Brief History of Organization:
During Summer 2004, I was fortunate to intern at the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre in New Delhi, India. The organization documents human rights situation in South Asia. The Centre also “seeks to investigate, document and disseminate information about human rights treaties and conventions, human rights education, refugees, media freedom, prison reforms, political imprisonment, torture, summary executions, disappearances and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”. SAHRDC has the Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and as such attends the annual ECOSOC conference in Geneva to report on South Asia.
- Collects information and engages in report-writing on the many human rights issues relevant to South Asia
- Engages in curriculum writing for university instruction on human rights
- Provides assistance to refugees in their filing paperwork and presenting cases to the UNHCR
- Provides support and engages in dialogue with other non-profit organizations in the region
- Organizes and participates in national and international trainings and conferences where it provides its expertise on advocacy of human rights
- Publishes Human rights Features in collaboration with the Human rights Documentation Centre (Available at http://www.hrdc.net/sahrdc/hrfeatures.htm)
Source: SAHRDC website: http://www.hri.ca/partners/sahrdc/
Responsibilities of Fellow:
As intern at SAHRDC I was assigned several projects. Below is the detailed description of the activities in which I engaged and projects I completed while at the Centre.
Jammu and Kashmir Report:
As soon as I arrived at SAHRDC, I was assigned to the team of colleagues who were working on compiling a report on the current situation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir. First of all, I researched the history of violence in the region so that I could gain the background necessary to understand the complexity of the internal conflict.
Second, I collaborated with a team of individuals in reviewing several years worth of “Kashmir Times”, the Jammu and Kashmir local newspaper. We looked for news of human rights violations, trials, new legislature and anything that affected the respect and promotion of fundamental human rights in the region. Then I was assigned to compile information on a specific chapter of the report. I worked on the chapter concerning disappearances in the region. I thoroughly researched the topic. After assessing the extent of the problem, I studied both national and international legal provisions that prohibit the use of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (EID). I also analyzed the steps taken by the current government to eradicate the practice of EID. Finally, I concentrated on the ways that the Indian government, the judiciary and the National Human Rights Commission report and punish the practice of EID. I concluded my chapter with a set of recommendations on how the governmental and non-governmental institutions could effectively guarantee the safety of the inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir.
Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal, Update of 1998 Report:
Once again, after consultation with the executive director of SAHRDC I was assigned to find out more about the plight of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal who initiated their exodus from Bhutan in the early 1990s amid ethnic persecution they faced in their homeland. Although they have lived in Bhutan for generations, the fleeing ethnic group is defined by the Bhutanese government to be “ethnic Nepalese” and not Bhutanese. The problem of the refugees is very complex and evidences the inability of both Bhutanese and Nepalese government to provide viable solutions for the presence of more than 100,000 Bhutanese living in refugee camps in eastern Nepal following their departure from Bhutan. After researching the historical roots of oppression in Bhutan, I researched the oppressive legal provisions that currently prevent many ethnic Nepalese from claiming Bhutanese citizenship.
I also researched and complied information on the actions taken by the international community to halt the crisis in the region, by providing both humanitarian support and diplomatic expertise. Finally, I redacted a report in which I addressed the aforementioned issues and proposed recommendations for the governments involved and the international community.
Violence in Manipur:
Following a brutal killing of a young woman in the North East state of Manipur, the population, once again rose against the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that empowers the military stationed in the region to bypass civil rights in the name of security. The region, for decades torn by internal conflict and guerrilla liberation movements, finds itself in the grip of great violence perpetrated by both military and revolutionary forces. After the July killing of the young woman on the hands of the military, the civilian population rose in indignation demanding the repeal of the AFSPA. My report investigated the historical causes of the conflict in the region, providing an analysis of the unfolding of both revolutionary and military presence in the region.
A section of the report was dedicated to the victims of human rights abuses. I compiled cases of some of the most recent cases documented by several NGOs active in the state. Finally, I proposed recommendations on actions to take to solve the difficult situation.
SAHRDC is a small organization thus working closely with the staff was a very rewarding experience. Because the staff heavily relies on the work performed by the interns, I was able to research and author reports and briefs that were used by the staff and executive director as information source for his interaction with other entities such as governmental and non-governmental institutions. Furthermore, the reports by me compiled were incorporated within larger reports, already under works when I joined SAHRDC.
Being able to work at SAHRDC provided me with a unique opportunity to interact with like-minded individuals with whom I collaborated on several minor projects. Supervision and mentorship of the staff was balanced though by the freedom I provided with to carry out projects I was assigned. By being granted the opportunity to work on individual projects I was provided the unique chance of developing a report from the beginning research till its final stages which allowed me to prove my skills in communicating the difficult issues that I was dealing with.
Upon my arrival to India the staff and the more experienced interns provided me with great support and helped me in learning to deal with the frequent power shortages that threatened, on a daily basis, our work at the office.
The challenges I faced were principally of practical nature. Accessing information, for example, was one of such challenges. While the Internet provided many resources for fact finding and even though our office was well equipped with newspapers, reports, and other sources of information, accessing information outside the office was very difficult. The libraries that contained important information relevant to our research, particularly on legal provisions, were hard to access and required special permission. The latter fact prevented me from spending additional time, outside office hours, to collect more data. This often meant that I could not make up for the time lost due to power outages during regular office hours.
Other projects/works started or completed:
One of the last projects I worked on was the Information Technology Act of 2000 and the implications of the latter on protection of privacy of Internet users. The project was actually started by a previous intern few years ago. I researched the topic and compiled background information dealing with the newest considerations of the act.
Personal Essay Section:
Q How has the fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?
The research work performed while at SAHRDC educated me on the great challenges that the region faces in terms of protection and promotion of human rights. At the Centre I learned that signing a treaty or passing laws does not guarantee protection of human rights. In fact the inconsistent implementation of legal provision is responsible in South Asia for inadequate protection of individual and collective rights. Despite earlier expectations and faith in governmental structures designed to protect human rights, I learned that at times, the work of such structures (i.e. Indian National Human Rights Commission) is obstructed by the very body that created it.
Additionally, being an intern at SAHRDC provided me with the unique opportunity to develop and carry out projects, from the beginning to the end, allowing me to acquire expertise in the process of report writing. Such an opportunity provided me with an unprecedented chance of contributing to the role performed by the Centre. It was wonderful and unexpected to be given such great responsibility.
Q Has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same?
My motivation to do human rights work intensified and my commitment to human rights activism strengthened. Working at SAHRDC was paramount for my new understanding of the role I want to play as advocate for human rights. In fact, working in the unique environment of the Centre I learned from staff and fellow colleagues that one’s commitment to human rights work must not limit itself to the time spent in the office but rather should extend to the lives we lead outside of the work environment. Working in India provided me with the chance of learning about human rights protection from the research I did but also allowed me to witness directly the effects of unfulfilled promises of human rights. The combination of the two experiences were a daily reminder of the responsibility I have, as a human being, to actively seek the implementation of rights that elude consistent sectors of society
Q Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?
During the internship, Mr. Ravi Nair was the person that had the greatest effect on me. His kind words, the strength and enthusiasm he exhibited continue being an inspiration for my advocacy in the field of human rights. He often talked to us about his activism; the stories he told were inspiring and eye-opening because we learned from him on how to be effective in our advocacy for human rights.
Every week we had staff meetings during which we briefed each other about the progress of our work. Ravi made us feel as part of the staff, playing a vital role in the functioning of the Centre. At the same time though he treated us like part of a big family. He invited us to his house and provided us advice on travel and sightseeing in New Delhi.
Q How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local national/international human rights organization?
Before interning at SAHRDC I was knowledgeable about international human rights issues yet I was lacking the international experience that could connect my knowledge to reality. Traveling to India provided me with such a new perspective. I understood the degree of interconnectedness of the world we live in but at the same time I understood that many are not so fortunate to experience the benefits of living in the “global village”. Visiting the rural areas of Madhya Pradesh or those surrounding New Delhi, I realized that many live without the ability to voice their concerns, without the chance to go to school and become knowledgeable about their fundamental rights.
The awareness of such duality of our modern world was a sobering experience. It made me realize that I ought to try harder, every day, to bring the benefits of knowledge I gain through my work to empower those who have limited access to sources of information.
Q How do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?
As soon as I returned from India I engaged in many different activities during which I shared my experience of working in India. For example, during Passport to the World, the annual international celebration held on November 16, 2004, I exhibited photographs from my trip at the booth of the student organization called Students for Free Tibet. I shared with the audience images taken in Dharmsala, India, home of a large Tibetan community in exile. The photographs depicted scenes of everyday life of the Tibetan community but also told the story of the military occupation of Tibet (the latter came from the Namgyal Monastery Museum). Through the images and the literature collected at the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in Exile I was able to educate the public about the plight for freedom of the Tibetan community in exile and the repressive regime that the inhabitants of Tibet have to endure.
I also collaborated with the university newspaper, The Chronicle to inspire students to seek opportunities to fund their work in the field of social activism by applying for fellowships such as the Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship. By describing the transformative power of my internship in India I hope I motivated the students to fulfill their dreams.
Finally, during my interview with the University Media I spoke about my fellowship, my work and the lessons learnt while in India as being a great inspiration for my future work. The resulting article was posted on the SCSU website.
Name of the Organization: South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre
Organization Address: B 6/6 Safdarjung enclave Extension, New Delhi, India
Telephone Number: 0091 11 2619 1120/2717/2706
Website information: http://www.hri.ca/partners/sahrdc//
Names of Executive Director: Mr. Ravi Nair
Number of Employed Staff :(7 Full Time)
Number of Volunteers: (10 plus) Depending on the time of the year, the intern and volunteer intake varies
Objective of the organization:
“to investigate, document and disseminate information about human rights treaties and conventions, human rights education, refugees, media freedom, prison reforms, political imprisonment, torture, summary executions, disappearances and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.
Domestic/International Programs: projects in collaboration with the UNHCHR, collaboration with other non-profit organizations in South Asia and worldwide.
Date of information: December 10, 2004
Information supplied by: Adriana U. Dobrzycka
Human Rights Library || Human Rights Resource Center