Reflections from HRW

2015 Jabir HumeraBy Humera Jabir

Taking the time to reflect on my internship with a bit of distance, I am better aware of the important lessons I learned through this experience.

When I began the internship, I often set out with a mind to finding the limitations of the legal frameworks in question as I have been trained to do through law school courses. However, working closely with the advocates at HRW has shown me that identifying limitations is only the first step in the field of international criminal law, which is constantly developing and moving in new directions.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is how to think through options to move legal frameworks for accountability forward. By experiencing how the lawyers I worked with think through problems, I was able to learn how they identified advocacy options, what areas of the law they abandoned as options, and what others they emphasized as potential persuasive avenues for securing justice and accountability.

I was most impressed by their long-term thinking. On a number of projects, the lawyers I worked with developed their strategies with contingencies in mind. What would happen if a particular state changed its position? What would happen if a particular political context underwent change? And what mechanisms should they as advocates begin to put in place in the event that these changes came about? Most of the human rights work I have engaged with prior to HRW has always been stopgap, seeking to address and remedy immediate violations. While HRW lawyers also do this work, they do so thinking of the future, thinking of the implications on contexts that may develop and cases to come, and with a mind to paving the road for accountability if and when it becomes an international priority in a given situation.

The internship has taught me to think about problems of international criminal justice with flexibility and imagination by taking account of the inherent unpredictability of international politics. I have learned to think through the limitations of existing frameworks but also the limitations of advocating for “something new” or becoming too mired in the specificity of a particular context. I was very impressed by HRW lawyers’ ability to think outside the box. I really learned what it means to make one’s best case for the best available approach, all the while accepting unforeseen risks and limitations. It really is a challenge!

Humera writing from Human Rights Watch

2015 Jabir Humera By Humera Jabir

I am almost two months into my internship at Human Rights Watch and am entering the last third. I have grown very comfortable here and met such interesting colleagues. My fellow interns are fascinating individuals with a great deal of experience to share and learn from. I have enjoyed meeting many of the associates and researchers in my own department as well as in others, particularly those who work on the ground collecting information, as it offsets and adds perspective to the work I do sitting at my desk all day.

In the last two months I have worked on some fairly large research projects to do with civil-criminal law, recent cases before the ICC, and the chemical weapons convention. The work has been challenging and stimulating overall and I enjoy the diversity as I get to do both legal research and a bit of media work as well. I have also been able to learn by attending events. A few weeks ago, I went to see the ICC Prosecutor, Ms. Bensouda, brief the United Nations on the situation in Sudan. I really enjoy going to the United Nations. Despite the diplomatic speech and wrangling, attending meetings of the ICC working group in NYC has been inspiring even in light of the cynicism so many rightfully feel. What has been most intriguing to see is how many less recognized states work to ensure the continued work of the ICC and compliance with its orders against impunity.

The work we are doing here at HRW can sometimes feel abstract. I had the chance to attend a commemoration event for victims of the genocide in Bosnia and that really did bring home for me what the fight against impunity means to victims of mass crimes. Sitting in NYC so far from the victims HRW seeks to help, it can be easy to lose sight of what international justice means to those who have suffered.

Finally, I will say that being in NYC has been a true privilege. I have been learning every day that I walk through these streets and strike up conversations with people from every country and walk of life. HRW facilitated my attendance of arraignment court so I’ve had a chance to learn more about “local justice” and criminal law in the city. I have attended a multitude of talks and events on black history, feminism, social movements from around the world, art and poetry, and the list goes on and on …. Most important to me in the last month has been finding a vibrant and youthful Muslim community with whom I shared Ramadan. Life has been full and I am trying to make the most of each day while also not letting the countdown to the end of my time here stress me out!

Wishing you all safety and happiness on your own adventures.


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