Human Rights Interns Are on a Mission of Public Service

by Fernando Quintero

For Rachel Rosenbloom, being a graduate student in history and being an activist for the rights of gay men and lesbians are not mutually exclusive activities.

"Involvement in mainstream human-rights organizations has primarily been looked at as the domain of lawyers," said Rosenbloom.

This past summer, as an intern at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in San Francisco, Rosenbloom bridged the gap between her studies and her conscience.

Rosenbloom was one of five participants in the Human Rights Program internships. Supported by the Sandler Family Foundation, the Human Rights Program at the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities was launched in April.

The program creates a cross-disciplinary forum on campus in which scholars, students, and activists can engage in research and discussion on civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights at national and international levels.

"We're doing this as part of the University's mission of public service," said Tom Laqueur, history professor and director of the program.

"We believe we are answering a call from the academic community, as well as from the community at large, to look at human rights not just in the abstract.

"The internships are a concrete way of connecting human-rights activism with intellectual work." Program interns receive financial support that enables them to combine their academic and activist human-rights interests by working with human-rights organizations or projects in this country and abroad. Rosenbloom researched international human-rights law as it relates to the rights of gays and lesbians globally for a planned publication on the topic.

In addition, she participated in meetings with United Nations representatives, lesbian activists from several countries, and human-rights organizations that are collaborating on planning working agendas for the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women to be held in Beijing in 1995.

"None of the human-rights organizations had addressed the concerns of lesbians for the upcoming conference. Lesbians had not even been mentioned at any of the previous women's conferences. I felt a great sense of accomplishment creating a new visibility for lesbians," Rosenbloom said.

Boalt Hall law student Jennifer Berman interned at the Asia Foundation's office in Phnom Penh, assisting with the drafting of legal norms on human rights being considered for incorporation in Cambodia's evolving legislation on human rights.

Amy Ross, a PhD candidate in geography, spent her internship at the Myrna Mack Foundation in Guatemala City. Mack, a much-respected anthropologist whose studies on the conditions of displaced populations were of great scholarly interest, was assassinated in Guatemala four years ago. Ross examined the criminal investigations in the context of accountability and impunity in Latin America.

Somava Saha, a second-year medical student in a joint Berkeley-UCSF program, initiated preparatory investigations for a study on the question of health as a human right, while living among the Rupununi, an indigenous population in Guyana.

And third-year Boalt Hall law student Andrea Suter researched Egyptian nationality law in the context of international law as part of preparations for a Women's Rights Project mission to Egypt later this year.

In addition to internships, the program sponsors a variety of activities including lectures by such eminent human-rights figures as Aryeh Neier, former executive director of Human Rights Watch and national director of the American Civil Liberties Union, seminars, and discussions with visitors and members of the campus community.

The program also supports a number of courses this year including an introductory course and an advanced seminar in Human Rights, both taught within Peace and Conflict Studies; and Human Rights and Health, offered by the Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program and the School of Public Health.

The class will be taught by Vincent Iacopino, a consultant to Physicians for Human Rights who is responsible for examining torture victims applying for political asylum in the United States.

Rita Maran, associate program director who also teaches human rights courses, said she is confident students are discovering the relevance of studying human rights.

"It's an academically substantive, well-grounded program," said Maran. "Students learn what the stakes and the rules are. We want them to be able to watch the news more intelligently."


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