2006 PFIG Recipient Chantal Boucher
College of Arts & Sciences
Foreign Affairs Major
2007 Graduation Year
Internship: UNICEF "Convention of the Rights of the Child"
Notes on the first week
I arrived in Geneva at 10 AM Thursday, and I was scheduled for my orientation meeting at 1:30 that afternoon! My first day as a UNICEF intern was a bit of a blur, as I was still a bit jet-lagged. Nevertheless, I stayed awake for our two-hour orientation meeting on what it means to intern at the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. The other three interns were already lawyers, and I have not even completed my undergraduate studies! The other three girls were all very nice; two Dutch and another American. I was the youngest by far, and they were all more than happy to look out for me and take me under their wings. My boss was also amazingly friendly and nice. She’s also Dutch!
At the meeting, we talked about what the Convention will be like, and we divided up the countries that we would be reporting on. My first country was Italy. I attended the sessions on Italy yesterday, and it was so interesting. The Convention is held at Palais Wilson, right on Lake Geneva. It is so beautiful, and I felt so important with my UN badge! Security is rather tight, but once inside, we are free to wander around or hang out in the library or the cafeteria. The Committee has so much to review that there are always two separate meetings going on. Italy was presenting their case in Chamber B, so I quickly made my way to the conference around 9 AM. The first session was held from 10AM-1PM, and it was on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Next, we had a two-hour lunch break, where I wandered the city looking for a salad under nine dollars…not to be found! The second session was on the sale of children and children pornography and prostitution. I was a bit frustrated with Italy’s delegates because rather than speaking in Italian and allowing the translators to present in English, the Italians insisted on speaking English, which I found very hard to understand. I took the best notes that I could on my laptop, and found it very easy to stay engaged with everything happening around me. The Committee on the Rights of the Child would ask the Italian government specifics about their legislature and how exactly it aligns with Committee guidelines. The Italian delegates would then be given some time to answer and would then respond. It was so interesting! Most of the answers are very political though, and there would rarely be a straight-forward answer. Everyone in the Committee is so down-to-earth and nice, which is wonderful because I feel a bit nervous during the conferences! I loved my first reporting sessions, and I have seven left before the end of my internship!
Outside of work, I have been touring the city with the other interns. Lila and Wencke, the two Dutch girls, have been here since February and are quite familiar with the city. We have already been wine and chocolate shopping, of course! I also really enjoy running along Lake Geneva. Geneva is a very fit city, and there are always other people running along the lake. I’ve been out with the other interns a few times, but all of the bars are so expensive! There are several socials for UN interns organized, and I hope to attend several of those in order to meet other people and make new friends!
So far, this is an amazing city and I absolutely love it here! It’s so cool that people are actually pronouncing my name right, but it’s strange to pronounce my name with a French accent when introducing myself! It’s also taking me awhile to get used to kissing on the cheek three times when you meet up with someone and when you leave them. The only major downside is that everything is so expensive, but fortunately the Swiss use Francs rather than the Euro! I have a few days of from the conference, so I will be going to the UNICEF office and working on my reports! This is the opportunity of a lifetime and I feel so fortunate to be here!
I absolutely cannot believe that I have reached the halfway point already! I learned so much during the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The actual workings of the United Nations are quite different than what I imagined! One of the countries I reported on, Senegal, brought a child representative. This was really exciting; I have so much admiration for the 16-year-old girl who spoke in front of the delegates. I was nervous just to be in the room, and yet she spoke with eloquence and grace.
Writing the reports was rather difficult; I condensed anywhere from three to six hours of discussion into a one-page report. But my boss was so helpful and resources were easily available. I found it enjoyable to report back to the UNICEF country offices.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child ended on June 9th, and I expected to spend the remainder of my time in Geneva writing up my reports. However, Geneva hosted the first session of the Human Rights Council this year after the breakdown of the Human Rights Commission. My boss asked if I might be interested in covering this session as well, and of course I said yes! This session runs from June 19-30. The first week is called the High Level Segment, where delegates from each country are given ten minutes to express their hopes for the Council in the future. Koffi Annan opened the session, and I was able to witness the elections for the officers of the new Council. The second week of the session was divided into separate meetings dealing with the specifics of the Council. Mostly, the countries were given the chance to contribute to future mandates and mechanisms. I found the second week sessions to be rather redundant, however, because the countries simply repeated each other. But interesting points were raised, and I especially enjoyed listening to the views of the NGOs. The NGOs were given three minutes each to add comments.
The United States chose not to join the Council, but as a UN member state, was in attendance at the meetings. Several countries seemed quite content that the United States was not a member. Cuba even stated, “It is a huge day for human rights, as Cuba is included in this Council and the United States is not”. The other issue I find interesting is the pattern of alliances between the nations; it is not always what one might expect.
My internship has come to an end; the time has flown here in Geneva. I attended the final sessions of the Human Rights Council, and I was also able to attend the review of the United States in the Human Rights Committee. It is interesting to be exposed to the opinions that other countries have of the United States. The major issues in this meeting dealt with torture and the right to life as well as our involvement in Iraq. I also had no idea that forty-two states have laws allowing children to receive life without parole sentences.
Aside from attending the meetings, I was able to finish my reports in a timely manner with few corrections from my boss. My boss is so busy that I barely had a chance to see her this last week. She is constantly flying to conferences and UNICEF trainings all over the world. This past week she had training on a small island off the coast of South America.
This internship has been an absolute dream. I have been exposed to so many different people and cultures and I have learned so much! I feel so lucky to have had the chance to participate in the UN human rights sessions. I also plan to sit in on an International Law Convention public session before I leave. It is so convenient that public sessions are open to all and always posted. I can attend any meeting that I find interesting. Again, I will miss Geneva and always be thankful for this amazing opportunity.