Written by Johana White, (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities), CET Prague, Fall 2023
My placement has been with The Czech Helsinki Committee (CHC), first in Finland in 1975 and locally in 1988. The organization is committed to monitoring the conditions of human rights protection and advocating for justice in cases of non-compliance with international conventions and standards. We pursue this mission at the CHC by reporting on current conditions in Czechia and surrounding CEE countries. These reports can be used for public awareness through social media, internal reporting within the CHC, and sometimes to advise the legal counsel on relevant cases.
My tasks have varied between each of these avenues of human rights watch. My first task was to draft reports on prison conditions in Moldova to inform legal counsel of the systematic violations that should prevent the extradition of an individual who had been arrested in Czechia. This element of the job surprised me because, at prior jobs in the United States, I have not experienced interns or new hires being trusted with the responsibility of such important tasks in the first week of employment. This trust continued throughout the placement and caused me to feel a greater connection and commitment to the organization because I felt that my contribution was respected.
A difference that I noticed quickly at the beginning of my placement was the balance between personal life and work life being more distinct. For example, in Czechia, there is no standard that you will receive a reply within 24 hours, whereas in the United States, a swift reply is of the utmost importance. I found I was able to adapt to this by having more conscious communication in those meetings with my boss. Talking clearly about expectations, deadlines, and ideal outcomes makes it so that all parties can work confidently in a more independent manner. This is something I greatly appreciated as I emerged into the fields of political science and history as a college student.
One of my favorite successes working with the CHC was creating posts for their social media. In this role, I was able to write about lighter and more inspiring topics that contrasted with the frequent reports on human rights violations. For example, I wrote about an art installation that celebrated artists who managed to flourish in the underground movement during communist oppression in the 1980s. Working on projects that were exciting to me personally was a rewarding experience that I found unique to my placement at CHC.
The challenges of this internship had much to do with the upfront research required to become literate in the realm of human rights watch and protection. I learned a lot from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These documents were crucial to my growth at the internship and in my academic growth in my field of study.
My personal experience as an intern in the Czech Republic is more rewarding than I could have expected. I was pushed to grow academically and in my career, developing more confidence in my work. I especially like the CHC, where I could learn about such an important watchdog organization and develop a new level of literacy in international law.