The 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women saw a group of Hamilton Lugar School students come to New York City to participate as civilian delegates and meet with stakeholders on topics such as women’s land and inheritance rights in Kenya. The spring 2019 trip, which included the presentation of findings to various NGOs and interested parties, was part of a practicum on human rights and organizations taught by Professor of International Law Practice Shruti Rana.
The practicum had three parts: first, students learned theories and concepts of international human rights in the classroom. Second, students traveled to the UN during Spring Break to take part in a number of sessions as members of civil society. And third, the class partnered with the Global Initiative for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and used their theoretical knowledge to write a human rights report.
At the UN, students saw first-hand how human rights processes work. Member nations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women must submit reports on their progress toward the Committee’s goals, in areas such as violence against women and maternal mortality. Then the Committee’s experts analyze the results and present each participating nation with concluding recommendations. Rana’s class tasked itself with assessing the implementation of these concluding observations.
What the class found, Rana says, was that “concluding observations can be a really powerful tool.” They function as “precise analyses of where a state is falling short in its obligations to women or to protect human rights.”
Framing an issue as a specific international legal violation can give weight to the argument that this violation needs to be addressed on an international or national level, Rana says. Taking into account these assessments can create lasting change.
The practicum bolstered the UN’s goal to get young people more involved in international governance. According to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, introduced in 1990, children have the right to voice their opinions and concerns and to have those concerns heard by those with power. Many other young people were at the Convention, and HLS students had the opportunity to meet and socialize with youth advocates from other regions of the world, including Nigeria, Nepal, the North Caucuses, and the United States, all there to participate and contribute. The occasion was a pizza party organized by Rana, but students and youth advocates continued to socialize and learn from each other as the Commission continued, both in informal and formal settings.
In addition to attending meetings, Hamilton Lugar School students were given the freedom to investigate topics of their choice, so that later they could present their findings to the class. Kimber Garland, a senior studying International Law and Institutions as well as East Asian Languages and Cultures with a focus on Korean, chose to investigate the repatriation of North Korean refugees who cross the border into China. As she says, “China and North Korea have an agreement where if there’s any refugees who cross the border into China, Chinese officials will arrest them and send them back to North Korea, where they’re placed in political prison camps.”
Using the lens of gender proved useful in understanding this refugee population. She adds, “80% of North Korean refugees are women, and they’re usually trafficked once they cross over the border.” All this occurs despite the fact that China is obligated under international law to accept and protect these refugees. Attending presentations by refugees and survivors of trafficking was particularly powerful and meaningful to Garland, and she produced a research paper and presentation on the topic.
Nivedha Meyyappan, a recent HLS graduate who is now a programs intern in the Office of Sexual Violence and Conflict at the UN, traveled to New York thinking she would be researching reproductive services globally. But, once there, she decided to change her focus after she attended several UN sessions and realized “just how many issues were going on that weren’t even on my radar.”
Meyyappan decided instead to study sexual violence and conflict after encountering the fact that “there were so many legal provisions and documents in place, yet it’s something that’s so, so hard to make a change with.” She wanted to investigate the extent to which protections and laws either were or were not being followed by nations and institutions.
The practicum also served one of the school’s and Rana’s goals: to give students both the theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience needed to make an impact on the global sphere when they graduate. The Global Leaders and Professional Program (GLPP) accomplishes a similar feat by pairing students with professional mentors so that students can connect their skills and interests to relevant and interesting career paths.
Rana says that HLS has “incredible students who in various was just want to go out there and change the world,” so she asked herself, “How do we help them do that?”
The answer is the GLPP, which helps students identify professionals who are doing what they want to do, as well as other students who have similar aspirations. Through the program, students are given the tools needed to translate their critical thinking and liberal arts skills into actionable steps that can lead to a vital internship or post-graduate position.
Garland, who worked as a consular intern in Guangzhou, China, in the summer 2018 and is now applying to post-graduate positions, has taken part in the Global Leaders and Professionals Program twice. The program has greatly helped her navigate the world outside the classroom. The first time she took it, the program included sessions on how to get an internship and how to network and do informational interviews. It also taught her how to structure resumes and cover letters, which she says was “very, very helpful.” She adds that, especially for students in the fields of arts and sciences like herself, “It was great for the GLPP to sit us down, explain everything, and kind of help with the confusion of the whole process.”
The second time she participated in the GLPP, the program was more focused on skills that seniors like her can use, including “how to properly engage in the interview process, how to answer interview questions, how to do an elevator pitch, how to follow up on networking,” and salary negotiations. Garland is now applying to diplomacy and counter-intelligence positions at the State Department, the Department of Intelligence Analysis, and the Department of Homeland Security, and in the spring she will investigate opportunities at NGOs.
Meyyappan took part in the GLPP as a senior, and it helped her, she agreed, hone her “elevator pitch” about who she was and what she wanted to do. “It was good just to be with other students who were kind of in the same realm as you,” she adds. In addition, the program “opened up my horizons a little bit” in terms of opportunities she could pursue.
Both Garland and Meyyappan believe that their opportunities outside the classroom have had a profound impact on their studies and life. Garland’s diverse tasks during her internship involved helping visa applicants in the first stages of their process, pursuing independent projects about the travel patterns of recipients of business visas, and giving informational sessions to local Chinese. Combined with the opportunities she had to meet and spend time with both local Chinese and Foreign Service Officers, the internship was “definitely was a life-changing experience.”
And Meyyappan, whose post-graduate UN internship has been informed by the work she did during Professor Rana’s practicum, has made the most of her experience. For the past six months, she has researched projects on sexual violence and conflict, sat in on meetings with leaders from a number of nations on the topic of sexual violence and conflict, and attended the UN General Assembly in the fall. Interning at the UN, Meyyappan says, “has really cemented that this is the field in want to work in, with international human rights, with gender-based violence—it really has shown me that this is where I want to be.”
More information about the Global Leaders and Professionals Program can be found here.