UC Berkeley NewsCenter

Greece tabMexico tabChina tabCalifornia tab

Fighting for an oppressed ethnic group

A self-taught crash course in human-rights cases before international courts

BUDAPEST — Well, I am back in action to a certain extent. My laptop is a glorified paperweight as far as my work is concerned, but folks are running around and enjoying that nice long European vacation time. This is the type of thing that just makes me jealous. A good friend of mine working in Munich just passed his probationary period of six months on a new job. This means that he instantly gets five weeks of vacation to use at his leisure. Five weeks!

Things are not quite so luxurious here in Budapest, but three to four weeks' vacation seems to be enough for any non-German. So, while the lawyers who I am working with are gallivanting around the continent and doing interesting things like sleeping and relaxing, I am now the proud recipient of Internet access during working hours. Whoo hoo!

What I am I doing with my newfound powers of usefulness, you ask?

Well…unfortunately, not so much. As I mentioned before in earlier posts, I am in a weird state where we first-year law students are useful enough not to be a bother, but useless enough that we can't do anything too important. That's fine, since I don't really trust my skills for anything too important. However, this creates a logistical problem: there is a very narrow range of tasks suitable for interns to do, and this range has been further narrowed because I am leaving soon. Most of the research projects I have been working on have taken a few weeks, which is fairly normal considering the glacial pace that international law seems to move at. So, when it comes down to me having a week left, there really was nothing relevant to any current legal action that was screaming out for me to do.

So, you ask again, what am I doing with my newfound usefulness? I am currently downloading, printing, and organizing cases from international courts for in-house records. The good thing is, the more that I do this, the less useless someone may be if there is ever an Internet shortage again. Honestly, it's really cool in a way because I'm actually able to read some great cases. The cases at the tribunal of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) are exceptionally interesting and very accessible in terms of being easy to read, unlike the majority of law texts I've been reading.

The schizophrenia is amazing. "Yes, there are these rights that we think that everyone should have so the world can be a better place … What? You want me to do something about it? Oh come on, you have to be joking. Seriously? OK make me, punk."
-Name

Basically, I sit around and read these interesting cases and organize them, building a cheesy sort of database here for the ERRC. Not exactly making the total use of my legal skills, but still very educational for me. I took a class in international law, but we didn't have a lot of time to spend on international human rights (a class that I am taking in the fall), so these past few days has really been an opportunity for me to get to know something that I think I would like to do for the rest of my life. However, the jury is still out on that.

These tribunals and so forth are both wonderful and depressing. On one hand, it is truly amazing that the nations of the world would be willing to come together and design a treaty that is so extensive and that protects so many people. On the other, it is even more amazing that the nations of the world so often give such covenants the middle finger. The schizophrenia is amazing. "Yes, there are these rights that we think that everyone should have so the world can be a better place … What? You want me to do something about it? Oh come on, you have to be joking. Seriously? OK make me, punk."

That kinda seems like the whole of international law. These tribunals hold their hearings but are totally ignored. One case means nothing, and from what I understand, the most that the tribunal can do is make the state pay some money. Normally it is not so much money. So what purpose do these tribunals serve? Well, developing a case law on these issues is good, because it helps define what is truly implied by the right to vote and so forth. It is more than an academic exercise, where I would assume that many countries would not enjoy having a large case load of decisions against them as well. But, the individual cases really don't matter. The bigger issue is the report by the CCPR or whichever country. Those are actually big deals here in Eastern Europe, because everyone is dressing up and trying to get into the cool kids' club, aka the European Union. The individual cases may go into the country reports as evidence, but they're just one individual case in a nation and very easily may be treated as an anomaly.

In short, I am not totally convinced as to the utility of these tribunals, but at least they're good reading.

-Mike