Students & Campus
23 April 2021

Standing Up for Human Rights

With the microphone before them, and underneath Miquel Barceló’s celestial masterpiece in the diplomatic world’s most recognisable room, Milena Niehaus, Valentin Hopfinger and Matthieu Robin James Guillier, all master candidates in International Affairs, stood before the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) to speak up for human rights. 

“Speaking at the HRC is quite daunting”, explained Matthieu. “First because of the distinguished nature of the forum and its members, and second because of the protocol surrounding our speeches. However, once I was at the pulpit I focused on getting my speech out to make as much impact on the audience as possible”.

This was a rare opportunity for the three students to be a part of human rights conversations on an international scale, working for an NGO to raise awareness of human rights violations in certain regions of the world. 

As Milena detailed, “the task of the NGO is mainly to raise awareness and reach a broader audience of ongoing human rights violations; to put pressure on governments to act and prevent those”. 

Their speeches focused on human rights violations occurring in India, particularly restrictions on free speech and freedom of the press, repression of activists and religious tensions. Sometimes, the speeches were stories, perhaps personal, or recounted an incident. But a greater knowledge of the UN and political spheres also played an important role. 
“The speeches demanded fast adaptation; we had to interact in the UN environment and had to balance the content of the speeches regarding impact and courtesy”, recounted Valentin. “To understand the broader political situation we spoke of, and the role of the HRC was also highly beneficial. These are all skills which we acquired also through our coursework at the Institute”.

Milena first learned of the HRC speaking role through a Facebook post on the Institute’s internal group from a former student. After a few discussions, it was decided that she would take on the work. 

“For my first time in person I was very nervous, especially because I was still alone and had to understand the whole procedure by myself”, she reflected. “But the general institutional knowledge about the UN and specifically the workshops in presenting skills from the Institute helped me prepare for this work”. 

Despite the challenge of speaking in front of a large audience, the students kept in mind the task at hand. 

As Matthieu suggested, “as NGO speakers, we were in a privileged position to shine a light on human rights issues and hold the Indian government accountable in such a powerful place”.