For the past four months, I have served as the Advocacy Fellow at Human Rights Watch in Geneva, Switzerland through Dartmouth’s Lombard Public Service Fellowship. An international, not-for-profit human rights NGO, Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigates abuses, exposes the facts, and pressures stakeholders to respect rights and secure justice. At the core of HRW’s work is its ethical fact-finding, impartial reporting, and focused advocacy, in which I took part with the Advocacy Division at the Geneva office.
My role in the advocacy team largely involved engaging with the UN mechanisms, especially the Human Rights Council, and researching various country-specific and thematic human rights issues. In September when I arrived, my team and I extensively covered the 3-week 30th Session. Through the Fellowship, I had the opportunity to learn how human rights advocacy is done at the multilateral level, the fabric of which inevitably interweaves geopolitical threads. For example, during informal negotiations of draft resolutions at the HRC I observed the nuanced power plays of states and regional groups through language, on language – to decide which terms are included or excised in the document. In contrast, a 2-day meeting of more than forty civil society organizations (CSOs) was convened in October, co-organized by HRW and our peer, CIVICUS. Prompted by the closing civil society space worldwide, this gathering was particularly salient as civil society actors were its sole participants. To be in a neutral space occupied by like-minded CSOs was a refreshing experience to engage and write a report on, as the collective focus was creating and voicing a counter-narrative to the human rights-unfriendly rhetoric some states deploy.
In addition, the Fellowship enabled me in unexpected dimensions to combine the critical with the creative. For example, besides the regular HRC Sessions that take place three times a year, there are treaty body sessions that each monitor the ten international human rights treaties. Unlike the HRC that runs on a fixed timeline, the treaty bodies have their own submission deadlines and session dates. To streamline this irregularity, I had the opportunity to create a master advocacy calendar through design thinking. It was a fun challenge to think through how to organize complex information in a visually simple presentation in Excel. I also appreciated the process of reviewing the year’s HRC data for coding and analysis, and the opportunities to discuss patterns and exceptions at different occasions.
Because the advocacy division is a small, close-knit team, I enjoyed the professional trust, intuitive independence, and teamwork. This dynamic also allowed for the chance to follow topics of my interest, such as the Business and Human Rights Forum and various talks and exhibits during Geneva Peace Week in November. I fully enjoyed learning about intersectional human rights themes, such as the arts and forgiveness, and connecting with fellow advocates working in the human rights context.
This year wrapped up with the Special Session on Burundi, the outcome of which was hopeful with a strong resolution adopted by consensus, which calls for the urgent deployment of an expert mission on the human rights situation on the ground. This decision is significant as the resolution was unanimously adopted by forty-seven members of the HRC, including the P5 states.
In the new year, I look forward to joining onboard the New York headquarters to resume my fellowship with the advocacy team there. I am grateful to receive Dartmouth’s continued support through the Lombard, as I deepen my appreciation for complexity in human rights and international justice, towards my plan to serve as an international human rights lawyer.