Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: Thea Reilkoff – The Advocates for Human Rights

When the UN Commission on the Status of Women adopted a declaration to combat violence against women in March of this year, it was a cause for celebration. The long-sought agreement faced many challenges and for many countries, many challenges remain, but the greatest is the work that lies ahead in making the declaration a reality. For far too many women and girls, violence is a part of daily life. The horrors are often unimaginable and their pervasiveness far greater than most realize. But, with the dedication of The Advocates for Human Rights and organizations, individuals, and governments similarly committed to ensuring the right of women to live free from violence, progress is being made.

For this and many other reasons, it was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to work with the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights this summer. The work of the Women’s Program focuses on violence against women and, particularly, domestic violence in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and countries of the Former Soviet Union (FSU). For 20 years, The Advocates has partnered with organizations throughout these regions to promote women’s human rights. They conduct fact-finding missions to document violations of women’s human rights; train police, prosecutors, and judges on effective enforcement of new and existing laws; and provide commentary and consultation on new and proposed laws.

During my time at The Advocates, the Women’s Program was in the process of finalizing a report on Mongolia after conducting two fact finding missions, had just completed a training session in Serbia, and was preparing for several upcoming missions. In addition to on-the-ground advocacy, the Women’s Program hosts STOPVAW —a website dedicated to all issues of violence against women (from sexual harassment to femicide) and the progress being made and many challenges that remain—specifically in CEE/FSU for which it includes detailed country pages. With its hundreds (if not thousands) of pages, STOPVAW is an invaluable international resource. It is also an immense project to maintain.

My time was largely spent providing content updates to STOPVAW. During the first part of my internship, I was responsible for updating the Enforcement Mechanisms in the United Nations section to provide advocates with the most up-to-date information available on engaging with the UN human rights system on issues of violence against women. The updates include information tailored to working with the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, the Commission on the Status of Women, and the human rights treaty bodies. The second, and much larger project, involved updating the Domestic Violence section including general information on the types and prevalence of domestic violence and law and policy. In addition to these projects, I assisted with updates to the UN Women’s website and STOPVAW’s What’s New on violence against women throughout the world.

When I started my internship at The Advocates, I knew it would be an incredible learning experience. It was that and so much more. It is with deepest gratitude that I thank the University of Minnesota Human Rights Fellowship Program and those who make this program possible with their generous donations. I have the greatest respect and appreciation for the staff of The Advocates and others who dedicate their lives to protecting the human rights of others. I will continue to volunteer with The Advocates through the school year and look forward to supporting the work they do for many years to come.

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: Brittney Miller – Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

BrittneyMillerIt was an exciting summer to be in Washington, D.C. working for a civil rights organization dedicated to racial and social justice. This summer the U.S. Supreme Court decided major civil rights cases on issues ranging from employment discrimination to voting rights to education, and this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Lawyers’ Committee and the March on Washington. Put simply, it was a busy summer for civil rights advocates.

To commemorate its 50th anniversary, the Lawyers’ Committee launched a Toward Justice Campaign and organized a series of events and celebrations. As a legal intern, I was able to attend many of these events, including the legal symposium, “Racial Justice in the New America”, and the launch of the Young Lawyers’ Initiative. Being a part of these events was both educational and inspiring. At the launch of the Young Lawyers’ Initiative, I listened to U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy call civil rights attorneys to action just as President John F. Kennedy did fifty years ago.

These events were certainly memorable, but the majority of my summer was spent in “intern alley” working with the other undergraduate and legal interns. It was exciting to be around a group of people from a variety of social justice backgrounds that went to law school, or hoped to go to law school, with the aspiration of creating a more just society. As a legal intern for the organization’s Employment Discrimination Project, I assisted with the litigation of race discrimination cases and legal research for the Access Campaign. The goal of the Access Campaign is to challenge arbitrary barriers to employment that have a disparate impact on racial and ethnic minorities such as overly broad criminal background checks and credit checks. Working at the Lawyers’ Committee this summer reaffirmed my commitment to social justice. While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done.

I am very grateful for the financial support the Human Rights Fellowship provided me. Without the fellowship, I would have missed out on the invaluable experiences, opportunities, and friendships that interning with the Lawyers’ Committee has given me. Staying true to the organization’s Toward Justice Campaign, I will end this post with my favorite quote from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”


Lawyers’ Committee interns at the launch of the Young Lawyers’ Initiative at the U.S. Institute for Peace. Representative Joe Kennedy spoke at the event, and Estelle performed later that night. 

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: Ethan Scrivner-United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

I have been working at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). So far the experience has been interesting and has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the work of the Tribunal and the process of the formation and implementation of international law both in general and within the specific context of the cases before the Tribunal.

From a legal perspective, now is a particularly interesting time to be here. In two cases earlier this year the Tribunal has managed to reshape requirements for liability for aiding and abetting, particularly where there is a command structure. It is arguable that the Tribunal instituted a higher actus reus requirement for liability than that which was previously required although the language of the requirement-specific direction-can be found in earlier Tribunal Judgments. The decisions of the Appeals Chamber carry no precedential weight outside of the ICTY itself, but the Tribunal’s jurisprudence is heavily influential in other criminal tribunals. The first opportunity to see if this somewhat heightened actus reus requirement will be picked up and applied as a principle of international criminal law may be the appeals judgment of Charles Taylor in the Special Court for Sierra Leone this fall. While seeing the legal processes has been interesting and will certainly be beneficial in my own studies and possibly my future career, what has been even more engaging is being directly involved in some of the projects through the Outreach office.

In many ways, Outreach functions as a sort of PR organ by working to maintain dialogue with those still living in in the region of the former Yugoslavia. Very few people who were involved in or directly affected by the wars in the Balkans are happy with the work of the Tribunal. Some feel there have been a disproportionate number of indictments and convictions of certain ethnic groups. Some feel that sentences are too severe given that acts that were committed during war, where killing of both combatants and civilians is inevitable, while others feel sentences are far too light given the number and severity of crimes (i.e. 22 years for multiple counts of murder, torture, extermination, and persecution, of which only two-thirds will actually be served). Many wonder why there is an international tribunal still trying people 20 years later when national courts are now competent to try war criminals themselves. These varied reactions make presenting the work of the Tribunal in a positive light to those in the region a somewhat daunting task.

Some of the feedback and information which comes from the region also give a fascinating insight into the collective construction of memory in the former Yugoslavia. At a children’s festival in Sarajevo several weeks ago, the Outreach field office located in Bosnia and Herzegovina asked children to make drawings which reflected what they thought about the conflict and the work of the ICTY in general. What I found most striking were some of the fairly graphic, detailed drawings of war and destruction that were made by children who were not born until a decade after the conflict had ended. This seems to suggest a strong potential for persistence of memory of events and certain historical narratives in the region. Whether this is “good” or “bad”-likely to lead to reconciliation or further discord-is something that is not easily determinable but rather interesting to see nonetheless.


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.

Humphrey Fellowship Visit to Youthrive

Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows participating in the August Professional Development Track, On the Ground in Minnesota, offered by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center attended a site visit at the organization Youthrive on August 20th, 2013. Fellows learned about the innovative approach that Youthrive takes to youth leadership and youth/adult partnerships. They met with a group of impressive young leaders, brainstormed around issues of youth violence, and learned about Youthrive’s four steps to youth leadership. They also had a great time!

Human Rights Fellowship Reflection: Anna Meteyer – U of M Human Rights Program

2013-08-21 10.58.51During my internship this summer, I have been working as student ambassador to the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program in its Human Rights Law Alliance in Colombia, a project funded by USAID and HED. Through its partnership with four Universities in the Antioquia region of Colombia, the Human Rights Program wishes to develop a comprehensive international human rights law curriculum, training law professors in the field of international human rights, fortifying and expanding available human rights resources in each university’s library, and involving students in international human rights litigation and official affairs, among other efforts.

More specifically, my objective as student ambassador is to establish meaningful relationships with Colombian students in each university, further involving these students in the operations of the alliance and adding a student voice to the project–a fundamental perspective, as students are the people the project principally wishes to serve. With this aim, I have traveled between the four universities, speaking with and observing students and faculty committed to human rights work, learning about their current and previous social justice efforts, and forming a deeper understanding of their experiences and aspirations in human rights.

The human rights projects and legal cases being carried out in each University are of great importance and variety, and almost all of them involve local issues that speak to the daily realities of injustice faced in the communities of the Antioquia region and throughout Colombia. In the University of Medellin, several students have taken on the ambitious case of the Picacha, a river that every year overflows its banks, devastating entire poverty-stricken barrios and occasionally taking human lives. These students struggle against powerful companies in charge of the management, protection and promotion of environmental resources in and around the city of Medellin, calling for accountability and the effective implementation of measures ensuring the safety of those living near the river.

Across the city, at the University of Antioquia (UdeA), several students are involved in very different human rights work, attending to victims of the armed conflict, who hope to find some justice and peace through reparations or the restoration of their land by the government. These students assist the victims with the formal measures necessary to be registered as victims, and with the arduous legal process of receiving reparations.

Other students at the UdeA are currently working on a case against the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam, a project that has caused the displacement of thousands of campesino families, as the government has forcibly removed them from their land and their lives. Strikingly, students throughout the university angered by this situation and in solidarity with the farmers, have called for one of the university buildings to be offered to the displaced people. Currently, over 400 people reside in an old gymnasium on the university campus, which presents not only a dependable place to live, but also has also taken on a form of nonviolent protest. It is truly moving to see this level of activism and solidarity being carried out by students, and one cannot help but to be inspired by the energy of political innovation and revolution that resonates throughout the campus.

In all of the Universities, the students I have met involved in human rights are incredibly invested and passionate about the work they do, as they fight to bring change and improvement to the lives of those living in their communities and their country. Often, their driving force is their local realities, the severe injustices that they, their families, their friends, their community members confront each day, and the degree of their diligence and dedication is truly impressive. Developing a comprehensive foundation in human rights law will be valuable for these students, who already show great potential as advocates for peace and equity. The existing international human rights institutions, treaties and discourse would greatly empower these prospective attorneys, introducing them to an extensively coded system of international standards and equipping them with powerful tools to demand that the Colombian state uphold those standards.

Not surprisingly, my conversations with these students have also led me to reflect much on my own involvement and future aspirations in human rights, and have greatly inspired me in many ways. It has been invaluable for me on a personal level to observe how human rights work is carried out on a local level in areas affected by past and current conflicts of varying degrees, struggling to find reconciliation, justice, and ultimately, peace. I look forward to the new dimension and perspective that this reflection will bring to my studies and work in the human rights field. I send my most sincere gratitude to my co-workers at the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program, the University of Minnesota Human Rights center, and to all the donors who have made this incredible fellowship possible. It has proved an invaluable experience, one that will surely guide me in my future human rights efforts and that I will treasure throughout my life.

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.