Profile: An Extern in Ecuador
September 15, 2015
This is the second installment in a series of stories featuring some of the over 100 Lewis & Clark law students who completed summer externships in 2015.
Third year law student Elizabeth Crespo spent the summer as an extern for YASunidos, an activist organization that seeks to protect life, human rights, respect for the Constitution of Ecuador as well and Ecuador’s ancestral, natural heritage. Political corruption, instability, and development have negatively impacted Ecuador’s environment and indigenous populations.
We asked Crespo to share her experiences at YASunidos and here are the answers to our questions:
Q: Where types of projects did you work on at YASunidos?
EC: YASunidos uses various international grievance mechanisms such as the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights and the International Criminal Court to seek judicial relief for their clients if pursuing legal avenues in Ecuador have consistently failed. The YASunidos legal sector prepares petitions that will hopefully be accepted by one of the international courts. I worked with one of the attorneys there and my job in the legal sector was to assess the best international court to file a petition with, as well as to help find relevant case law that would boost the case YASunidos was trying to make.
Q: What did you find to be the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your international work experience and why?
EC: The most rewarding aspect of my job was to learn that my research was entered into the petitions that will be brought to the international court (due to client confidentiality issues, I am not able to elaborate on what court YASunidos will be filing the petitions). Finding through case law that international treaties have been upheld through these grievance mechanisms made me less cynical about the future of implementing international environmental law in developing countries.
The most challenging aspect of my international work experience was living in a country that may face a dictatorship in the mere future. Freedom of speech has not been respected by the Ecuadorian government, making it dangerous for me to disclose to anyone outside my trusted circle of connections what I was actually doing in Ecuador.
Q: How do you expect the work you did to impact your future career plans or interests?
EC: After graduation, I may work on an indigenous capacity building project in the Amazon Rainforest with a few of my friends I met through my working group at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Through my externship with YASunidos, I developed a better understanding of the different tactics Ecuadorian environmental actors use to accomplish their objectives and the rationale behind them. I am confident that this knowledge will help me to be an effective team member if I choose to join the capacity building project.
Q: What advice do you have for students considering international work or study experiences?
EC: Make sure to go into the experience with an open mind. Discuss issues related to your externship with people of varied life experiences as long as you do not openly display your own opinion if it is contrary to the government’s. We, as Lewis and Clark students, may not understand why the Ecuadorian government would dream of violating their own Constitution let alone international law to implement development projects that will do irreversible damage to the precious biodiversity in those areas. However if one takes the time to listen to the wide range of perspectives within a country, it becomes apparent that many of these issues are not as black and white as they seem in our textbooks.