International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Thanks to PILP I was able to spend my summer in Vienna, Austria as an intern at the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), which as the name suggests is an international human rights organization. This non-governmental organization serves as the liaison between 44 country-specific human rights organizations throughout Europe and Central Asia. The organization does a variety of work, including monitoring conditions, publicizing violations, providing legal assistance to victims and implementing projects to positively influence the human rights policies of various countries. As a legal intern I was assigned to one such policy project, dealing with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).
The UNCHR will potentially undergo some major constructive reforms in the fall of 2005 depending on what kind of agreement UN member states can come to on the subject. My job was to compile background information on the UNCHR, write letters to governments endorsing aspects of the reform, monitor developments in the reform process, prepare documents explaining the various issues and write statements about the IHF’s position on those issues. The documents that I produced were posted on the IHF’s website and circulated among governments, media representatives, UN representatives and other non-governmental organizations in an attempt to inform as wide an audience as possible about the reform and the issues at stake and to encourage people to take positions on those issues in order to influence UN decision-makers.
My summer experience was invaluable in terms of the exposure that it afforded me to the inner workings of a small yet influential international non-governmental nonprofit, to the complexities, functions and dysfunctions of the United Nations system, and to the evolution and practical applications of international human rights law and policy. I also had a lot of great learning opportunities just by virtue of being in Vienna. I attended multiple lectures at the United Nations offices in Vienna including one given by the current President of the UN General Assembly and sat in on the two-day annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Not to mention that I was in Europe for the summer where I was able to take evening German classes, travel to amazing places on the weekend and eat the best gelato ever. I would recommend the PILP experience to anyone.