1. How did your interest in the French language affect your study of international issues and human rights issues?
Being proficient in French has been very useful in the various human rights activities in which I have been involved over the years. For example, as a volunteer and intern at the Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis, I was able to conduct interviews with human rights practitioners in French-speaking African countries regarding their innovative approaches to human rights work. In addition, as a student attorney in the University of Minnesota Immigration Clinic, I assisted a Haitian woman with her asylum application. It was also very helpful to be proficient in French while interning at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). French is still one of the official UN languages and many documents are disseminated in French.
2. What led you to law school after graduating from Marquette University, and specifically to the University of Minnesota?
Following my undergraduate studies, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in human rights work. I had been involved in Amnesty International at Marquette University, in addition to having some very influential professors who encouraged me to pursue this goal. I knew that the law was a very powerful tool in promoting and protecting human rights, so I decided that law school would be a good path for me. I applied to the University of Minnesota because I heard that the U o f M law school had strong public interest programs as well as an impressive Human Rights Center.
3. How did you learn of your Fellowship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and how did it complement your studies as a law student?
I volunteered and interned at the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) in Minneapolis for two years during law school. Through my contacts at CVT, I was chosen to do a 6-month internship with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. Interning at the OHCHR was a wonderful way to gain practical experience working in an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the field of human rights. I learned a great deal about the UN system and the intersection of NGO’S and governments within that system. It was also interesting to compare my experience working for a NGO with working for a UN body. My experience helped me to solidify my desire to work in the field of human rights.
4. What were your responsibilities and projects during your six months as an intern at the UNHCHR in Geneva?
My primary responsibilities included doing policy research for the senior advisors, drafting speeches for the senior speechwriting, and serving on the NGO liaison team for the Commission on Human Rights. In addition, I would help out various human rights officers with projects such, as writing grants or analyzing portions of a country’s constitution. I also attended sessions of the various convention-based committees meeting in Geneva as well as meetings with the High Commissioner and her staff.
5. What work have you done since leaving your internship and law school? How does this work relate to the field of human rights?
I graduated from law school in December 2003 and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in May 2004. Also in May 2004, I began working as an associate attorney at a small law firm practicing in immigration and nationality law. I am primarily working on cases involving family-based immigration and deportation defense.
6. What does the term “human rights” mean to you?
I believe that “human rights” are those principles found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Promoting human rights means giving all people a voice and an opportunity to achieve their fullest potential. Protecting human rights means keeping people safe from harm and from discrimination. Human rights are universal but acknowledge the differences among people in the world.
7. What advice would you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in human rights advocacy?
Get involved now! Volunteer experience is invaluable. In the human rights field, volunteer experience is often more important than work experience. Learn another language. Research the human rights issues in which you are interested and find an organization that will help you gain experience working on those issues. Network with other human rights practitioners and maintain those contacts.
8. What inspires you to continue this work? What event or experience drove you to pursue this career?
I do not have one single event in my life that pushed me to pursue
a career in human rights, rather the more I am engaged in work and study
aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of others, the more I am inspired
to continue. The most influential experiences I have had thus far have
been volunteering at the Center for Victims of Torture, interning at the
OHCHR and working with the Immigration Clinic at the University of Minnesota.
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