René Cassin Summer School
My Transformative Journey to become a Human Rights Defender
My time in Strasbourg, France was an incredible, productive and memorable experience. There were 15 of us that had been selected by FNF, from different parts of the world which made the entire learning (and social) experience more enriching. We had two days of seminars with Dr Salim Amin , to prepare us for the Summer School by the René Cassin Foundation – International Institute of Human Rights (at the University of Strasbourg). He covered key concepts in Human Rights Law, the main conventions and also treaty bodies; little did I know how valuable these lessons would be in my pursuit of René Cassin Foundation’s Diploma in International & Comparative Human Rights Law.
On Monday, 26 June, we had an Opening Ceremony with an inspirational speech from Dr. Alice Edwards, the first woman to be appointed as the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur for Torture. In the afternoon, we began our course on International Human Rights Law. I attended lectures from 9am – 5.30pm, then continued with Diploma classes until 7.30pm. The summer air was breezy and I enjoyed the half an hour walk from campus to the Hotel. After the first week, I had learnt about various Human Rights systems. We learnt about covenants, conventions, commissions, committees and cases which covered violations of human rights and deprivation of freedom. In the Diploma classes, we practiced answering exam questions, presenting legal arguments, and comparing different human rights systems.
On Monday, 3 July, I faced the first round of the Diploma. 20 students attempted the (closed-book) exam; we were given 5-hours to write an essay. On Tuesday, we were informed that six students had passed, including me. The FNF group was ecstatic; everyone Congratulated me and wished me Good Luck for the second round. On Wednesday, I had to present my legal arguments on a hypothetical case to a panel of four judges. I was tested on my ability to argue for admissibility, breaches and remedies. The judges also asked me various questions related to overseas territories, jurisprudence on UN treaty reservations, domestic remedies and even international remedies. A few hours later, I was informed that I passed and would move forward to the third, and final, round of the Diploma.
On Friday morning, the four finalists arrived at the René Cassin Foundation’s office. It was a lovely, colonial-style house, painted white with blue windows. We were given an envelope (with the exam question), some blank paper and two hours to prepare our response for a panel of judges. They included; a sitting judge of the European Court of Human Rights, the Director and also the President of the René Cassin Foundation respectively. My statement was “Universalism vs Regionalism in Human Rights Protection”. I shared my views on human rights mechanisms, judicial and quasi-judicial bodies, accountability of non-state actors, and also denunciation.
After lunchtime, we headed to the European Parliament where all 100 students gathered for the Closing Ceremony. In his speech, Mr Sébastien Touzé (Director of the René Cassin Foundation) mentioned that the final round of the Diploma had four finalists; Galia Melendez (Mexico), Soulemane Kone (Burkina Faso), Enikὂ Krajnyak (Hungary) and myself. He also made an amazing announcement; all four of us were successful! The room broke into excitement, with loud clapping and cheering as the four of us received our awards. It was an especially memorable moment for me, because I was the first person from Malaysia to be receiving it.
In the third week, we had the course on International Humanitarian Law. We focused on the International Committee of the Red Cross, the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, and also the most recent developments in non-international armed conflicts (NIAC). We continued learning about war-zones and war-crimes in week four, as we covered International Criminal Law. We had a Closing Ceremony on 21 July with a very special guest speaker; Perrin de Brichambaut who is currently a judge to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The ceremony ended with us receiving our certificates, saying good-bye to our classmates and taking pictures as memories of an amazing month in France.
I would like to express my appreciation to the FNF team, which enabled me to participate in this Summer School. Special thanks to Vera Jasini Putri (FNF Malaysia Project Manager), Dr Salim Amin and Charlot Uhrig (External Programme Coordinator) for taking very good care of the 15 of us. Charlot also arranged for us to attend a trial at the European Court of Human Rights, which was one of the highlights of the trip. Last but not least, to the other FNF participants; thank you for making this experience a truly memorable one. I value the friendships we built and I believe that we were able to learn so much from one another. I hope that with the new knowledge we have gained, we will all strive to become human rights defenders, and continue our efforts to uphold integrity, promote peace and defend individual freedoms.
Written by Raiyan Abdul Rahim