Posted by: manavsatija | May 9, 2012

Final Report: International Commission of Jurists

International Commission of Jurists: Geneva, Switzerland

Report by Manav Satija

I had long been aware of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the high-profile work they had done in respect to human rights law, international law and the rule of law, since their inception in 1952. While some NGOs traditionally engage in a mixture of legal work and activism, I was particularly drawn to the ICJ because of its emphasis on legal work at the international, regional and domestic levels. While I believe that activism has an important role to play in the advancement of human rights, I feel that it can also at times hamper an organisations ability to work with governments rather than against them. Thus, I went to the ICJ with great excitement and very high expectations. I can gladly report that my internship at the ICJ met, and far surpassed all of my expectations. The team within the ICJ that I was working with over the 4 months of my internship was the economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) team.

While I had long been interested in ESCRs I had not previously had the chance to work in the field specifically. Arguments regarding the position, prominence and justicability of ESCRs within the human rights framework have persisted for a long time, and it was this ongoing debate that initially sparked my interest in this area. Working with the ESCR team however, I realized how redundant many of these arguments actually are outside of the political arena. The ICJ and numerous other organisations have successfully promoted, advanced and litigated ESCRs domestically, regionally and internationally for a number of years despite persistent arguments that they are not rights, or not justiciable. I think that given the socioeconomic upheavals of recent years the necessity for increased attention on ESCRs is particularly relevant, and the international community seems finally to be cottoning on to this idea.

In this context, not only did I have the real sensation that the work I was doing at the ICJ was at the ‘cutting edge’ and was greatly important for the field, but I also felt that it enabled me to acquire a far more sophisticated understanding of ESCRs and human rights generally. In particular this came about by the fact that I worked on some extremely interesting projects and received a tremendous amount of support from Sandra, my supervisor, and everyone else at the ICJ. These projects were divided roughly into ‘long-term’ and ‘short-term’ projects.

The long-term projects included two main projects. The first was researching and compiling case-law from domestic, regional and international jurisdictions related to Article 7 of ICESCR, which deals with the right to work and rights at work. The purpose of this research was to compile standards that we could use in a submission to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights when they began the consultation process for a General Comment on article 7 – all indications were that this was in the pipeline. This project proved to be both interesting and quite challenging at the same time. The challenging part of it was that working rights and the right to work had been captured in almost every domestic jurisdiction and there was an enormous amount of case-law to look at. All in all I feel like this challenge ultimately helped me to develop my research skills and methodology, and now I actually feel far more confident in my research methodology – particularly in using online case-law databases from around the world. I feel like my research skills have progressed miles ahead of where they were when I arrived in Geneva!

A second project related to the use of precautionary measures and interim measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights respectively. Our clients in this case, a group of 30 tribes in Argentina, currently had a matter in the Argentinean Supreme Court regarding the granting of licenses to mining companies in their traditional lands without adequate consultation. While the case was still in the Argentinian Court system it seemed likely that we would need to take action in the Inter-American system if the domestic case failed. I had a great deal of interest in this matter given my background in litigation before studying at Monash, and had always had a keen interest in indigenous rights/environmental law issues, so was grateful for the opportunity of working on this matter. I certainly feel like I have acquired a great amount of knowledge about the Inter-American system in general, and about the intersection between indigenous rights and environmental rights as a result of this project.

While I was involved in numerous ‘short-term’ projects during the 4 months of my internship, I will talk only about one of them here. This related to the Maastricht Principles on the Extraterritorial Obligations of States in relation to ESCRs. The ESCR team at the ICJ had been involved in drafting the principles for over two years with a number of other organisations and academics from Geneva and from abroad. During my internship we launched the principles officially at a side-event at the Human Rights Council’s 19th meeting in Geneva in March. In the lead up to the side-event I helped edit and review the principles themselves, and the ‘Commentary’ to the principles prepared by a panel of leading experts. During this time I also helped prepare for the side-event in which we had five speakers, including academics, a UN special rapporteur, and social rights litigators from Africa and Argentina who had worked in high profile cases. It was an extremely busy time in the lead up to the side-event, and the reviewing/editing work and the preparatory work for the side-event was fascinating and challenging in equal parts. I really feel like I got a very privileged insight into the internal workings of international NGOs during this period, as most of the work I was doing was ‘behind the scenes’ – the sort of insight you could never real get as a student alone. Ultimately, the side-event was a real success – we followed up the launching of the principles with two meetings on how to effectively use domestic remedies to enforce ESCRs which was equally fascinating.

All in all my experience at the ICJ was enormously valuable, insightful, inspirational and enjoyable, and I am really disappointed that it has ended! As an organisation the ICJ is incredible to work for. Everyone that works there is great at what they do and enormously supportive of all of the interns. Importantly, they really emphasise the importance of interns for the work of the organisation both by giving the interns ‘real’ work to do but also by being dedicated to tailoring the experiences of the interns in a way that suits their interests and ambitions. I made some really great friends, and networked with some superb people in the human rights field who I definitely plan on staying in touch with.

All in all feel that I have undergone an enormous amount of growth professionally and personally from the whole experience. Going on from here, the challenge is going to be to find a job that ticks all of the boxes the way the ICJ does, but I definitely feel inspired to work further in the ESCR field and in integrating some of the incredible experiences over the past four months into practice.

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