Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: Evan Gelles – Legal Rights Center

Evan GellesThis summer, I am working as a legal intern and certified student attorney at the Legal Rights Center (LRC), a community based non-profit law firm that represents low-income people free of charge.  It is difficult to categorize the LRC.  When I describe the LRC to family and friends, I tell them to picture a small, community-driven Public Defender’s Office with a more manageable caseload.  It is an organization that provides a voice to the disadvantaged.

Based on my past experiences and interests, I was assigned to work with a staff attorney who largely represents juveniles.  I began my internship by researching restorative justice initiatives and practices that can be used to aid youth with mental health issues in the juveniles justice system.  Next, I began sitting in on client interviews, observing court dates, and conducting legal research.  I discovered that I enjoy interacting with clients – particularly, helping everyday folks understand the legal process, the charges filed against them, and their options moving forward.  Most of all, I enjoy getting to know the person behind the alleged charge of criminal conduct.  I have learned at the LRC that a good attorney must listen to the client, understand them as a person, and show who they are to the court.  Many, many people come to court each day.  The LRC hopes to show that our clients are more than just a number.

I am particularly grateful for the opportunity I have been given at the LRC because it is the ideal forum for me to utilize the skills I learned during my first year of law school.  I have written multiple motions to suppress evidence, conducted client interviews, negotiated with prosecutors, and have done plea deals in court.  Currently, I am preparing for a trial in juvenile court that I will perform, with the assistance of a supervising attorney.  And at the end of August, I will cross-examine two witnesses in another trial in juvenile court.

The LRC has provided me with the opportunity to use skills acquired in law school, work with supportive attorneys, and learn from an activist and community-centered staff.  I feel very blessed to be able to help and advocate on behalf of those in need.

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.

Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: Katie Choi – Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights

Katie ChoiThis summer, I am working at the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) as an intern for the International Campaign and Cooperation Team. Since the day I started my internship at NKHR, I have had remarkable opportunities to work on variety of projects on North Korean human rights. From fundraising campaigns, to translating documents, writing newsletters, and meeting with North Korean refugees, every second of my time at NKHR has been invaluably rewarding. NKHR was founded in 1996 with an objective of promoting and raising awareness on North Korean human rights issues. For the past 17 years, NKHR has been holding annual conferences around the world, and has established various educational programs to equip and empower young North Korean refugees as they adjust to South Korean society. Among numerous events and projects organized by NKHR, there is one project that I would like to share.

Every year, hundreds of North Koreans cross the river in search of food and freedom. Refugees typically journey from North Korea to China, and then into a third country that will recognize their refugee status and finally arrive in South Korea. Currently, there are approximately 25,000 North Korean refugees living in South Korea. For those who cannot afford the trip, many of them end up living illegally in China, under constant threat of arrest and deportation. Once they escape from North Korea, many women are subject to trafficking in China. They are also exposed to forced abortion, torture and forced labor in political prison camps upon their return to North Korea. For this reason, NKHR has been prioritizing rescue relief of many North Korean women and children living in China and other Asian countries who are in danger of deportation. So far, over 400 refugees have been rescued by NKHR.

Last month, NKHR received an urgent request to help several North Korean refugees living in China. Among them were young women and children. Upon hearing that they are in danger of forced repatriation, over $15,000 of the funds raised by NKHR Refugee Rescue Fundraising Campaign Team (group of volunteers and interns working on fundraising campaigns with a goal of raising money to save North Korean refugees) and other donations to NKHR were spent on bringing these refugees to South Korea. In a month or two, a total of nine refugees will arrive in South Korea.

North Korea bars its citizens from leaving the country through stringent border restrictions. However, the march towards freedom continues. It is an irreversible trend. My experience at NKHR has taught me so much concerning the importance of human rights advocacy for people like North Koreans whose fundamental rights have been violated. I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of NKHR’s mission in supporting North Korean human rights. I would also like to thank the Human Rights Center for supporting me on this truly valuable experience. Although my time at NKHR is coming to an end, I will not stop fighting for North Korean human rights until every one of them is protected.

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.