Griffith Business School’s David Lang will long remember his internship with the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva.
The Master of International Relations student from Brisbane brushed shoulders with top diplomats and some of the world’s leading human rights advocates along the corridors of the historic Palais des Nations during the March session of the Human Rights Council.
His role was never less than active and involved as he supported Australian diplomatic staff, attended plenary sessions and consultations, developed reports for dispatch to Canberra and even delivered a statement to Council on human rights defenders, noting Australia’s support for unhindered media reporting of the conflict in Syria.
“During the first week of the Council, an emergency debate was held to consider the human rights situation in Syria,” David (25) says.
“It was incredible to attend the meetings that followed and observe as delegations worked to develop a resolution.
“Being a party to multilateral negotiations was one of the most interesting aspects of the Council. Due to the diversity of interests pursued by governments around the world, the process of negotiating a text on which consensus could be built was always fascinating but at times frustrating, bewildering and amusing.”
Among the other issues discussed and debated by the Human Rights Council during this time were freedom of expression on the internet, the rights of the child, gender identity, the rights of minority groups and freedom of religious belief.
“I came to understand that to actively observe these issues being considered in a forum like the Human Rights Council was very different to reading about them in textbooks or in the media.”
David also liaised across a range of groups attending the 19th session of the Council including diplomats and interns from other delegations, representatives of non-governmental organisations, members of the Council Secretariat and the staff at the Australian Mission.
Australia is not a member of the Human Rights Council, which holds three regular sessions each year, but attends in an observational capacity.
The Australian Mission to the United Nations in Geneva pursues Australian interests in the United Nations through international diplomacy. This involves negotiating, advocating and promoting Australia’s policies, as well as working with countries across the world to achieve common objectives.
A highlight for David was meeting renowned Australian human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson whom he has long admired for his achievements in this area.
“Geoffrey Robertson was incredibly gracious, asking about my studies and answering my questions, recommending books and talking with me for some time about his experiences in the UN system.”
David was also present for inspiring contributions from human rights leaders like Navi Pillay, Jesse Jackson, Kumi Naidoo, Mary Robinson, Stephen Lewis, Alice Walker and Kim Phúc Phan Thi.
“I feel fortunate to have had an opportunity to develop my understanding of human rights issues, the United Nations system and the pursuit of Australian foreign policy objectives.
“My internship was incredibly beneficial from both academic and professional standpoints. The passionate people that I met and worked with, the skills I gained and the overall experience that I had in Geneva will stay with me for a long time.”
Griffith Business School supported the internship with a financial contribution.
David plans to stay in Europe for the rest of 2012 and aims to complete the last three subjects of his Master of International Relations studies during the next semester.