My name is Zeytouna Suleiman, I am a Law student at McGill University entering my second year. Prior to my legal studies, I completed a Bachelor of Social Work. This summer, I had the opportunity to intern at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva (PMC). Working towards the promotion of justice and the alleviation of harm has been at the core of my professional and academic journey. My social work background allowed me to engage in human rights work at a local level through various institutional and community organizations. However, I was always interested in engaging in human rights work at an international level within a multilateral system. This internship was the perfect opportunity to experience working at that level, within the broader human rights ecosystem. Coming into this internship, I was eager to learn more about the process of diplomacy and multilateralism as well gain more exposure to what international human rights and humanitarian law looks like in practice.
The PMC is responsible for Canada’s diplomatic representation at the United Nations in Geneva. The PMC works with other UN member states to develop and uphold international norms and standards in the areas of trade, health, labour environment, arms control, humanitarian law and human rights. As a Policy Intern on the Human Rights team, much of my work was focused on the 50th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC50), which took place from June 13th to July 8th, 2022. At the council, Canada successfully ran two resolutions: one on freedom of expression (FoE) and one on violence against women and girls (VAWG). In preparation for the Council, I was tasked with drafting charts and other supporting materials to help facilitate the running of these resolutions. During the council: I assisted my supervisor in running the VAWG resolution; drafted weekly reports about the developments of the council; managed our master chart which tracked the council developments on all resolutions; and attended side events that were hosted by other permanent missions. Moreover, I was tasked with covering four resolutions, which entailed attending the informal negotiations associated with these resolutions and drafting reports to share the updates and developments, on the nature of the debates and dynamics at these negotiations. These reports were shared internally. I was able to work on other files, including: assisting the legal advisor with negotiations on a new pandemics treaty; covering sessions on the Committee of the Rights of the Child (CRC); and covering a meeting on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
As someone that has dreamed of working at the UN since I was 12-years-old, much of this internship has felt quite surreal. Being able to work on high-profile human rights issues within a multilateral setting and being privy to certain discussions around these issues, is still something I am wrapping my head around. I am never going to forget how it felt to receive my UN badge which allowed me access to the Palais des Nations and several other UN buildings or getting to deliver a statement at a meeting in the Palais on behalf of Canada. I felt deeply fulfilled by the work that I was doing, and I was fortunate to have had such a remarkable and supportive supervisor, who invested greatly in my professionally development.
I completed the first third of the internship remotely and transitioned to in-person work right before HRC50. This transition, which coincided with the busiest and most demanding period of my internship, was quite challenging at first. However, I was able to find my bearings in this new environment and working with such a remarkable team made it much easier. Another challenge I encountered was with respect to the broader work of diplomacy and global affairs. While I can morally stand behind all the work I was doing on the files that were assigned to me, there were certain political stances on country-specific situations that Canada held that I morally do not agree with. This was difficult to reconcile with because when you work in the foreign service, you serve as a representative of your country’s policies and stances. This was a source of internal tension for me and I have come to terms with this challenge by accepting this internship as a deeply beneficial experience while reflecting critically about the different ways in which I could see myself being involved in this multilateral system that wouldn’t require me to compromise certain values.
This internship benefitted my academic journey greatly. It is quite a rare and exceptional experience to have this type of firsthand exposure to public international law after only one year of Law School. Having had this experience, I feel more confident in pursuing this area of legal practice. With that in mind, I’m more eager to begin my second year of legal education with a more defined interest area of professional practice and will take advantage of learning as much as I can about this area of law in an academic setting. Additionally, being able to receive credit for the internship is a major advantage.
I’m grateful to have had such a deeply impactful professional experience which was made accessible by the funding I received from the RBC internship award.