By Kaley Lachapelle
As I sit sipping on my coffee at a local coffee shop in Calgary, I reflect on my summer spent in Costa Rica. What an enriching summer it was.
I was selected by the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism to participate in a Human Rights Internship for the summer, 2015 at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Court is located in San José, Costa Rica.
The internship at the Court provides a very comprehensive experience, professionally, culturally and socially. In order to fully benefit from the experience, fluency in Spanish is a requirement for the position, as it is the working language of the Court. During the course of my twelve-week internship, I was part of a group of approximately twenty visiting professionals and interns from across the Americas and Europe.
The Court is the judicial institution of the Organization of American States responsible for applying and interpreting the American Convention on Human Rights (Art. 1, Statute of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights). While neither Canada nor the United States of America are state parties to the Convention, twenty-five American states have ratified or acceded to the treaty, thus providing the Court with jurisdiction over Convention related disputes.
During the course of the internship, my day-to-day generally consisted of providing legal research in a number of areas to support a team of lawyers and legal assistants. The Court’s lawyers largely represent jurisdictions across the Americas. The diversity of legal knowledge and experience in the area of human rights at Court is arguably unparalleled in the region.
For two and half weeks during my internship, the Court was in session and public hearings were held. I, along with the other interns and visiting professionals, was invited to attend the public hearings of the 109th session. The hearings are recorded and can be viewed online. It was a very unique opportunity to work at the Court during the public hearings, as I was able to meet and interact with the Court’s seven judges.
The Court is located in the city of San José at 1200 m (3700 ft) above sea level in the central valley of the small, Central American country. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, San José is the country’s largest city and its political and economic capital. I travelled to Costa Rica during the rainy season; from May through November, the mornings in the Central Valley are hot and humid (between 25 – 30 degrees celsius), with the temperature often dropping in the afternoon with the tropical, torrential downpours.
The beauty of Costa Rica is that one can travel from a lush, green mountainous landscape (or, more accurately in my case, the bustling city of San José) to the sunny, sandy beaches along the coast in a short drive of a couple of hours. There is so much to see and enjoy outside of San José, that small getaways form an integral part of the intern’s experience. From pineapples, to bananas, to sugarcane and coffee, Costa Rica has a diverse, breathtaking landscape. Weekends are spent sightseeing, hiking, swimming and relaxing with colleagues, as there is always someone keen to escape the capital for a few days.
Undoubtedly, the greatest part of my experience in Costa Rica was establishing very positive professional relationships, that evolved into friendships, with lawyers, law students and Court staff from across the Americas as well as from Europe. Today I feel very connected to the legal and human rights community globally; bonds that will endure well past law school and will undoubtedly shape my legal career. My experience in Costa Rica this summer taught me that my legal education is not only about the destination; rather I have come to value this unique, unforgettable journey as a McGill law student.