Interviews: IRLS Summer Interns Draft Reports on Human Rights Issues in Timor-Leste

Two IRLS Summer Interns, Sharon Foster and Murwareed Sulaiman, spent their summer interning with the Office of the Provedor for Human Rights and Justice (PHDJ), located in Dili, Timor-Leste. Since the coronavirus pandemic prevented them from spending the summer in Dili, they interned virtually and will travel to visit PDHJ and Timor-Leste 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 PDHJ in person.

Jacob: What project(s) have you worked on this summer?

Sharon: This summer I worked on a report about human rights standards in Timor-Leste’s prisons. Originally, the report was going to encompass administration of justice as well; however, due to the amount of information I would have to cover we decided to focus on the prisoners’ rights aspect of the report.

Murwareed: I worked on a report researching the implementation of the recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2015 after the combined second and third periodic review conducted in 2015. More specifically, I examined articles 1-16 of CEDAW.


J: What is the most interesting or surprising thing you have learned or worked on?

S: I learned so much researching for PDHJ! In the scope of my original project, I researched Timor-Leste’s judiciary, prosecutorial services, and legal aid programs. I also researched international human rights standards in prison management. I was surprised to find how much information the United Nations (UN) has drafted in these areas. Almost every aspect of justice and human rights for prisoners is addressed by the UN in some way. It was interesting seeing the way UN standards affect domestic laws abroad. 

M: In my research, I read a fair amount of information on sexual violence (SV). The acts of SV detailed were explicit and gruesome. I think it is one thing to talk about the term sexual violence, but when I read stories and statistics on SV, it really opened my eyes to the hardships women face around the world in developing countries.


J: Has your summer work influenced your thoughts on your law school or post-law school career trajectory?

S: My summer work has definitely influenced my law school career path. I decided to take international human rights law and international legal research in the fall. I hope to take additional courses in international law through ASU in Washington, D.C. as well. Through IRLS’s weekly guest speaker series I was exposed to the variety of work I could do abroad.

M: Yes, definitely. I am actually applying for law school in the fall so it was really important for me to get experience doing human rights work in some capacity so that I could have a better understanding of which route I wanted to go during my law school career. After immersing myself in the CEDAW work for PDHJ, I think I have a better understanding of the type of commitment needed to work in ambiguous spaces like this. Working with PDHJ on the CEDAW project has really sparked my interest in women’s rights. I am honestly still torn between public interest law or international law. I ultimately want to influence how women are treated and change that for the better.


J: What are you most looking forward to about visiting PDHJ and Dili in person, once it is safe to do so?

S: I am most looking forward to meeting the team at PDHJ and getting to experience the culture I have learned so much about. Timor-Leste has made so much progress in developing human rights standards since gaining independence 18 years ago. It will be amazing to see how the work I have completed can help PDHJ, and Timor-Leste, continue to make progress. 

M: I am most looking forward to meeting the people we have been working with over the summer. I can’t wait to immerse myself in the culture and get a better understanding of the country I’ve learned so much about.


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