U of T Law Meets World: Reflections on IHRP-Facilitated Fellowships

U of T Law Meets World: Reflections on IHRP-Facilitated Fellowships

Every year, the International Human Rights Program supports 15 to 20 students to pursue summer volunteer roles with international human rights organizations. Here is what several of last summer’s fellows had to say about their experiences.

Ashley Boggild (2L)

Equality Effect

Meru, Kenya at Ripples International (Equality Effect’s partner organization)

What were some highlights and powerful experiences of your fellowship?

The most powerful aspect of my fellowship was getting to work directly with the children whose cases I was monitoring, many of whom were living in Ripples International’s rescue shelter. The law student I was working with from McGill University and I would spend time with these girls over the weekend, simply playing games and doing crafts. On our last weekend in Meru we were able to arrange to take the girls to a swimming pool and for a number of them it was the first time they had ever gone swimming. Their positivity and resilience amidst the immense challenges they were facing will always resonate most with me from this experience.

What were some of your first impressions of the country/city where you completed your fellowship? How/Did these impressions change over time?

I loved that no matter where you went in Meru you could easily make new friends who would offer to help you with directions or whatever else you needed, spend whole afternoons with you, and sometimes invite you to their homes. The communal spirit and abundance of generosity in Kenya is definitely one of the things I enjoy most about the country.

I also became familiar with a different side of the country by regularly visiting courthouses and police stations. As a result, my impression of the country became more complex as I became increasingly aware of the religious and cultural tensions, forms of abuse, and gender expectations in Kenya. But overall, my impression of Kenya is still an overwhelmingly positive one.

Tamara Jewett (3L)

Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF)

Johannesburg, South Africa

What were some highlights and powerful experiences of your fellowship?

The most memorable experience of my fellowship was spending four days in the Mapela community in rural Limpopo province attending client meetings and conducting interviews. I had spent several weeks reading about the community and about problems with internal governance disputes and precarious land rights in negotiations about land use between communities and mining companies. Not only did I get to see the impact of the mines in the area first hand, I saw a very different side of South Africa than if I had stayed only in the city. Mapela is what is known as a “traditional community” still governed by customary law. The South African Constitution preserves customary law alongside the common law for some communities.

Share anything interesting about your experience (best meal, favourite memory, etc.)

One of my favourite memories was being served coffee and peanut butter and honey sandwiches by a client while conducting an interview at his home in the Mapela community in rural Limpopo province (which unfortunately is now only meters away from the tailing dump of a large, open-pit platinum mine). Peanut butter and honey sandwiches were a staple school lunch in my childhood, and it felt both strange and wonderful to find something so familiar in such a different context half way across the world.

What advice do you have for students hoping to be an IHRP fellow next year?

As much as it sounds like a cliché, my main piece of advice for students hoping to be an IHRP fellow next year is to keep and open mind and to say yes to opportunities. I got to visit communities in Limpopo province and witness the mineral/land rights and customary governance issues that I was researching for HSF because I followed up on contact that I made mountain biking then was willing to spend a long weekend working and traveling. Similarly, I always made sure that I was available when HSF needed representatives at various community or interest group meetings related to their SABC litigation. Going to those meetings gave me a better understanding of how HSF’s litigation fit into the bigger picture of complaints and action against the SABC.

Also be sure to start preparing well ahead of time. Finding a partner organization, figuring out funding, and, eventually, sorting out logistics if the fellowship requires travel takes time and determination.

Bethanie Pascutto (2L)

AIDS-Free World, Code Blue Campaign

Toronto, Canada

What were some highlights and powerful experiences of your fellowship?

Reading first-hand accounts from victims of sexual exploitation and abuse at the hands of UN peacekeepers was difficult but accentuated the importance of the research project, and the Code Blue campaign in general. I was also exposed to the UN’s daily press briefings which demonstrated how the organization communicates with the press in a strategic manner, often avoiding answering questions with any substance.

Near the end of my fellowship I had the opportunity to present the findings of the research to Stephen Lewis, Paula Donovan and other members of the staff at AIDS-Free World. For many Canadians, including me, Stephen Lewis is a hometown hero with an impressive vocabulary and a legacy of fighting for those affected by HIV/AIDS. It was surreal to have him ask me questions directly and listen patiently to my answers.

What advice do you have for students hoping to be an IHRP fellow next year?

Get started early! Take a look at the organizations that you are interested in working for and send out your emails of interest as soon as you can. Most NGOs are understaffed and overworked so it may take them a while to get back to you and you don’t want your tardiness to be the reason you miss out on a great opportunity.

Kerry Sun (2L)

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Office of the Prosecutor (Trial Division)

The Hague, Netherlands

Thanks to a Summer Fellowship from the IHRP, I had the opportunity to intern with the Office of the Prosecutor (Trial Division) at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) this summer.

As a legal intern with the Trial Division, I assisted the prosecution team on the ICTY’s final trial, Prosecutor v Ratko Mladić. This work familiarized me with the factual record concerning the Bosnian War, as well as the jurisprudence of the Tribunal, which has played an integral role in ending impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In addition, I was able to observe portions of the trial, including the conduct of examinations and cross-examinations of witnesses.

My time at the Tribunal afforded various opportunities to deepen my knowledge of international criminal law and international law generally, including educational seminars at the ICTY and events held by academic institutes in The Hague. In June, I participated in a mock trial at the ICTY with interns from the International Criminal Court and other international organizations in The Hague, a fantastic experience that allowed us to put what we learned into practice.

The highlight of my summer was travelling to the former Yugoslavia with Karlson “King” Leung (2L), where we visited Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro. Seeing the region in person was an important way for me to connect my work with the Prosecution, where I dealt extensively with the evidentiary record, to the actual events and their impact on the people who continue to reside there.

Dora Chan (3L)

Human Rights Watch

Toronto, Canada

My primary project this summer was assisting HRW in its investigations into abusive policing and failures in protection in Saskatchewan, within the larger context of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as a national crisis. I think the biggest highlight for me has been knowing that I’m contributing to bringing change to an issue that has up until fairly recently been largely ignored. Especially as we move into the National Inquiry, I’m humbled by the fact that my work could be making a difference, however small. I’m also fortunate enough to be able to continue this project with the IHRP Clinic, and look forward to seeing it through to completion.

Alexis Vaughan (2L)

Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA)

Port of Spain, Trinidad

One of the highlights of my fellowship was attending a workshop on Health Law: Implementing Fiscal and Regulatory Policies to Prevent Obesity in Children and Adolescents in English-Speaking Caribbean Countries hosted by the Pan American Health Organization at their Caribbean headquarters in Bridgetown, Barbados. Attendees at this meeting were representatives from government, civil society and academia. At this meeting, I was able to engage with policy experts and observe firsthand how research is turned into law.

Mannu Chowdhury (3L)

International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)

New York, United States

What were some highlights and powerful experiences of your fellowship?

Two key highlights of my fellowship were:

  1. During my time at the ICTJ, a discussion was held about the impending Colombian referendum on the peace deal with the FARC. Individuals from the Colombian field office flew to New York and provided insights regarding the underlying impetus behind the peace process and its fragility.
  1. In conducting my research, I was struck by how dated and underdeveloped the discourse continues to be concerning the nexus of institutional reforms and gender justice. Informal institutions that critically shape one’s life are often disregarded and the international community’s focus (and resources) are exclusively placed to reforming traditional institutions.

What advice do you have for students hoping to be an IHRP fellow next year?

Being a Summer Fellow offers rare opportunities to learn about the internal workings of a NGO and deepen one’s understanding of policy development. Without a doubt, it is an incredible experience!

Per Kraut (2L)

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

Bangkok, Thailand

The experience of working for the UN and getting to understand how an intergovernmental organization functions was definitely a powerful experience. It was incredible to be able to surround myself every day with intelligent people from around the globe and to work in a multi-cultural setting with the common goal of creating a better world.

Chelsey Legge (2L)

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Network

Toronto, Canada

Attending the 2nd National Conference on Charting the Future of Drug Policy in Canada was definitely a highlight. Some of my favourite speakers included Health Minister Jane Philpott, Jordan Westfall (president of the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs, a.k.a. CAPUD), and the representatives from Colorado and Portugal. Another great experience was attending the Toronto City Council meeting the day the council voted on supervised injection sites. I loved being able to watch policymaking in action.

The lawyers at the Network gave me a lot of freedom to work on projects at my own pace, so one challenge was setting deadlines and staying disciplined. I also adopted a 6 month-old puppy in the middle of my fellowship, so balancing a new personal responsibility with work was tricky, but ultimately rewarding. My coworkers were incredibly supportive and encouraging throughout.

The people you work with will make or break your experience. Make a real effort to connect with potential supervisors and supervising organizations! It’s important to find a good fit.

Ramz Aziz (2L, JD/MBA)

Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA)

Toronto, Canada

What were some of the challenges that you faced, professionally and/or personally this summer?

One of the most daunting aspects of the role was the lack of information on international housing jurisprudence. Early on, I had to become adept in finding obscure case law and adjudicative body positions on housing rights. Even the database that contained the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s views was developed by a third party, and the search mechanisms were not as powerful as I had hoped them to be. Consequently, I read through hundreds of UN cases to find what we were looking for. Fortunately, I have now developed a bloodhound level of legal research ability, and have become adept at preparing memos around both broad and specific legal issues.

What were some of your first impressions of the country/city where you completed your fellowship? How/Did these impressions change over time?

Although it is located in Toronto, CERA’s office in the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) near the heart of Chinatown was an area that I had been previously unfamiliar with. The sub-culture of the workplace, as well as the locality, was far different than I had anticipated. At CSI, I learned about other non-profits doing amazing work in Canada, and the opportunities available for law students in the non-profit sector.

What advice do you have for students hoping to be an IHRP fellow next year?

If you are even remotely curious or passionate about the world you live in, the IHRP fellowship is a great way to learn about how human beings treat one another and treat their environment. Some folks start with an organization and then come up with a project. Others identify an issue first, and then discover the key players in the area they are interested in. I opted for the latter approach, and stumbled upon CERA when researching organizations active in housing rights advocacy.

Regardless of your approach, the opportunity to gain legal experience and perform human rights work is a cherished one, especially when considering the relatively short nature of law school. The IHRP is a great way to get out of your comfort zone, and to commence the journey of discovering your niche. There are plenty of organizations out there that would value free help from a law student. Give a chance to some of the smaller, more obscure organizations – chances are, you will have greater responsibility, and the work will be even more rewarding!

Sarah Teich (2L)

International Criminal Court (ICC), Office of the Prosecutor, Investigative Division

The Hague, Netherlands

My entire experience at the ICC was fantastic. I built a crimes database and drafted crime incident reports for the Prosecutor. I conducted telephone analyses to identify potential new leads in our investigation. I got involved in witness interview preparation and profiling. I had the privilege of experiencing all facets of Investigative prosecution work, and gained a sense of what it takes to actually build a case against international war criminals in the real world. I learned from the best and challenged myself, and then spent almost every weekend travelling Europe. Basically, the perfect summer. ☺

Here are my top three adventures: (1) Not sleeping a wink in Lisbon; (2) Making new friends at Sziget—a seven-day music festival in Budapest; and (3) Wandering the streets of Molenbeek, Brussels (after I’d spent one year researching the place).

Karlson Leung (2L)

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), President’s Office

The Hague, Netherlands

After the completion of my first year of studies at the Faculty of Law, I spent my summer working as a Chambers intern in the President’s Office of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in The Hague, Netherlands from May to September 2016. The United Nations established the ad hoc court to prosecute the perpetrators of serious crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Working as a legal intern in the President’s Office afforded me a glimpse into the inner mechanisms of the Tribunal and the appeals process at the highest level. I was tasked with providing legal support to Judge Carmel Agius of Malta at the appellate level, and at times to aid with other duties associated with the Office such as the drafting and editing of speeches, memos, and research articles for the Tribunal. In particular, I have been very fortunate with the timing of this internship given that the court will be closing as per the Completion Strategy by the end of 2017 after having fulfilled its UN Security Council mandate, and as such oversaw the rendering of one appeal judgement and the drafting of another.

There have been several highlights and memorable events during my time at the Tribunal. I had the opportunity to visit the UN Detention Unit with the other Chambers interns to attend a

briefing and tour with the Commanding Officer. It was definitely a rare glimpse into the other organs of the judicial process and a chance to see how detainees are treated while awaiting trial or appeals. During my personal visit to the Balkans, I also had the opportunity to visit a ICTY field and information office and met with the investigative team in Sarajevo, in addition to travelling with the President and the team during their field mission. Travelling through the historic city in a motorcade and a security detail was definitely not something I expected!

Overall, I could not have asked for a better work environment with more highly supportive, friendly, and engaging staff and colleagues. I would highly recommend anyone interested in pursuing a career in international criminal law or in the field of international human rights to apply!

Ashley Peoples (2L)

PEN Canada

Toronto, Canada

What were some highlights and powerful experiences of your fellowship?

My largest project of the summer was finding a way to strengthen PEN Canada’s political relationships. During the Liberal government of the 1990s and early 2000s, PEN had open lines of communication and collaborative partners in Ottawa. With the new Liberal government in power, PEN is looking to rekindle these relationships. Specifically, in the past two years, PEN has found itself working more frequently with writer refugees and refugee claimants. They have learned that effective advocacy on behalf of a writer at risk (and a writer’s family) seeking asylum requires a close and cooperative relationship with government.

When I learned that the Canadian Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was holding an impromptu summer session on how to improve immigration measures to deal with vulnerable populations in inaccessible regions, I presented the idea of submitting a brief to the Committee. Writers at risk are certainly a vulnerable population and are often in inaccessible regions. The PEN team agreed and helped me gather the research I needed. I scoured PEN’s archives and interviewed former PEN presidents and board members to draft the brief and prepare it for submission.

While in Ottawa to attend the Committee session, I coordinated an engagement with the Department of Human Rights in Ottawa (Global Affairs Canada). Working closely with the Chair of our Writers in Prison Committee, we met with over twenty GAC officials and argued for PEN’s renewed collaboration with the government.  

Share anything interesting about your experience.

I feel privileged to have spent the summer at a small office of brilliant people who worked collaboratively and inspired me to become a more informed and active human rights advocate.

What advice do you have for students hoping to be an IHRP fellow next year?

If there is an issue you are interested in investigating, do the leg work to set up the fellowship. Fellowships provide unique learning opportunities and are a great platform from which to start your second year at law school. 

Yolanda Song (3L)

International Human Rights Program (IHRP)

Toronto, Ontario

As a summer fellow at the IHRP, I had the opportunity to experience advocacy in action. From researching, to writing, to developing recommendations, to meeting with government officials, to assisting with media outreach, I was involved in every aspect of the production of No Life for a Child, a recent report on the immigration detention of children and family separation in Canada. I loved having the chance to study one issue in such depth and to help develop recommendations for legislative and policy reform—although the work was challenging, it was also extremely stimulating and rewarding. Perhaps the greatest highlight of my summer was working with Hanna Gros (IHRP Senior Fellow and co-author of the report), Samer Muscati (IHRP Director), and our incredible advocacy partners, who not only taught me an enormous amount about being an effective advocate, but continue to inspire and mentor me as I navigate law school and life.

If you’re interested in human rights advocacy, do not pass up the chance to work with the IHRP. Although staying in Toronto may not seem like the most glamorous option, my experience was immensely fulfilling, and really helped me develop my skills as a researcher, writer, and advocate. It was also amazing fun, and you will be working with some fantastic individuals. If you do get this opportunity, be sure to work hard and be engaged—you will not be disappointed by what you receive in return.

Students who are interested in an IHRP-facilitated fellowship can contact Rights Review (ihrprightsreview@gmail.com) to speak to a former IHRP fellow, or contact Hanna Gros, IHRP Senior Fellow (hanna.gros@mail.utoronto.ca). The 2017 Summer Fellowship Guide is available on the IHRP website at http://ihrp.law.utoronto.ca/2017-summer-fellowship-guide.