In Their Words: United Nations CERD Committee Internship

September 11, 2017 | By Mackenzie Coplen, Julie Hunter, Brandi Keesee, and Jessica Ladd, 3Ls
Jessica Ladd, Julie Hunter, Mackenzie Coplen, and Brandi Keesee

This summer, four of us (Mackenzie Coplen, Julie Hunter, Brandi Keesee, and Jessica Ladd) had the amazing opportunity of interning for the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. We are all 3Ls at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and extremely involved in the international law program. Our passion has always been in human rights and in helping others, and this internship combined both into an amazing three-week experience. We interned for the Vice-Chair, Commissioner Calí Tzay, of the 93rd Session of the CERD Committee.

Julie Hunter, Brandi Keesee, Vice-Chair Commissioner Calí Tzay, Jessica Ladd, and Mackenzie Coplen
Julie Hunter, Brandi Keesee, Vice-Chair Commissioner Calí Tzay, Jessica Ladd, and Mackenzie Coplen

The ICERD is a treaty called the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The CERD is the committee that reviews States (countries) under this treaty to make sure they are complying with the terms of the treaty and that the States are continuing to fight all forms of discrimination. There are 177 State Parties to the CERD, and each Party comes up for review every four years. When a party is up for review, a delegation from the State must report to the Committee on how that State is complying with its obligations under the CERD, and how it is implementing recommendations made by the CERD Committee from previous reviews. NGOs and other civil society organizations also submit reports to the Committee that allow for another perspective on how the State is complying with its obligations. At times, the State and the civil societies are in stark disagreement on the reality of discrimination in the State. This always made for interesting discussions and a good check on reality between the governments and the people.

As interns, our job was to go over the State report and all of the civil society reports, identify discrepancies between them and areas where the State appears to be falling short of its obligations, and come up with questions for the Vice-Chair. He would then use our reports and either read them on the floor or ask our questions to the State head of delegation throughout the session. It was a very rewarding experience to see our work getting used during session and our questions being directly asked to a large delegation filled with ministers and high human rights officials from around the world. We were able to network with commissioners from all over the globe and interact with different civil societies covering varying areas of discrimination, including many indigenous peoples groups.

Brandi Keesee, Mackenzie Coplen, Vice-Chair Commissioner Calí Tzay, Jessica Ladd, Julie Hunter, and Professor Lindsay Robertson

We would like to thank OU Law for helping us to make this happen. Without the support of the school and administration, we would not have been able to take advantage of such a great opportunity. We would also like to thank Professor Lindsey Robertson. Professor Robertson is the reason this internship is available to OU Law students. He was able to join us for a week in Geneva and show us the ropes, as well as introduce us to prominent figures in the international and indigenous peoples world. Our final thank you goes to Commissioner Cali for letting us work alongside him for three weeks and walking us through all of the processes and immense amount of information that goes into these committees. We all highly recommend this internship to anyone interested in international law whether or not you plan to work in human rights. It is an incredible experience and a great way to gain insight into the workings of international bodies. It was a great learning experience that we will be able to apply to our future work in this arena.

Julie Hunter, Mackenzie Coplen, Brandi Keesee, and Jessica Ladd

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