The value of internships
Seven stories from EHRAC’s former interns by Shoaib M Khan
For anyone wishing to enter the field of human rights, gaining relevant work experience is vitally important. It is therefore essential that human rights organisations offer placements to nurture the next generation of confident, competent and keen human rights lawyers and activists. EHRAC has been a trailblazer in human rights litigation in many ways, and has been building the capacity of students and professionals through its well-developed internship programme. For over a decade, EHRAC has offered not just legal internships, but also placements focusing on ‘NGO management skills’ and translation. With over 180 former interns, it is not surprising that many have gone on to pursue significant human rights work – ranging from litigation at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), to setting up NGOs, completing PhDs and teaching human rights law.
Nadia Volkova, Lawyer, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
I interned at EHRAC in 2009, where my tasks included liaising with partner organisations in Russia on their joint litigation, compiling a case database and drafting case summaries for the EHRAC Bulletin. I have since qualified as a barrister at the Bar of England and Wales, completed a traineeship at the ECtHR, and worked at the Directorate of Human Rights and Rule of Law at the Council of Europe. I then undertook a legal internship at the Mississippi Office of Capital Post Conviction Counsel where I assisted attorneys in defending the civil rights of death row prisoners. I now work for a Kiev-based human rights NGO, representing clients before the national courts and the ECtHR, and preparing submissions to the International Criminal Court. As EHRAC is our partner organisation, we jointly represent clients at the ECtHR and members of our organisation regularly participate in EHRAC trainings. The internship helped me gain invaluable first-hand experience of working on cases from the region from the European perspective, and develop an understanding of international law procedures, including the ability to incorporate European standards into the national approach.
Grigor Avetisyan, Implementation Director, Russian Justice Initiative
My first acquaintance with EHRAC was in 2006 at a lecture given by Professor Philip Leach at the University of Durham, where I was studying for an LLM. The announcement that EHRAC was looking for interns did not escape my attention. After some time in academia, the internship at EHRAC came as a welcome change and a way back into legal practice. My responsibilities during the internship included research and translation. Six months later, I applied for and was offered a full-time position as a lawyer on the Moscow-based EHRAC/Memorial Human Rights Centre project. Interning at EHRAC helped improve my understanding of the legal challenges of human rights protection. Currently, I am a practising lawyer and member of the Moscow Regional Bar Association, and I lead a project focused on the implementation of European Court judgments at the Russian Justice Initiative.
Freek van der Vet, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of British Columbia
I interned at EHRAC in 2011 and continued to volunteer from a distance whilst working on my PhD at the University of Helsinki. My research explored how human rights lawyers litigate before the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of relatives of the disappeared in Chechnya. EHRAC was therefore the place to go. The internship helped me understand how an international network of legal professionals can be built from scratch and managed on a daily basis. My short time at EHRAC laid the groundwork for my current research and developed my motivation to bring academics and human rights practitioners closer. I defended my PhD in 2014 which resulted in my publishing four articles in international human rights journals, all of which mentioned the work of EHRAC or its in-country partners. I am now working as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, where I will continue to study how Russian lawyers protect citizens accused of treason, journalists at risk and NGOs under the ‘foreign agent’ law.
Lucy Charman, Translator, United Nations
During my internship in EHRAC’s programme team in 2015, I undertook a wide variety of tasks. These ranged from writing a report on the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in Nagorno-Karabakh, to conducting fundraising research, compiling information for donor reports and compiling expenses claims for the European Court. Given my professional background as a translator, I also translated and summarised Russian-language material. I found the internship to be an invaluable experience, which reinforced my desire to work in human rights. Before joining EHRAC I had worked as a translator at the United Nations in New York and, for the moment, I’ve returned to that – my plan is to look for human rights opportunities here. My time at EHRAC gave me a real insight into the workings of a human rights NGO, which I hope will help me to achieve my dream of living in New York and working in human rights!
Anahit Simonyan, CEO and Founder, Human Rights Education Center
I completed my internship with EHRAC in 2014 after my Master’s in Human Rights at the University of Essex. EHRAC has an outstanding team of lawyers and my work with them has been one of my best professional experiences to date. As a legal intern I assisted EHRAC’s legal team with their cases, gaining first-hand knowledge of human rights strategic litigation. For me, this became an exciting opportunity to work on issues in which I have always had a strong interest. I can say with confidence that the skills and knowledge I gained laid a solid foundation for my growth and development. Since returning to Armenia, I have been involved in grassroots advocacy work for the protection of women’s rights and the development of awareness-raising projects to change the existing discriminatory narrative and practice. I am the founder of an NGO, the Human Rights Education Center, and Project Coordinator at the Women’s Resource Centre Armenia. It has been a pleasure to stay in touch with EHRAC, and I am particularly happy to be involved in several joint activities in Armenia, aimed at building the capacity of local lawyers to bring about change through strategic litigation.
Lize Glas, Assistant Professor of European Law, Radboud University
I started my internship with EHRAC during my LLM in International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex in 2010 to put my theoretical learning into practice. During my internship, I analysed many cases from the European Court, which enabled me to gain a better understanding of how the Court reasons its judgments. After I finished my LLM and internship, I went on to complete an internship with the AIRE Centre, following which I moved to Cyprus, where I was an intern at the UN High Commission for Refugees. In 2011, I returned to the Netherlands for an internship at the Netherlands Helsinki Committee. I then started to work at the Radboud University as a PhD candidate, which resulted in my book entitled The Theory, Potential and Practice of Procedural Dialogue in the European Convention on Human Rights System (Intersentia, 2016). While writing my thesis, I worked as a part-time project assistant for the AIRE Centre and completed a bachelor’s degree in Dutch law. Since 2015, I have been Assistant Professor of European law at Radboud University.
Shoaib M Khan, Human Rights and Immigration Lawyer
I was a legal intern at EHRAC in 2011. At the time, I was finishing my LLM and had already completed internships at other human rights NGOs. I assisted EHRAC’s lawyers with their litigation, including by creating a database of summaries of all Grand Chamber decisions in 2011. I was also given the opportunity to get involved with EHRAC’s legal bulletin, which entailed fact-checking case notes and articles. Although I went into the office only one or two days a week, I was made to feel a part of the team and had the pleasure of working with some particularly committed and enthusiastic lawyers. It is a credit to the team that, despite their extremely heavy workloads, they are able to make time for their interns and offer them a fulfilling experience. I then gained further human rights experience and qualified as a solicitor. In 2013, I set up a law firm where I litigate immigration, asylum and human rights cases. My experience at EHRAC has undoubtedly stood me in good stead in my subsequent positions, but, more than that, I feel pleasure in having been part of such an organisation and having remained in contact.
EHRAC continues to grow and attract accolades for its work, therefore continuing to be an organisation where interns can be sure of an enjoyable yet fruitful professional experience.
As in many NGOs, interns make an invaluable contribution to all areas of EHRAC’s work, often going above and beyond what we ask them to do. We would like to thank all the interns and volunteers who have worked with us over the last thirteen years, and invite them to get in touch with us, and let us know what they are doing now.