Fellow: Robyn Linde
Contact Information: 4009 19th Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
Full Name of Organization:Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights
Abbreviation and initials commonly used: MAHR
Organizational Address: 650 3rd Ave. S.; Minneapolis, MN 55402-1940
Telephone number: (612) 341-3302
Fax number: (612) 341-2971
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff: Robin Phillips, Cheryl Thomas
Number of Employed Staff (full-time; part-time): 17 full-time, 1 part-time
Number of Volunteers: varies
Objectives of the Organization: MAHR’s stated mission is “to implement international human rights standards in order to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. By involving volunteers in research, education, and advocacy, we build broad constituencies in the United States and selected global communities.”
The Upper Midwest Fellowship enabled me to accept a position as an intern with Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (hereafter, MAHR), a pre-eminent organization based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the field of international and national human rights advocacy. Broad-based in its mission and pioneering in its methodology, MAHR provides a range of investigative, legal and educational services related to human rights promotion and protection. Since 1983, it has served as a standard-bearer in the field of human rights advocacy through its employment of regional and issue-area research to advance human rights norms and to secure their adoption at all levels of governance.
In keeping with this greater mission, the Women’s Program at MAHR has continued to break ground in its efforts of fact-finding and documentation to take up issues that impact upon women. It conducts research into discrimination, violence against women and trafficking of women and girls throughout the world. Given its ambitious agenda, MAHR relies extensively on the efforts of interns and volunteers who support staff by conducting supplemental research and assisting with publications in progress. Over 14 publications have resulted from fact-finding missions on women’s issues throughout the world.
My internship with MAHR lasted for 11 weeks from June to August. At MAHR, I worked in the Women’s Human Rights Program under the supervision of Cheryl Thomas, Christine Tefft and Rose Park. At the start of my internship, I selected projects of interest within the current work of the program. My chosen projects were within the criminal justice section of the Battered Immigrant Women’s Project and the ethnic minority pages of the stopvaw.org Website.
The Battered Immigrant Women’s Project is a report documenting the particular struggle facing immigrant women in situations of domestic violence. Drawing on numerous interviews with members of the community including translators, service providers and judges among others, the report chronicles the complex factors involved in protecting battered women. These factors include problems with translation both in court and in dealings with the police, first-visit issues with the police, pressure from ethnic communities, stereotypes, and lack of information about the U.S. system. Within this project, my responsibilities were to focus on the issues involving the criminal justice system.
Stopvaw.org is a Website project that is designed to give service providers in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth Independent States (CEE/CIS) the tools they need to effect change in their own communities. There are four primary issues that the Website addresses: sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence and trafficking. Additionally there are country pages for (almost) all states in the CEE/CIS region. These country pages include updated information on legislation, lists of human rights resources and NGOs and information on treaty compliance. Everyone in the Women’s Program was responsible for keeping the Website up to date. This included, among other things, scouring international and domestic listservs, newsletters and Websites for the latest news involving violence against women, posting these online and conducting additional research. The site was designed to serve as a forum for discussion on issues of violence within each country as well as provide information about actions in other countries so that service providers can learn from others’ efforts; MAHR’s ultimate objective is to eventually turn the site over to NGO monitors in each of the countries.
In May, the first training session in Budapest took place. This session taught the monitors how to update the Website. A second training session took place in July for the CIS states.
One of my projects was to write ethnic minority pages for the Caucuses (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. These pages would underscore the intersection between issues of national, ethnic and religious minorities and gender issues by looking at domestic legislation, international compliance with law and norms and documenting the discrimination faced by each country’s minorities.
The greatest challenge of NGO work is that nothing goes as planned. My assigned projects took second place to the weekly news updating. Additionally, before the CIS monitor training program in July, all of the country pages had to be updated. I had been a volunteer at MAHR during the writing of the original country pages yet I was amazed at the work that would go into the second draft. The country pages had evolved since my earlier involvement and they required much more research than the original plan. Moreover, the CIS countries did not have the online paper trail of legislation in English that the CEE countries did. Thanks to European Union (EU) accession, research on the CEE was relatively easy. Research about CIS countries was labored and thus a single country page could take a week to update.
Another lesson that I learned during my work at MAHR is that everyone participates equally in every level, degree and variety of work. Since so much what we did was challenging and difficult and because of the sheer amount of daily research required, everyone was involved in every stage of the process. Therefore, interns shared the same assignments as staff and supervisors. This was an important factor in stressing the importance of the Website and the other responsibilities of the program. I think interns in general felt that they were a part of a team producing important work rather than simply seeing to the grunt work that no one else wanted to do.
A final lesson that I learned during this experience is that NGO work is both stimulating and rewarding. I had always imagined that academia was the only forum in which I could feel intellectually stimulated and productive. I saw academia as an extension of my human rights activism. I learned this summer, however, that there are many paths to a rewarding career in human rights. Moreover, NGO work felt so much more productive than academic work. Whereas a paper in academia can take years before you see it in print, producing material to be used in the CEE/CIS region offered an immediate gratification.
There are a number of ways that I plan to continue the work of my fellowship. First, I am continuing to assist with updating the minority pages for the stopvaw.org site. Second, I have been asked to do some court monitoring for a battered woman immigrant case here in the Twin Cities. Third, my chosen dissertation topic, rogue states and the abolition of execution for juvenile offenders, is a topic of particular concern and activism on the part of MAHR. When I finish my work with the Women’s Human Rights program I plan to continue working with the Death Penalty Project.
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