Three IRLS Summer Interns, Alexandra Eagle, Isabella Barbosa Ruggeri, and Priyal Thakkar, spent their summer interning with the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), located in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since the coronavirus pandemic prevented them from spending the summer in Johannesburg, they are interning virtually and will travel to visit ISLA and Johannesburg in person once it is safe to do so. IRLS Program Coordinator Jacob Kostrzewski interviewed them about their summer work, experiences, and what they are most looking forward to when they are able to visit ISLA in person.
Jacob: What project(s) have you worked on this summer?
Alexandra: This summer, I worked on three research projects for ISLA. My projects involved research for specific cases and amicus briefs involving violence against women and women’s socioeconomic rights, and broader “political context analysis” which is used by the organization to assess the safety and likelihood of success of strategic litigation and network building efforts in different African nations.
Isabella: This summer I have researched the international obligations of consular officials concerning victims of human trafficking, did comparative research and analysis of South Africa’s National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, and conducted background legal research on countries of interest.
Priyal: Our work this summer was divided under three thematic areas – Violence Against Women, Socio-Economic Rights, and Sexual Rights. The projects I was assigned were cases on #metoo defamation and the evidentiary requirements to sustain sexual violence allegations, the disproportionate impact of land-grabs on rural women from mining communities, and the need for gendered legal remedies and damages thereto, and school and State obligations in protecting students from homophobic violence in schools.
J: What is the most interesting or surprising thing you have learned or worked on?
A: My favorite project has been contributing to an amicus brief arguing for gender-sensitive judicial responses when determining monetary damages/compensation. It was exciting to blend feminist theories and analysis into my legal writing!
I: I think the most surprising thing for me during this summer has been finding out how little obligations are clearly outlined for consular officials concerning human trafficking victims. Given the international nature of human trafficking, I would have thought there would be at-least well-established international guidelines for this, but there aren’t. I knew international law was not perfect, of course, but my research illustrated just how the gaps in this field impact lives and how needed the work in the field is.
P: As a woman, I have always been acutely aware that in many ways, the law is not on my side. However, I was not aware of the exact contours of sexism that pervades the law. Working at a deeply feminist organization such as ISLA not only helped me better understand how the law still upholds patriarchy around the world, but also how to approach and fight for justice when the law is not on your side. It was exciting and deeply challenging to employ feminist legal analysis to advocate against precedent, something we are taught to value and seek out in law school. I found the discord very interesting to navigate.
J: Has your summer work influenced your thoughts on your law school or post-law school career trajectory?
A: The challenges of taking on a remote legal research position have made me very cognizant of my desire to work in an environment where I get more interaction with my team. Additionally, working with a strategic litigation organization has made me a more flexible legal thinker, which I will take into the rest of my legal career even if I don’t focus on international human rights.
I: Yes, to a certain extent. When I started this internship, I already wanted to work with international human rights abroad, more specifically women and LGBTQ+ rights. My summer work solidified this desire, but it also opened my mind for litigation in this field, which I had not considered before.
P: It has strengthened my resolve to stick to my career plans after law school and birthed a newfound appreciation for the hard work that goes into comparative jurisprudence. I always viewed international law work with rose-tinted glasses. Actually engaging in work in the international domain woke me up to the uncertainty and complexity that it comes with, which makes it a much harder beast to tame than I initially envisaged. I realized I am not the best at handling uncertainty and that I need to work on it.
J: What are you most looking forward to about visiting ISLA and South Africa in person, once it is safe to do so?
A: Besides traveling around and getting to know Johannesburg a little bit, I am most excited to meet my supervisors and see what their day-to-day work looks like! Working remotely across such a large time difference simply did not allow for me as a student to understand the daily experiences of the attorneys I was working for, which is typically a major component of the 1L summer experience (especially as a student who has never lived abroad). I look forward to my visit filling in that gap a bit!
I: I am really looking forward to meeting the individuals that have been guiding me through this internship and that do the incredible work I have been able to support during this summer.
P: The people, especially everyone I got to work with at ISLA!