Human Rights Internships FAQ

1. One internship interests me particularly. Can I apply only to that one?

You may. However, the Program looks for applicants who are open-minded about their potential destinations, and who would accept to intern with another organization if they are not offered their first choice. This is because positions are limited (thereby making it difficult to accommodate everyone with their first choice) and because the Program is less about matching applicants with internships in their areas of expertise and more about exposing them to the diversity of human rights work. Therefore, the Program seeks to attract students with a genuine interest for human rights issues, and who are willing to address them from diverse, inter-disciplinary perspectives. 

"I applied to this program with one specific goal in mind: to intern for the IACtHR. My application plainly conveyed this ambition. Moreover, my profile and previous experience made me a good candidate for that position. To my initial surprise, I was offered an internship in at IHRDA in The Gambia. And yet, I am ever grateful for this: not only did this internship allow me to discover a new and exciting region of the world, but I also have made numerous valuable human connections that I would not have made elsewhere. I founded an association in the country, which I now direct, and am certain to return in the near future. In sum, I did not regret this change of course one bit – rather, I fully appreciated, and continue to cherish it! 
– Guilhem de Roquefeuil 

2. I do not have a preference for a specific internship. Is that okay?

Yes, of course. We appreciate candidates who show an interest for the Program per se, and who are flexible enough to consider multiple internship destinations. Human rights work is multiple and requires flexibility. As such, we value openness to participate in the multiple facets of human rights work. 

3. This program seems meant for seasoned travellers. I do not have much travel experience. Should I still apply?

Yes, you should. While most internships require a genuine interest for intercultural work, flexibility and openness for new experiences, and may challenge interns to get out of their comfort zone, internships are not restricted to experienced travelers. 

There are also many resources available to interns. Former interns are always ready to help you prepare with advice on culture, housing, food, safety, and all the other things new travelers need to know. Host institutions are often also prepared to help you find your way and adjust as needed. Experiencing human rights issues in another location deepens your knowledge immensely. In sum, this Program can be a great first experience. 

"The program offers solid resources for you to find your way. As an intern, I got a great deal of information and advice from past interns, other expats, and my host institution. This help meant that any logistical issues were manageable, even though I had never been to a developing country before, and I could focus on work and discovering my new home. There always has to be a first trip abroad, and this program made the experience far less intimidating than I had expected." 

– Matthias Heilke 

4. I do not have much previous experience with human rights work, but I am truly interested in this program. Should I apply?

In a nutshell, the Program aims to strike a balance between students with demonstrated HR experience and those with limited experience, but with genuine commitment and motivation. This allows us to build a diverse pool of interns, which is conducive to a rich experiential learning environment. The goal of the Program is both as a learning opportunity for students as well as allowing interns make a genuine impact in the human rights field. 

5. Can I know in advance the specific work I will be doing as an intern?

There are several ways for you to come across this information. Previous interns’ blogs and internship reports are a valuable source of information, for instance. The organizations’ websites are another place to look, although the information on interns’ work tends to be more general. 

Once chosen for an internship, interns are expected to contact their organization and the previous intern. This is a good time for them to inquire about the specifics of the work ahead. Again, previous interns can often facilitate the initial contact with the institution. 

Note that as interns work for organizations with limited resources, they are often expected to engage in a variety of supportive tasks (e.g. translation, communications work, etc). Participants are expected to be available and willing to perform these tasks. Of course, the IHRIP director evaluates the quality of the proposed internships on a yearly basis. Internships in which the dignity of the intern is called into question, or where the work performed is clearly outside the scope of human rights work, do not make the cut. 

6. Am I guaranteed to do legal work during my internship?

Interns are not guaranteed to conduct legal work in the classic sense of the term (i.e. represent clients and prepare court documents). Since its creation, the Program has advocated for students’ engagement with legal and extra-legal strategies to address human rights issues. Moreover, the nature of the work significantly varies from internship to internship: while some of our partners work directly on legal cases, others focus on other aspects of human rights work (advocacy, capacity building, investigation etc…). Again, this diversity is part and parcel of the Program’s ethos. 

This being said, all of our internships offer a unique perspective on the role and limitations of the law in protecting human rights. Whether you are petitioning lawmakers to enact change, aiding professionals to develop a human rights conscience, investigating human rights violations, or writing legal memoranda, you are certain to develop a keen sense of the interconnections between the law and the concept of human rights. 

"J’ai eu un éventail de tâches varié au cours de mon stage. Mes connaissances en droit m’ont permis de monter des ateliers et campagnes de sensibilisation sur l’égalité des genres ou les droits sexuels et reproductifs. J’ai suivi des avocats locaux à la cour. J’ai réalisé des entrevues, rédigé un script vidéo, planifié des stratégies de communication, organisé un concert et même écrit une chanson. L’important était de servir l’organisation au meilleur de mes capacités, et cela a considérablement enrichi mon apprentissage." 
- Michel Belanger-Roy 

7. Can I find an internship on my own and still participate in the program?

No.  That would be an independent internship.  Funding for independent internships is not available through the IHRIP Program. Opportunities of this kind with eligible organizations doing relevant human rights work can be discussed with the program’s director, Dr. Nandini Ramanujam.  Approved independent internships may be accepted as a 3-credit course.  Please see the Independent Human Rights Internships Page for more information. 

"After obtaining an internship at Canada's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, I received approval to be an independent intern because my position was focused on human rights work and fulfilled the program's criteria. This allowed me to participate in the seminar course following my internship, which is a great opportunity to reflect on my internship and learn from my classmates’ diverse range of experiences. I highly recommend taking the initiative to find an opportunity independently, you will still benefit greatly from the Centre's program!" 

- Sarah Jackson 

8. Working papers, blogs, podcasts, reports… this program seems to make many demands. What should I expect?

The IHRIP is a 6-credit program, distributed through the summer (3-credits) and fall (3-credits), guided by experiential learning pedagogy. One of its main strengths comes from its dynamic alumni who inform and shape the program. As regards assignments and contributions: 

In the summer, during their internships, participants are expected to write two short blogs on their experience before the beginning of the September. Blogs can be informal, original, or academic - as long as they are thoughtful and well written. Pictures from the internship are also highly appreciated by the program’s organizers. Because the program is donor-funded, interns will also be required to write short thank you letters to donors. 

Upon returning from their internship, interns must produce an internship report for internal purposes. This report, which is a maximum of ten pages, allows for intern feedback, the transmission of information to future interns, and helps the program evaluate the quality of the internships. 

In the Fall, interns also participate in a mandatory three-credit seminar, “Critical Engagements with Human Rights” during the semester following their placement. The seminar is built around student participation and class discussion. The seminar’s main assignment is a research paper that may or may not touch upon the intern’s summer experience. At the end of this semester, this paper can be submitted for publication in the program’s Working Paper Series

9. Will the travel and living stipends cover all of my summer expenses? 

Since its inception, the program has striven to and continues to seek significant financial support for its interns.  We thank all the donors who make these opportunities possible.  The goal is to make as many opportunities as possible available to Law students.  Participants receive a stipend that covers a significant portion of their living and housing costs.  The actual amount of the allowance varies by location. Travel expenses to and from the internship destinations, as well as expenses such as visas, mandatory vaccinations, and preventive malaria treatment are also covered.  Students in need may supplement the program stipend in several ways, but internships are not a paid summer job. 

Our long-term goal is to make the internships cost-neutral to students. However, the current funds available to the program do not allow us to fully fund internships. In light of this, our view is that funds should be distributed equitably amongst all the program participants, so that everyone has a majority of their costs covered.   

Students in financial need are encouraged to apply and may supplement the program stipend in several ways, though internships are not the equivalent of a paid summer job.  Eligible students are welcome to seek additional funds through the Scholarship and Student Aid Office (see below for more information).  

10. Will I be compensated if I cannot find, or have no time to do, any kind of summer job? 

To ensure fairness among student experiences, the internship program does not permit compensation to students by their host organizations.  The internships in Iqaluit and the Yukon have a slightly different financial arrangement.  While other part-time employment is not prohibited, students are expected to prioritize and complete full-time, in-person work with their partner organization over a minimum 12-week period. 

11. How can I finance this internship? 

The Program encourages participants to apply for additional sources of funding. The McGill Internship Offices Network offers information about internship funding available to McGill students. This funding can include need-based bursaries called Enriched Educational Opportunities available through Scholarships and Student Aid McGill.  

Students who undertake to raise additional funds for their internships may obtain a letter from the Program Director confirming the student’s participation in the Internship Program, and encouraging support for the student’s non-remunerated work. Tax receipts can be issued for donor contributions made payable to McGill University Faculty of Law. However, these donations may not be earmarked for any particular intern; they are placed in the general fund for stipends for interns. 

12. Can I make my own travel arrangements for this internship? 

Interns are provided a stipend to cover their travel arrangements, which they are responsible to arrange. Flexibility of travel arrangements to include a stopover, for example, is often possible, but at the intern’s expense.  Any such requests may be discussed in advance with the Program Coordinators. 

Interns are strongly encouraged to purchase their plane or train ticket by the end of February and are asked to send a copy of their itinerary to the program coordinators. We encourage that you opt for the safest and most reliable route, and that you take into account any requirements for layovers (i.e. transit visa).  

Should interns require the assistance the of a travel agent, they are invited to contact McGill’s representative at Direct Travel. Information on how to use their services is available here. You are by no means required to use this service when making your travel arrangements. 

13. What if my host country falls under a heightened travel advisory? 

The program monitors the global travel landscape closely. Students are not permitted to travel to countries that have a level 3 advisory from the Government of Canada (avoid all non-essential travel to the entire country). In the event you are unable to travel to your destination, the program will help work out an alternative plan for your internship.  

We recommend that you purchase supplementary insurance coverage that is appropriate for your host country and the entire length of your internship. The SSMU Travel Health Coverages does not cover travel to a country, region or city for which the Canadian government has issued a travel advisory. In the case of a last-minute change in advisory status, travel insurance could allow you to cancel your travel tickets.  

14. What if I have a serious problem on the ground in my host country or at my host organization?  What kind of support is available? 

The Program is aware of the challenges and unpredictability that can come with living abroad, or navigating different professional expectations, cultural differences, or work that can sometimes be very emotionally charged. We strive to do everything we can do to make sure that every student can have an experience that is rewarding and fulfilling, and a range of supports are available through the Program.  

This can include emotional and administrative support in navigating difficult situations. It can also include additional funding in the case of an emergency.  

It is your responsibility to stay safe throughout your internship. You must inform the Program Director or Coordinators of any major concerns or issues that could jeopardize your personal safety throughout your internship. 

15. Can my internship take place remotely? 

Due to the experiential and relational nature of the Program, internships are expected to take place in-person.  Under exceptional circumstances, a remote internship may be possible in consultation with the host organization and if approved the IHRIP Program Director.  

16. Can my internship take place on a part-time basis? 

As per an agreement between the Faculty of Law and the partner organizations, interns are expected to work full-time for a minimum of 12 weeks with their partner organization. What constitutes working full-time is defined by your organization and depends on its work culture and customs. Any exceptions must be arranged with, and approved by, the IHRIP Program Director. 

17. Are both components of the course compulsory? 

Yes.  Participation in both the 3-credit summer placement (including assignments) and the 3-credit fall seminar are mandatory for all students in this program. Students who do not complete the fall seminar will not receive 3 credits for their summer internship and will be asked to repay the stipend they were granted. 

Independent interns can earn 3 credits for the 12-week full-time internship during the summer, but need to request permission to join the 3-credit course in the fall, which is allocated on an availability basis

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