In Their Own Words: United Nations Internship to Combat Racial Discrimination

December 17, 2021 | By Kimberly Noe-Lehenbauer & Jacquelyn Hooper
Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

 

In August 2021, we participated in an internship at the 104th session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Though the internship usually takes place in Geneva, Switzerland, this session was moved online due to continuing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The CERD is a body of independent experts from various nations who monitor the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by state parties. Under the Convention, each State Party must submit regular reports to CERD to demonstrate its efforts to combat racial and ethnic discrimination. State Party delegations appear before the Committee every four years to engage in dialogue and answer questions regarding their progress (or lack thereof) toward meeting their obligations.

As interns, we were privileged to work with the esteemed Vice-Chair of the CERD, Professor Verene A. Shepherd. Vice-Chair Shepherd is a Jamaican professor of social history at the University of the West Indies in Mona and serves as the director of Institute for Gender and Development Studies.  She specializes in Jamaican social history and diaspora studies. She has built her name around years of research and writing on the Caribbean in various areas, specializing in research on migration, human rights and social justice, gender, and Jamaican Economic History. She is the first Jamaican citizen to be elected to the CERD.  

We were honored to contribute to the dialogue between the state parties’ delegation and the committee members during the CERD’s 104th session last August. We assisted Vice-Chair Shepherd in reviewing and analyzing reports submitted to CERD by state parties and civil society groups about the racial discrimination situation in two countries: Lebanon and The Netherlands. Each of us was assigned to one country, and in the weeks leading up to the session we became experts on the issues facing our countries. Vice-Chair Shepherd was particularly interested in learning more about education, hate speech, anti-Black racism, and the countries’ implementation—or lack thereof—of the International Decade for the People of African Descent. 

We read reports and identified potential discrepancies in the countries’ implementation of their treaty obligations. We listened to country representatives respond in real time to questions posed by committee members and, based upon the information we read and heard, posed questions and proposed recommendations to the committee that might help these countries better implement the convention and combat racial discrimination.  

Working at the United Nations is an experience we will never forget. We are very thankful to OU Law, Professor Lindsay Robertson, Professor Evelyn Aswad, and Vice-Chair Verene A. Shepherd for providing us with this unique opportunity. Of course, we would have loved to be in person in Switzerland, but this remote opportunity allowed us the flexibility to study for and take the MPRE and the Bar Exam while also working with the United Nations to combat racism on a global scale. To have had the opportunity to be virtually in the room and at the table among leaders and experts in the international community is an experience that has shaped our legal education and will continue to shape us as we move into our legal careers. 

At the conclusion of the 104th session, Vice-Chair Shepherd commended our work and asked for continued assistance. In the upcoming CERD session in early 2022, both of us along with four other OU Law interns will have the opportunity to work (remotely) with the Vice-Chair and other CERD Committee members with regard to the periodic review of the racial discrimination records of Chile, Denmark, Singapore, Switzerland, and Thailand.

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