The summer of 2014 was a career-defining experience for Zara Riaz ’15. Zara had the opportunity to participate in an internship with the Human Rights Watch in New York City. The position was offered by alumna Zama Coursen-Neff ’93 in connection with the Vann Center for Ethics.
Continue reading for a glimpse into Zara’s experience.
Q: What originally drew your interest to this particular position?
A: I was drawn to this internship because of my experiences learning about human rights violations in Colombia and the Horn of Africa. I attended the Colombia Staff Ride with Dr. Crandall in January 2014, and this trip highlighted the effects of human rights violations committed by both the Colombian government as well as guerilla members. I was interested in the indirect effects of these violations, such as the shift of expenditures from health and education to larger military expenditures. I also attended the Rift Valley Institute field course on the Horn of Africa with Dr. Menkhaus in 2013. Many of the readings for this trip included reports by Human Rights Watch on violations occurring in the Horn. I wanted to use this internship as a means of not only gaining a better understanding of learning more about the particular areas I had previously studied but also about the mechanisms for defending international law and the challenges that human rights advocacy faces.
Q: How did the experience impact your career goals and your next steps?
A: This internship played an invaluable role in shaping both my short-term and long-term goals. I learned that I want to pursue human rights as a field of study, and that I want to approach this field from a legal perspective. After interacting with many lawyers at Human Rights Watch, I was inspired by how law can be a powerful tool for defending the rights of vulnerable populations and individuals. Furthermore, this internship highlighted the importance of gaining contextual knowledge of the environment you are studying or operating in. For this reason, I would like to spend time working in East Africa before pursuing law school.
Q: Can you share one brief story about a specific project, moment, etc. that was particularly impactful?
A: One of my projects was to prepare a report for the Committee on the Rights of the Child for the periodic review of Ethiopia, essentially a “progress report” on behalf of Human Rights Watch that details the organization’s findings on children’s rights in Ethiopia. After learning about the “villagization” program that resettled pastoral populations into villages and the human rights violations associated with the program, I began to think about the intersection of human rights and development. While I had studied political and economic development in previous courses, this report highlighted the need for human rights to be central to the development agenda, focusing on protecting the rights of the most vulnerable or marginalized populations and not simply increased growth.