current session was the negotiation of draft articles relating to crimes against humanity. The Commission intends that its work on this topic will result in a multilateral convention providing for the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity. While I was working towards my LL.M., I wrote a seminar paper discussing the potential relationship between such a convention and the international criminal court, which already has international criminal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity. I was particularly interested in hearing first-hand the opinions of each commissioner on how this interrelationship might play out, and followed the arguments closely.

The most interesting part of the Commission’s meetings for me comes following the statements in the plenary session, when specific draft principles that are proposed by a Special Rapporteur for each topic become subject to detailed discussion and negotiation. The members raise significant and sometimes heated arguments for why particular words should be included or removed, and consider the impact of particular terms, clause structures, and even the placement of commas within the final wording of the provisions. Having the opportunity to see behind the scenes of the ILC’s work has given me a huge practical insight into the development of international law and the significant role that the ILC plays in this field. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the 2015 session brings.


Internship organization: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi, India

ILHR Fellow: Olivia Greene, Class of 2017

July 20, 2015

I have spent much of my internship at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) researching civil society restrictions in member countries of the , an intergovernmental organization of 53 member countries from all corners of the globe ranging in size from India at 1.2 billion people to Tuvalu at ten thousand people.

While many Commonwealth countries are following global trends by enacting legislation limiting foreign funding to NGOs, tightening registration requirements, and sanitizing public space from protests and demonstrations, some are also policing civil society via antiquated provisions of the criminal penal codes introduced throughout the Commonwealth during the era of British Empire. These codes remain on the books in many countries, several of which enforce provisions in ways that aggressively violate the rights due to civil society under international law or contribute to a serious chilling of civil society space. Some provisions – such as those banning begging and criminalizing sedition – were originally designed to control what we call civil society space today. In Malaysia for instance, there are reports that sedition charges are increasingly brought against individuals who criticize the government. In April 2015, after promising to repeal its colonial era Sedition Act, the Malaysian government instead increased criminal punishments for the offense and broadened its scope to encompass expression on the Internet.

Other penal code provisions have been used to curtail specific activities and areas of advocacy. Take for instance the anti-sodomy provisions that remain valid law in 40 countries; Mozambique became the latest Commonwealth country to decriminalize homosexuality in June.

Earlier this year, officials charged with registering NGOs in Kenya refused to register an NGO advocating for LGBT rights because homosexuality remains criminalized under its penal code. In a landmark decision the High Court in Kenya ruled that the constitutional requirement of non-discrimination protected LGBT organizations’ freedom to associate (and thus register). However, Uganda has recently proposed a new law regulating NGOs that civil society advocates believe may be used similarly to deny registration to LGBT rights groups.

One of the large thematic areas in which CHRI works is police reform. Here too the Commonwealth’s legal legacy comes to bear upon civil society in Commonwealth countries where many police laws are still designed for policing a colony and not a democracy.

CHRI works to promote human rights through domestic programs in Commonwealth countries on prison and police reform and access to information. CHRI also advocates for compliance with human rights instruments within international organizations, including the Commonwealth of Nations. Unlike many IOs, the Commonwealth does not have a constitutive treaty; it is a voluntary organization that is guided by soft law declarations of its principles. Compared to other IOs it is not particularly well-known, even within member countries. Coming into my internship I wondered: what opportunity does the Commonwealth provide NGOs to pursue policy agendas and what is the added value of membership in the Commonwealth to the governments and the people of member countries? Working on civil society restrictions has highlighted one answer in particular. The Commonwealth’s legal history means that despite the diversity of its membership, countries share similar legal obstacles to promoting and protecting human rights. And therefore an international forum of Commonwealth countries has the potential to foster a platform for collaboration and knowledge-sharing among civil society groups pursuing legal reform across the world. To become such a platform, the Commonwealth will first need to be more relevant to NGOs around the world and more inclusive of them. From my perspective, CHRI and similar Commonwealth-centered NGOs engage with the Commonwealth to promote human rights compliance as they do at other IOs, but perhaps more importantly they do so in hopes of opening up a new civil society space.


 Internship organization: UN International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland

ILHR Fellow: Regina Hsu, Class of 2017

July 16, 2014

After a one-month hiatus, members of the International Law Commission dove right back into their work without skipping a beat. The debates remain lively as usual, but with 3 weeks remaining in the session, the pace has somewhat quickened.

The ILC statute provides that the Commission’s purpose is the promotion of progressive development of international law and codification. A question that has repeatedly arisen in these two sessions is whether or not the ILC is overstepping its role in progressive development. It is an interesting and crucial issue that Commissioners think about constantly. The topics that the ILC examines today are arguably quite different from those in the 1950s and 1960s. This year the Commission is discussing topics that may be considered special regimes of international law, such as international environmental law, criminal law, and human rights law. In the discussion of these topics, Commissioners may seem cautious at times, but with the important background of being consistent with the ILC’s past work and staying within the mandate.

Although ILC’s study of international law has shifted from its inception, it is clear that the Commission still plays an integral and influential role in informing the world on general international law as well as special regimes.


Internship organization: International Center for Transitional Justice in Bogotá, Colombia

ILHR Fellow: Amy M. L. Tan, Class of 2017

July 13, 2015

ILHR Fellow Amy Tan (Class of 2017) in Bogotá, Colombia, during her 2015 internship with ICTJ Bogotá

ILHR Fellow Amy Tan (Class of 2017) in Bogotá, Colombia, during her 2015 internship with ICTJ Bogotá

Every morning on my walk to work at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), I am greeted by street vendors selling freshly cut papaya, alongside sizzling arepas filled with cheese. Businesspeople and laborers casually enjoy tiny cups of coffee in front of some of the best street art in the world, as they warm up from the inevitable chill that comes with living in the mountains. I pass at least three parks filled with joggers and dogs dressed in Colombian futbol jerseys, and it feels altogether peaceful. The following is also true: The Copa America consistently featured flag-waving ads encouraging the guerrillas to demobilize; a bomb exploded just 4 blocks from work and nobody in my office flinched at the news; and over the songs of Carlos Vives and drinks made of lulo (a popular citrus fruit), a new friend told me that his aunt had been kidnapped by FARC once and now lives in the U.S.

These have been my quotidian signs of peace and conflict, filtered through the privileged perspective of an outsider. More globally, the tension produced by transition from conflict to peace looks like this: Colombia is a steadily growing middle-income country and in 2014 experienced growth above the regional average at 4.6%. At the same time, in 2012 it was deemed the 7th most unequal country in the world. It has suffered the longest running internal armed conflict in the western hemisphere, and the mass violence of the armed groups (i.e., the paramilitary, military and rebel forces) has produced more than 5.5 million victims over the past 50 years. This is about 13% of Colombia’s population. The peace negotiations are yet to resolve the conflict, but Colombia has already implemented a number of transitional justice mechanisms typically associated with post-conflict settings.

Roxanne Krystalli, the conflict researcher and friend who introduced me to Colombia, writes: “[t]he single narrative of coffee and conflict is inauthentic . . . Though both coffee and conflict exist in Colombia in abundance, the inauthenticity of the narrative stems [from] its incompleteness. It misses the other layers of beauty and injustice alike; it lacks texture.” It is within these multiple truths that ICTJ locates its work to further transitional justice and strengthen national mechanisms for the protection of victims’ rights to truth, justice, and reparation.

What is transitional justice? For the curious, the pioneering UN Secretary-General’s Report called “The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies” (2004) defines it as “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation. These may include judicial and non-judicial mechanisms, with differing levels of both judicial international involvement (or none at all) and individual prosecutions, reparations, truth-seeking, institutional reform, vetting and dismissals, or a combination thereof.” In Colombia, this includes reforms such as the 2012 Legal Framework for Peace, which empowers Congress to limit the scope of prosecution of atrocities to select cases and to those found “most responsible,” and the 2011 Victims’ Law, which establishes land restitution procedures and victims’ reparations programs, including the National Historical Memory Center which focuses on the reconstruction of historic memory.

I have been working on the criminal justice piece of this scheme, including by revising the English translation of ICTJ’s advisory manual for Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office on the prosecution of international crimes. Such guidance is critical because in 2012, facing the difficulty of prosecuting systemic violence through traditional models, the AG issued a directive to create a new system for the investigation of organized crime. This system is known as “criminal investigation in context,” and essentially boils down to investigating (1) the crime itself, and (2) the socio-historic contextual elements that facilitated its commission. The manual aims to provide guidance on how to investigate such crimes using examples from domestic, regional, and international perspectives. Pursuing this strategy of prosecution will develop the jurisprudence regarding international crimes, and most importantly it will bring Colombia closer to fulfilling its obligations to guarantee non-repetition of harms and provide some justice to the victims of armed conflict.

Street art in Bogotá, Colombia summer 2015

Street art in Bogotá, Colombia summer 2015

Of course, there are issues. Given that the AG has a mandate to conduct selective prosecution for those “most responsible,” many perpetrators of serious crimes will not be prosecuted. This raises a number of questions about the role of criminal prosecution in transitional justice, beyond the paradigmatic peace v. justice debate. For one, who decides which justice priorities take precedence and why? What other lenses in addition to a political and economic one should be used to investigate context (e.g., critical race theory, gender analysis, etc.)? How does the criminal prosecution of those “most responsible” contribute to the reparation of victims of crimes that fall outside of that scope?

This last question hung over the discussion at the launch of ICTJ’s report by Paul Seils regarding criminal punishment and peace. To paraphrase the remarks of Judge Alexandra Valencia, limiting criminal prosecution to those most responsible for the gravest crimes neglects the fact that, at the regional level, symbolic punishment accomplishes little. Learning the why and how of what happened is important, but we must remember these truths are learned over an abyss of loss. This man murdered my son, not that man on trial for murdering her son. Grief, suffering, and accountability are not interchangeable.

The reality that transitional justice has limits is well captured by the work of Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence: “In reality, what I, as a victim, see is that a handful of perpetrators (not necessarily those who abused me) get some form of punishment (surely not to the full extent they deserve and to the exclusion of complicit bystanders); that some report is compiled (which, even if it mentions my name, surely fails to do justice to the horrors I experienced or the overall ravages of massive violations); that I receive some money (what does money mean?) and services (most of which are of the basic sort which in other countries people receive simply in virtue of being citizens); and that some former official employees lose their jobs. Why should I regard such initiatives as justice-promoting?” For these reasons, it is too simplistic to say that transitional justice is primarily about justice outcomes. Instead, transitional justice is about recognition of harm and rebuilding civic trust, and ultimately reconciliation and strengthening the rule of law.

These are big, heavy and important ideas for Colombia. But turning the lens around, I believe these are also big, heavy and important ideas for the United States. My first year of law school was punctuated by vigils and marches for the deaths of unarmed black men. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter flooded my social media, along with anger and fear that this still needed to be said. And although the U.S. hasn’t officially had an internal armed conflict since 1865, the legacy of racial violence and the unequal economic, political, and gendered power structures that facilitated that violence persist. How could we benefit from truth-seeking and reparation? How philosophically distinct should the investigation of systemic crimes really be? Doesn’t the socio-historic context of the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner or Freddie Gray matter to our official narrative and collective memory? And can’t this also frame the killings of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos? Aren’t we still a transitioning society, hopefully building “a more perfect union”?

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to ICTJ’s mission in Colombia, and look forward to bringing some of these questions back to NYU Law.


Internship organization: Legal Assistance Centre, Windhoek, Namibia

ILHR Fellow: Lucas Hansen, Class of 2017

July 7, 2015

Office of the Legal Assistance Centre, Windhoek, Namibia

Office of the Legal Assistance Centre, Windhoek, Namibia

Hello from Windhoek!

I could not possibly hope to do justice to all my experiences here in Namibia. Each day has its share of small triumphs and challenges. The land is starkly beautiful, and the warm, cloudless days make you forget that you’re in the heart of winter—that is, until the sun sets and the temperature plummets (sometimes below freezing)! Nestled in this valley beset by extremes is Windhoek. The city is small, with a rhythm all its own. Outside its center, streets are serpentine, curving unpredictably along their routes and often changing names multiple times in the process. If you’re willing to explore, you can find hidden gems—quiet, sunny cafes to eat lunch or have a coffee at. This exploration is made more difficult by the lack of sidewalks outside of city center; Windhoek is not made for pedestrians. But perhaps the biggest adjustment has been to living in a culture not dominated by convenience. Businesses here close at 5 o’clock and (with the exception of Saturday mornings) remain so throughout the weekend. My parents laugh to hear me struggle to plan meals a week in advance—a skill they learned early in their lives, before the proliferation of 24/7 convenience stores. And even this difficulty has a silver lining; I’ve rediscovered in the slower tempo of life the opportunity to spend Sunday relaxing with a book.

Of course, the lion’s share of my time and energy is devoted to the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) where I work in the land, environment, and development project (LEAD). I hit the ground running from week one, publishing an Op-Ed in a local paper  and on the LAC’s website describing the problems inherent in trophy hunting the critically endangered black rhinoceros. Rhinoceros conservation is one of LEAD’s major issues, and I’m currently working on a much larger article that critically analyzes arguments in favor of legalizing trade in rhinoceros horn. But this single issue has not defined my time here. One of the great things about working for the LAC is the variability of the work; rarely are two days ever the same. One week I was asked to write an opinion about how an Appeals Tribunal should rule on a case involving a right of leasehold on communal land. The next I was researching case law concerning when aggravated circumstances are taken into account in wildlife crime sentencing. But most excitingly, I’m getting the opportunity to combine legal practice with community outreach in a way few law students ever get to experience. For example, next week, I will be travelling with staff from the Centre to help take affidavits from Haiǁ¬om tribal community members in preparation for an upcoming class action application on their behalf. I feel lucky to be able to experience a unique culture, while at the same time provide legal services to a community that is so often left outside the halls of power.

Best of all, I feel good about the work I’m doing. I believe in the causes I’m contributing to, and that makes my time here fulfilling. The contrast between work at the Centre with my experience in the United States is sometimes stark; but that only serves to expand my understanding of what I can do with my law degree. We rarely wear suits here, and you’re just as likely to find us in an indigenous village as a courtroom, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Internship organization: Bizchut: The Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities, Jerusalem

ILHR Fellow: Charles Kopel, Class of 2017

July 2, 2015

ILHR Fellow Charles Kopel (Class of 2017) in Jerusalem during his 2015 internship at Bizchut

ILHR Fellow Charles Kopel (Class of 2017) in Jerusalem during his 2015 internship at Bizchut

Jerusalem’s renown stems from both its storied past and its contentious present. The city is cherished by three major faiths, claimed as a capital by two nations, and has been inhabited continuously for more than 5,000 years. However, my work in Jerusalem this summer bears little to no relationship to matters of history, religious heritage, or national conflict; for all intents and purposes, I am in a different Jerusalem altogether.

I came here to serve as a summer legal intern for Bizchut: The Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities.

Bizchut’s presence in Jerusalem, the seat of the Israeli administrative state, is analogous to the presence of hundreds of NGOs in Washington, D.C. The advocates, social workers, and spokespeople of Bizchut tangle frequently with government ministries, the Knesset (Israeli parliament), and the High Court of Justice, all of which can be found just a few minutes away from the office.

The organization’s overall mission is to promote and protect the basic human rights of people in Israel across the entire spectrum of disabilities, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or religion. I am assisting Sharon Primor, Bizchut’s Legal Counsel, in a brand new project aiming to reform the involuntary civil commitment system in Israel’s psychiatric hospitals. More particularly, we are kicking off the project with a focus on the use of mechanical restraints on psychiatric patients. The statute and regulations currently in effect in Israel allow doctors and nurses very broad discretion to use restraints, and usage is reportedly widespread, despite the fact that the psychiatric literature has mostly discredited the theories that restraints are 1) useful for treatment and 2) necessary for safety, and despite the fact that reform movements around the world have revealed the terrible fear and mortal danger suffered by those who are restrained.

In most developed countries, the anti-restraints reform movement has made a significant impact on the relevant law, industry standards, and hospital culture.

In Israel, however, no group has taken on the issue with a sustained effort. Bizchut has now begun to raise public awareness of the danger of restraints, and to prepare a potential legal challenge to the regulations promulgated by the Ministry of Health. I have been tasked with gathering and organizing materials from foreign nations with which to compose a formal request to the Ministry to consider new standards and, in the event of the request’s failure, to pose a human rights-based judicial challenge. Aside from my research work, I have also participated in the investigation and outreach elements of the project, joining a recent visit to the Mazra Psychiatric Hospital in Acre, corresponding with healthcare reform leaders from around the world, and helping maintain Bizchut’s English Facebook page.

The work has been fascinating and exciting, and I’m very proud to be a part of it. Israel is a developed country of 8 million people, which, beyond the realm of its highly public and tragic conflict, must also struggle with many of the same social ills that we in the United States know well. Bizchut is at the forefront of a small vanguard of activist organizations confronting these sensitive problems, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to assist and observe its staff for the summer months.


Internship organization: International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland

First Impressions of UN Headquarters in Geneva

By Emily Buist-Catherwood, June 4, 2015.

Emily Buist-Catherwood, ILHR Fellow (LLM 2015), is interning at the UN’s International Law Commission in Geneva, Switzerland, with Commissioner Tire Tladi from South Africa:

I caught my first glimpse of the Palais des Nations in the taxi from the airport after landing in Geneva. Seeing the line-up of countries’ flags in front of the huge UN building was so exciting, and somehow made the whirlwind of the few previous days of finishing exams and graduating sink in. Geneva is a beautiful city, and from their perch on a hill, the UN buildings have some impressive views of Lake Geneva and the Alps. Over the course of the past few days, I’ve already been able to sit in on some fairly heated ILC debates, contributed drafting ideas for draft articles, and of course learnt where to get the cheapest coffee. I’ve also gotten lost in basement corridors, even with the help of a fellow intern – the buildings and grounds are huge!

Even with its beautiful location, the UN headquarters in Geneva also has its own specific quirks. Peacocks wander the grounds, squawking every now and then at closed doors or hiding under outdoor tables. Rumor has it that someone left the park area of the UN to the city of Geneva, with one of the conditions being that peacocks roam freely on its grounds. The main cafeteria has a pretty extensive selection of food from a salad bar to pastries to pizza, but even a small salad doesn’t escape Geneva’s ridiculously high food prices. So far I’ve discovered that the most affordable meals in the main city seem to be sharing cheese fondue with a glass of Swiss wine – you could do a lot worse! There is also a running club, yoga classes, and tai chi within the UN grounds, a private postal service, and a travel agency specially for delegates and employees. And a bookstore full of UN merchandise – in one week I’ve already bought a souvenir mug and lanyard. It’s been a good start!


Internship organization: International Law Commission, Geneva, Switzerland

Into the Fray! The start of the interning at the ILC

By Daniel Peck, June 3, 2015

Daniel Peck, ILHR Fellow (Class of 2017), is interning at the UN’s International Law Commission, in Geneva, Switzerland, with Commissioner Mahmoud Hmoud from Jordan:

Peck pic

United Nations in Geneva

With a flurry, the nine of us NYU interns arrived at the International Law Commission in Geneva and were immediately immersed in their complex discussion of international law. The ink on our International Law exams had barely dried before we were applying the concepts, terms, and ideas learned in the course to the codification and progressive development of international law. We joined the Commission half way through their first term and began with the topic of the proposed Convention on Crimes Against Humanity. In the course of three days, the Special Rapporteur from the United States laid the foundation for the Commission’s work on the topic and received valuable feedback from his colleagues. Our Commissioners turned to us for our research and insight into contested issues and incorporated our feedback into their recommendations. Quickly editing his proposal to address the commentary and suggestions, the Special Rapporteur presented the first two articles of the convention which were debated, amended, and approved. So began what will be the Convention’s multi-year journey through the ILC and the UN. Wasting no time at all, the next topic was under discussion immediately. This is the process for all topics in front of the ILC and through it the wheels of international law are advanced, piece by piece, each summer.