Interning at the Permanent Missions of Canada to the UN: Cassandra Richards

My name is Cassandra Richards and I am currently entering my second year of law in the BCL/LLB program at McGill University. My passion for human rights led me to the University of Ottawa, obtaining an honours degree in conflict studies and human rights. Currently at McGill, I volunteer with Pro Bono Students Canada at the Centre for Gay & Lesbian Rights in Montreal, as well as the Innocence Project. I am equally an avid researcher, writer, and activist regarding issues of transitional justice, mining justice, sustainability, Indigenous rights, and access to justice.

During the summer of 2017, I interned and received credit as a junior policy officer at the Canadian Permanent Mission to the United Nations within the Human Rights division. The Canadian Mission promotes Canadian interests and work with other Member States to develop and uphold international norms regarding human rights. The UN has become a primary channel for diplomatic representation and communications between our government, the United Nations and its affiliated bodies, as well as other organizations in Geneva such as the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, etc.

As an intern you support the work of the Canadian Human Rights team, which internally focuses on portfolios such as gender issues, minority issues, human rights defenders, Indigenous rights, and many more. Furthermore, you are responsible for attending important reviews, councils or events and provide briefs or reports for your supervisor. For example, my first two weeks as an intern I attended the Universal Periodic Review Working Group. This review occurs over two weeks in which a number of countries come under evaluation regarding human rights achievements and challenges within their respective borders. The UPR was a real taste into the diplomatic world and how countries encourage, discuss or critique human rights situations of other member-states. My internship equally gave me the opportunity to participate in the Human Rights Council. Fortunately, my internship was during the June session during which Canada run’s its annual Elimination against Violence Resolution. Here I was able to be actively involved in drafting the text of the resolution, and sit on the podium during negotiations with member-states who were at times collaborative, while at others unsupportive. Participating in the HRC provided numerous lessons including: how to draft resolutions; engage with a variety of stakeholders with differing views of the final product of a resolution; how to negotiate with others (both supportive and unsupportive) in order to gain their support; the importance of language, particularly human rights language; and, more generally observe and understand the dichotomy and friction in values in regards to human rights by the 193 sovereign states at the Council. Other key highlights in my internship included: participating in the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People; meeting with numerous NGOs, especially women human rights defenders from around the world; Meeting the current Minister of Labour and Immigration for the Canadian Government; and, of course meeting numerous amazing delegates, staff and interns all part of the UN and agencies working around Geneva.

The Human Rights Team at the mission is absolutely fabulous, constantly seeking to get to know you and make you comfortable. Those working at the mission have incredible work and personal backgrounds, being exceptional role models and sources of information for all interns. The team I worked with really made the internship for me; always wanting to support me in my work at the mission as well future endeavours.

Unlike many internships, this position ensures you are constantly kept busy. The United Nations in Geneva is a dynamic and busy environment ensuring ongoing dialogue through different forums, meetings and events. There is often an influx of information which requires the intern to efficiently and concisely identify key issues and summarize the latter. Moreover, my internship provided an insightful experience into how each country understands the concept of human rights and what mechanisms it deems appropriate to protecting the latter. This is perhaps one of the only experiences where you can hear about the human rights situations, in a variety of diverse countries within only a day’s work!

An internship is a great opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge acquired in courses to real life situations. Not only is this a great test as to your understanding of class material, but also a challenge to translate these skills within a dynamic and practical environment. Furthermore, an internship allows you to explore your interests more comprehensively, providing an opportunity to determine what interests and values are important for you as a young professional in the workplace.

This global experience was made possible with the Schull Yang International Experience Awards, generously supported by Mr. Joseph Schull and Ms. Anna Yang. Their funds are crucial in supporting students like myself interested in gaining international experience. Working at the Canadian Mission was significant for me in finding direction in my academic and professional journey, a unique perspective into potential future international multilateral paths.

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