Answers to Questions Regarding an Education in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Occasionally, Human Rights Interactive Network receives letters like the following one, and since Karen does not currently have e- mail or internet access, we decided to reprint both the letter and her comments here to aid other students with similar questions. If you are considering a curriculum of training in a human rights- related field, this information may give you some ideas on avenues to explore.

Please note: We have changed the student's name.

June 2, 1997

Dear Ms. Parker,

Recently when looking up information on human rights on the Internet, I ended up at your home page. I read with interest your biography as well as the articles and resources on the page. I am writing to you today because my career goal is to work in human rights and humanitarian law.

I am currently an undergraduate student at The George Washington University in Washington D.C. One question I have for you is in regard to foreign language proficiency. I have studied French ever since seventh grade. I am done with my foreign language requirement now. I don't know whether I should continue in French. I don't plan on concentrating on Western Europe. But since human rights is a rather global field with lots of work based in Geneva, part of me feels that I should continue my French studies. Do you think that would be the right course of action or should I pursue learning another language, such as Spanish? How many languages do you speak? Is being multilingual really a requirement for your line of work?

A second question I have for you is something that has been on my mind a lot. I am considering studying abroad for some time. Did you do that when you were in college? Is it best to go for a summer, a semester, or a year? What country offers the best learning opportunities for the human rights field? I was considering Switzerland, but I am also interested in spending time in a developing nation. As far as law school goes, is it best to jump in right after graduation or take some time off and get work experience? If you suggest taking time off, just how much time is necessary and what should you do with that time? What law schools are known for their programs in human rights and humanitarian law? I was hoping to stay in Washington, but someone told me that Oxford has a fine program. How exactly should I begin doing my research on this? I am trying to gain career experience by investigating internships in the Washington area. Internships that I am considering include my Congressman's office on Capitol Hill, Amnesty International, the ACLU, the Democratic National Committee, Peace Action, the Washington Peace Center, and the International Red Cross. What do you personally think would afford the best learning opportunity? How exactly do you get started in a career once you finish law school? It seems to me that human rights is a rather small and specific field. What do you think prospects are for the future? What are the advantages and disadvantages associated with a career in this field? How much overseas travel do you do per month? I realize that I've asked a lot of questions, many of which have no right answers. I don't expect you to answer all or even most of them. But I would be forever thankful if you could just give me your thoughts on some of these issues. Reading your biography has increased my determination to succeed in this field a thousand times.


Rashid Sheridan