By Emma Sitland
This summer, I am interning with the International Justice Division at Human Rights Watch. Most of the work I am doing is research focused on situations before the International Criminal Court and instances of mass atrocities outside the jurisdiction of the ICC. Though I am lucky to be doing intellectually stimulating work with and incredible team, after passing the half-way mark of my internship, I am well-versed in the frustrations of working remotely that many of us are feeling right now. Social interactions coworkers are sparse (and often awkward), my work/life divide has become non-existent and, between pets and roommates, it can be difficult to focus on the very serious nature of the work I am supposed to be doing. While there is nothing I would rather more than to be in NYC with my coworkers, experiencing an incredible city and meeting the highly impressive people that I have thus far only met via Teams, I also want to take a moment to appreciate the opportunities that have resulted from doing this internship remotely.
The work of the International Justice Division at Human Rights Watch takes place all over the globe – I have been conducting research and drafting memos on situations from Afghanistan to Myanmar, to the Philippines. Working remotely means that I am given the opportunity to sit on meetings and conferences all over the world that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to. For instance, I spent most of my first two weeks sitting in on meetings at the Hague, with key actors from international NGOs and the ICC discussing developments at the Court and civil society’s role with regards to themes from gender equality to victim’s rights – an incredible learning opportunity, and one that I would not have had had the transnational trip been replaced by Zoom.
Most recently, I have been working on a project on transitional justice in Liberia. After the Liberian civil wars, there were no formal mechanisms for accountability put into place. While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created by the Transitional Government to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation” recommended the establishment of a War Crimes Court to prosecute offenders, this never came into fruition. The only justice victims have seen thus far is through universal jurisdiction cases, such as the case against Alieu Kosiah that rendered a guilty verdict in Switzerland. Despite the fact that it has been over 20 years since the conflict, members of the Liberian government want to further delay justice. The project that I am working on, in collaboration with members of the IJ team and partners across Europe and Liberia, is trying to prevent this. Now that workplaces across the world have moved online, I am given opportunities to participate in discussions that otherwise would have taken place half a world away.
Obviously, I would rather be spending my summer in Manhattan, going to work at the Empire State Building every day – but I am also trying to find things to be grateful for because, despite global circumstances being less than ideal, my internship thus far has been an incredible learning opportunity and period of growth.