Posted by: isabellaroyce | March 4, 2014

The first few weeks in Geneva…

Arriving in Geneva by train from Munich late at night, my first real impression of the city was the incredible view I woke up to that following morning. A 180 degrees panorama of the lake, the Alps and Mont Blanc in the background; my ‘student’ accommodation suddenly didn’t seem too shabby.


 I am now in week seven of my four-month internship at the International Commission of Jurists. The work I have been delegated and my involvement in the organisation has exceeded any expectations. My first day I arrived early and eager, pleasantly surprised to be greeted by such a welcoming and laid-back office. I had soon been scheduled meetings with every head of department to get the run down on how their program fits within the organisation and to be brought up to speed with the ICJ’s ongoing projects.


The ICJ is comprised of around sixty ‘commissioners’ (esteemed judges and lawyers from around the world) who regularly partake in advisory work for the organisation, however the core work is undertaken by the Geneva office and it’s regional offices in Nepal, Bangkok, Guatemala, Johannesburg and Brussels. I am working specifically in the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL), one of the thematic programs in the ICJ, and feel like a true part of the team rather than a transitory intern. My first task on the job was to write a report of the Geneva Forum from the previous December, which concentrated on ‘Women in the Judiciary’ and brought together a conference of eminent female judges from the Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa regions. Listening to the audio recordings of the sessions, I was exposed to the first-hand accounts of the challenges and triumphs experienced by these women; an insightful introduction to the kind of work I would be confronting.

As my program concentrates specifically on the independence of judges and lawyers, my work has ranged from researching and report writing on the situation in specific countries such as Côte d’Ivoire and Mali, to assisting in the preparation for judicial workshops in Myanmar, where the ICJ has just opened an office. Following the sacking of Nauru’s sole Registrar Magistrate Peter Law and the deportation of Chief Justice Eames in January, I was immediately given the task of getting in contact with these judges, recording the unraveling events and writing a letter of condemnation to the Nauru government. While I must say I am not accustomed to drafting letters of denunciation to Presidents, the degree of independence and entrustment I have been given, whilst always providing support if needed, has been one of the many great learning experiences here.


My work has also extended outside of the CIJL as I have collaborated with the United Nations Program in preparing submissions requested by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which is of particular concern given the increased use of administrative detention in the ‘fight against terrorism’ and the detainment of refugees. The ICJ and Working Group are seeking to assert that the right to liberty and compensation for victims of arbitrary detention is a customary international legal norm that applies even to states not party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and that the principle of habeas corpus is non-derogable to protect the rights of individuals to challenge their detention before a judiciary. 

The next exciting upcoming event is the UN Human Rights Council, beginning at the Palais des Nations in March. I will be attending this almost every day throughout the three-week session to report on specific events relevant to the work of the ICJ. I am particularly looking forward to attending the interactive dialogues on the situation in Syria, the North Korea accountability report presented by the Hon. Michael Kirby and to assist in the ICJ-held side event on Myanmar.

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