Defending the right to a healthy planet: a daunting task, but a necessary one. This is the motto of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), the non-profit law center I had the opportunity to work for this summer. Located in Washington, DC, CIEL operates within the epicenter of environmental and human rights policy. I was accepted into CIEL as a legal intern, with responsibilities including researching and writing about areas of international law and policy; assisting with policy analysis and advocacy; attending meetings and conferences; and otherwise working closely with CIEL staff on various projects.
As a dual citizen of Guatemala and the US, I was uniquely equipped for this internship, understanding the needs of developing countries and the political framework of the leaders in environmental and human rights law. Because of my background, I feel the duty to speak for those who might not know their rights in a time where climate change and environmental health concerns grow at an alarming rate.
It might be a small organization with just ten attorneys, but CIEL has a large impact in the field of international environmental law. The organization operates within four main programs, including People, Land and Resources, Climate and Energy, Human Rights and the Environment, and Environmental Health. Focus areas range from indigenous rights to corporate accountability for climate change, to transnational chemical treaties and partnerships. My exposure to current legal projects as a legal intern seemed endless.
One of my most rewarding projects included drafting reports for CIEL’s Early Warning System, a safeguard tool that allows for communities to monitor upcoming development finance projects and how their rights to a safe and healthy environment could be compromised. I also had the opportunity to draft parts of an amicus brief for one of the senior attorneys working to protect the indigenous communities in the Andes Mountains from aerial fumigations of the Coca leaf, which they use for medicinal and nutritional purposes. My other projects mainly dealt within the Climate and Energy program, which fit nicely with my interests in climate change.
In addition to the benefits from the internship work itself, the diversity of the attorneys’ backgrounds widened my perceptions of the possibilities of human rights law. I had the opportunity to work with attorneys from a variety of educational backgrounds and countries of interest. Attorneys travel regularly for their cases and for conferences, which is something I look for in a potential career. Most attorneys have worked at other environmental NGOs prior to their work at CIEL, and draw upon these experiences in their work today. Most intriguing, however, is that CIEL president and CEO is a UMN graduate himself. I have now had experience in working with one of my own, and see one of the paths I could take in the human rights/environmental law field. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with CIEL and to have walked amongst the brightest in their fields.
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.