Interning at the Permanent Missions of Canada to the UN: Anabel Semerdzhieva

From May to August 2019, I interned at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva as a Junior Policy Officer on their Human Rights team. As a second year law student with a degree in political science and international development, I have long cultivated a profound passion for human rights. This opportunity allowed me to put into practice my academic pursuits and to gain a practical understanding of multilateralism and human rights on the global stage. I am thankful to have been granted a McGill International Experience Award, generously supported by Mr. Joseph Schull and Ms. Anna Yang, which made this experience possible.

The Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations is the primary diplomatic channel between the Canadian government, the United Nations and many other international organizations and human rights bodies in Geneva. It holds several departments, including Human Rights, Humanitarian Affairs, Disarmament and Health. Among other things, the Human Rights team represents Canada at the Human Rights Council, a UN body tasked with promoting human rights around the world. It holds three-week sessions in March, June and September each year. Throughout my internship, I was able to attend and actively participate in the Human Rights Council session in June, as well as the meetings of the Universal Periodic Review in May and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in July. I also regularly attended lobby meetings held by non-governmental organizations, namely Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights. I was then tasked with writing reports and making recommendations for action to be shared with Global Affairs Canada headquarters in Ottawa, and other Canadian missions worldwide.

As a law student with a particular interest in human rights, international law, women’s rights and indigenous issues, I have taken several classes on these topics throughout my academic career. The skills I had acquired from my academic background, specifically in legal research and argumentation, greatly helped me with writing succinct reports, analyzing complex issues, and working on tight deadlines. Before beginning my internship, I was eager to experience first-hand the behind the scenes of multilateral negotiations and diplomacy and see how human rights promotion is achieved on the international level. Prior to and during the Human Rights Council Session in June, I was closely involved with the drafting of the texts for the Child and Early Forced Marriage and Violence against Women and Girls resolutions, which Canada leads every year. During the negotiations, I understood that as perspectives on human rights issues often differ, dialogue and cooperation are central to achieving consensus, and ultimately to improve the lives of disenfranchised individuals around the world.

Several memorable moments stand out from my internship, such as being given the opportunity to speak on behalf of Canada in the Council chamber, in front of hundreds of state representatives, on my second day of work, and seeing all of Canada’s sponsored resolutions be adopted with strong votes on the last day of the Human Rights Council Session. Yet, most notable for me were the multiple occasions where I was able to engage on a personal level with human rights defenders from around the world, on issues like the situation in the Philippines and in Sri Lanka, human rights violations in Kashmir or the protests in Sudan. These often emotional interactions opened my eyes to realities very different from my own, and made me a more empathetic and determined advocate.

This internship was an indelible experience, and enriched my understanding of the human rights field in many ways. The team within which I worked at the Canadian Mission disproved any intimidation I felt about working among diplomats, as they were inclusive, supportive, encouraging and inspiring, and made my experience all the more memorable. The funds I received for this internship helped alleviate the financial demands posed by the high cost of living in Geneva, and I was able to fully immerse myself in this learning experience without worry. In all, while I learned that many challenges remain to the full achievement of multilateral cooperation on human rights issues, this internship allowed me to witness and take part in the essential work being done by international organizations like the United Nations, the Human Rights Council, their member states, and other non-governmental organizations.

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