Georgia Bright from Australia and Lineo Tsikoane, Chevening scholar from Lesotho, are both studying for the LLM in International Human Rights Law & Practice in 2012-13. Here they are sharing a week in their life as students at the Centre for Applied Human Rights.
I chose Asylum, Migration and Human Trafficking as one of my two electives for Spring Term largely due to my experiences in Malaysia on the LLM placement. The two weeks I spent in Kuala Lumpur meeting with representatives from the local refugee communities provided a rare glimpse of the daily struggles and challenges faced by refugees and asylum seekers. For me personally, the experience highlighted the importance of the role played by the international community and reinforced my interest in asylum, migrant and refugee rights.
This morning the Asylum, Migration and Human Trafficking lecture focused on responsibility sharing, secondary movements and durable solutions. We discussed the uneven distribution of obligation among states - particularly when it comes to protecting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers - and endeavoured to find a practical and durable solution. We examined and assessed the various options - namely, voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement.
We considered the extent to which legal protection is provided by the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and navigated the relevant case law – in particular, the ramifications of decisions of the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights.
Having studied Law in my undergraduate degree, I was eager to gain a deeper understanding of the different variables (outside of the legal framework) that affect human rights – in particular the political, social and economic influences. What I particularly enjoyed about the asylum, migration and human trafficking lecture this morning was the ability to examine the different international and domestic policies that impact on the rights and protections afforded to refugees and asylum seekers.
As part of the Defending Human Rights module for the LLM, we were placed in groups and linked to placements with project partners in either Malaysia or the United Kingdom. My group’s project partner was Tenaganita - a non-governmental organisation in Kuala Lumpur – who advocate for the protection and empowerment of women, migrants and refugees.
My project group and I spent two weeks in Malaysia conducting a needs assessment of the local refugee communities, meeting with key actors and relevant stakeholders, and identifying the gaps in services provided to the refugee communities.
Our project output objective was to draw on our legal knowledge, and our research of different legal aid models - whilst taking into consideration the social, cultural and political environment - and produce a report that proposes a feasible and viable legal aid framework to be established in Malaysia.
My project group spent this afternoon working on our project output and allocating/dividing tasks. We have arranged a meeting next week via Skype with our project partner in order to get feedback on our initial draft. The project output can be a bit overwhelming at times - particularly because it’s so different from the law assignments that I’m familiar with - having said that, the knowledge that our recommendations may actually come to fruition is really exciting too!
What differentiates the LLM from other postgraduate courses is the ability to learn from human rights defenders with first hand experience. The Centre for Applied Human Rights facilitates a human rights defender program - enabling activists from all over the world to attend the University of York. Public lectures from the human rights defenders provide an invaluable opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the human rights problems facing the international community, and an insight into the challenges and obstacles posed by human rights activism.
Today, Nolwandle Simunyu discussed grassroots human rights activism in Zimbabwe and the struggle between traditional culture and human rights. Nolwandle emphasised the challenges posed by speaking up for what you believe in - particularly in the face of significant personal risk to yourself and your family.
Nagi Musa highlighted the important role of youth in human rights activism in Sudan and the ability to utilise modern technology like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube to gain international attention and get issues on the agenda. Nagi questioned whether political work can be categorised as defending human rights and discussed where to draw the line between political activism and being a human rights defender.
In the seminar for Asylum, Migration and Human Trafficking we looked at the case study of the ‘Lost Boys’ of Cairo. One of the readings was a heartbreaking article by Caroline Moorhead that told the story of young boys who had fled from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Rwanda and Burundi to Cairo.
Moorhead described how these boys had once believed that Egypt would be the ‘gateway to the future’ but that the reality of situation in Cairo is completely different. We discussed the daily risks faced by these young men in in Cairo – inability to work, statelessness, fear of arrest and detention, risk of human trafficking, homelessness, and difficulties with getting recognised as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Discussing the overwhelming difficulties faced by refugees in Egypt, Moorhead states that ‘lying at a crossroads for the flow of Africa’s displaced people, Cairo is a staging post for refugees, a step on a journey that should, but seldom does, move from terror to safety.’
For my second elective, I chose the Peace Agreements module offered by the University of York Politics Department. This morning we discussed the role of human rights in negotiations and peace agreements - in particular, we focused on the issue of refugee returns in Nagorno-Karabakh and Israel/Palestine. We analysed the trade off between peace and justice – that on the one hand, we may have to compromise on justice in order to attain peace, stop the violence and create a workable solution. On the other hand, surely sustainable peace depends on the respect and protection of human rights. How long term is a peace agreement that doesn't seek to address human rights abuses - especially if those human rights abuses were the cause, if not the perpetuation of, the conflict in the first place.
Today’s Defending Human Rights lecture focused on fundraising and the different funding perspectives – the applicant, the funder and the client. We discussed the ethical dilemmas faced by human rights non-government organisations - taking money from governments and corporations and the focus on donor priorities as opposed to the needs/wants of those the funding is directed at.
We discussed the different types of funding proposals and the key elements of a funding proposal – a strong core message (problem, solution, action), a clear overall objective and an appropriate target audience. In assessing the effectiveness of a funding proposal we looked at the key criteria for evaluation, namely – relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability.
For the defending human rights seminar we had to identify a funding opportunity that would be suitable for our project partner, and draft an outline of the proposal - including a log frame! A log frame is a horribly detailed table that literally outlines and accommodates for every aspect of a funding proposal – including, the overall objectives, purpose, result and activities, whilst measuring them against indicators, sources of verification and assumptions that may impact the activity result.
We had 10 minutes to persuade the class that the funding call was appropriate for our project partner, and that the proposal was the best way of responding to the opportunity. The feedback we received at the seminar ultimately gets incorporated into the final copy of our proposal – which forms part of our portfolio (the other component of our assessment for Defending Human Rights).
Today was a huge whirlwind – I found out last night that I had the opportunity to fly to New York for the weekend and meet with a representative from the United Nations. Obviously I couldn’t say no! I quickly booked a train to London and was off to the Big Apple!
These opportunities are precisely why I chose to study in the United Kingdom in the first place – as an Australian it’s still a strange concept to me that I can get on a plane to New York for the weekend! The proximity and unlimited access to Europe makes you feel like you’ve got the world on your doorstep.
Mondays are normally a very good day this term (Spring Term), with only one class in the morning which happens to be my most interesting module. The class is at 10:15, the readings this week were very interesting, (well I have been saying this all term), maybe these ones were also more interesting because they were easy to relate with. We are talking about secondary migration, the law, the practicalities and realities. I must say, as this module scares me like nothing else, with the ever present possibility of this happening to me, for the first time I can see how hard I want Lesotho to work!
The class is interesting as always, the diversity in this class is such that we move from one part of the world, one theory of thinking and ideologies so often I wonder how Martin copes. His slides always suffer.
Seeing as this was my only class, I am done for the day. I have a group meeting for my Defending Human Rights group. Did I say how I have grown to love this group? Well I have, the group idea for this long is stifling, but I must say, for us, it is going to be a very sad end to this year. We are working on our Learning Portfolio for this week which is a press release (each week we produce a different piece of work which we gradually improve).
No lectures on Tuesdays. Sleep-in day. Read and recover day. The readings are mostly a little too much unless you plan your time well. So Tuesdays are a perfect day to read on plenty and just create time to brush up on other things. This is the day when we also have our Human rights defenders talks so it’s important to plan out your week around this day. This week all the defenders that are giving the talks are from Africa, one my direct neighbour even (Zimbabwe). The talks hardly leave me emotionless, but these ones shook me a lot. The similarities and miseries of Africa are too real and striking.
This is the first of the busiest days this term. The seminar this week is on the lost boys of Cairo. It is interesting to note how authors and human rights academics have caught up with the art of playing around with words and ideology to appeal to hearts of the average citizen. We go through other categories of people for whom the similar phrase has been used to describe and the characteristics of the lost boys and how they have come to be. Once again, the diversity of the group is very instrumental in taking this from just a topic of discussion but transforming it into a reality for some of our mates.
We have another group meeting soon after class to prepare and work on our learning portfolio for tomorrow’s defending human rights seminar. This week we are producing a funding proposal. We have a wonderful meeting as we have lunch. Our group is not without problems but we have matured with the challenges by now. We keep calm and carry on (pun intended).
The last part of the day is our Defending Human Rights lecture which is on funding proposals. It is, well, interesting. There is only so far theory can teach you on a practical skill.
This day has officially earned the name the hardest day in our lives. This is the day when all of us have a ton of lectures and seminars. Well, truth be told, it is not a ton, just that it has more than all other days, and it was the same even the past term. I have my Development and Human Rights lecture and seminar on this day. I must say, the readings in development have until only this week been the most draining and long, we all agreed they must be written as a punishment. The readings this week are not only interesting but they are reasonable and “nice” in a way only a student will know. This is the week when I met my now favourite, Amartya Sen. To say I agree with and love his readings is an under estimation of the impact his readings made in me (Development as Freedom).
The seminar is as interesting and somehow I have not gotten up to contributing to the blog. I really have no other excuse than that my first attempt was a dismal failure and I guess I was shy to give it another try. This coming week I am on it.
We have our Defending Human Rights seminar in the afternoon. We all present our funding proposals and discuss them with the class. It is interesting how good we have come to know each other post Malaysia. We know the projects one is working on so well it is easy to guide each other in our work as we go forward. We take turns presenting our portfolios and get feedback from both Jon and the rest of the groups, which we shall work on and submit later on. It’s a really sad realization we all make that we only have two more similar meetings.
By the end of this day I feel like I have been running a marathon. We normally take this time to have dinners together or I just go crush in bed as this marks the weekend for us. With everyday the thought that I will not be seeing everyone becomes a sad reality. For the first time in my life I find myself looking forward to MONDAYS……I love being here!
ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzZZZZZ. A bit of readings from Sen for fun and entertainment.
Myself and Samira and the human rights defenders are talking at the York International Women’s Week on Saturday. We have our rehearsal and preparatory meeting. I am really excited about the talk, if the rehearsal is anything to go by, we are going to have a really wonderful time.
LLM students in Malaysia, Lineo second from the right (2012)
LLM students in front of UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur, Georgia second from the right (2012)