By Renée Lehman

From submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), to researching potential courses of action in international cases of arbitrary detention, my summer internship with Avocats sans frontières Canada (ASFC) was filled with tasks that I would never have thought I could carry out from my apartment in Montreal.

Although I did not travel this summer, I definitely had an ‘international’ internship. I had the opportunity to learn from human rights lawyers working all over the world, and not only was it an immense privilege to assist some of them with their projects, but to do so from the comfort and safety of my own home was enlightening in its own ways. 

Completing this internship from Montreal gave me a deep appreciation for the stark contrast between my position of privilege relative to those who are served by international human rights organizations. For example, from the comfort of my kitchen table, I learnt about obstetric violence and human rights abuses occurring during childbirth. I had never even heard of the term ‘obstetric violence.’ While sitting on my balcony, I read detailed accounts of the torture suffered by individuals who have been arbitrarily detained. From my local coffee shop, I compiled a preliminary memo detailing which countries experiencing conflict might be the most receptive to new transitional justice mechanisms. From my living room, I reflected on what it means to be half-Ukrainian as I researched ways to ensure that individuals who are responsible for committing human rights atrocities in Ukraine will face justice.

Working on such projects was an incredible way to learn about international human rights law, humanitarian law, and international criminal law. It also enabled me to contextualize and better understand the long-term legal ramifications of what is ongoing in Ukraine and in other regions experiencing conflict. Especially after completing an undergraduate degree in political science and international relations, gaining this experience on the side of human rights law practitioners has been an unforgettable way to draw connections between academics and reality — and between my peaceful little corner of the world and the darkness that occurs in so many others, both near and far.