2016 Summer Intern

The Schull Yang International Experience Awards supported by Joseph Schull (BA ‘82, MA ‘85) and Anna Yang (BCL, LLB ‘88) to help students gain firsthand international experience related to their field of study. Administered through the Office of the Deputy Provost, this award is meant to provide partial funding to assist students with travel and other expenses related to their internship.

The Internship Offices Network is pleased to announce the selected McGill student for the 2016 summer internship at the Permanent Missions of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva, and recipient of the Schull Yang International Experience Award.

Shaké Melanie Sarkhanian, BCL/LLB

Shaké is a first year law student at McGill University. She has a Joint Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in Political Science and Public Administration from the University of Ottawa, achieved while working at the Armenian Embassy as the Executive Assistant to the Ambassador. She is an associate editor of Inter Gentes, The McGill Journal of International Law and Legal Pluralism, volunteer with Pro Bono Students Canada, and executive member of McGill’s Intellectual Property and Information Technology Policy Club. 

Reach Shaké shake.sakhanian [at] mail.mcgill.ca (here).

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From May to July 2016 I interned at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva as a Junior Policy Officer on the Human Rights Team. I was excited to find an opening to join the team because it presented an opportunity to be an active and engaged global citizen while exploring my interests in human rights and international law. As a first year law student with a Joint Honours Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Administration, I hoped that this internship would bridge my academic journey and foster an enriching experience at the intersection of international politics, law, diplomacy, and human rights. My experience at the Mission truly cultivated my interests in a warm, professional, and friendly environment, enhancing my knowledge in several issues concerning human rights and international law, notably from an indigenous perspective.

The Mission is Canada’s diplomatic representation to the United Nations in Geneva, and is the main pathway for communications between the Canadian government via Global Affairs Canada and the United Nations, including its human rights bodies located in Geneva. Several departments comprise the Mission, such as disarmament, humanitarian affairs, health, labour, and human rights. The Human Rights Team in particular participates at the Human Rights Council, which is a United Nations inter-governmental body that holds three regular sessions a year in March, June, and September, as well as special sessions and other events. I had the opportunity to attend, participate, and report on various meetings held during the 25th Session of the Universal Periodic Review in May, 32nd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council in June, and 9th Session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in July. I reported on a range of human rights discussions, including on violence against women, indigenous rights, development, sexual orientation and gender identity, human rights defenders, and national human rights institutions.

A highlight of my work was to contribute to Canada’s annual Resolution on Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women, which for the first time focused on preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, including indigenous women and girls. Participating in its complete process from research on violence against women to its final vote in the Council, witnessing its acceptance among states, was an insightful experience to learn both procedural and substantive elements of the Council. The Team I worked with was supportive, encouraging, and inspiring with its ethos of diligence and team spirit, making this experience memorable.

When I first started attending meetings, one of the challenges I faced was understanding the diverse perspectives on human rights issues, some of which I had not considered to be debatable. Human rights viewed as issues can be dispiriting, yet a source of motivation to work towards cooperation and respect. I realized the necessity of open and transparent dialogue to introduce different voices and share best practices. The Human Rights Council is a pivotal forum to facilitate such dialogue and ultimately, to protect the human rights of individuals worldwide.

This past summer was an incredible and practical experience interning in the human rights field, enriching my pursuit of studies in human rights and international law at McGill. I received three credits for the internship, and look forward to further exploring human rights issues, notably in the seminar Critical Engagement with Human Rights, which I will be participating in the fall semester.

This global experience was made possible with the Schull Yang International Experience Award, generously supported by Mr. Joseph Schull and Ms. Anna Yang. I appreciate their endeavor to support students who are interested in gaining international experiences. Working at the Canadian Mission was significant for me in finding direction in my academic and professional journey, a direction that I will pursue in building a career in international human rights law.

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said that “both security and prosperity depend on respect for human rights and the rule of law” in his salient Farewell Address in 2006, words that inspire me to be an active and engaged global citizen. This summer, thanks to the support of Mr. Joseph Schull and Ms. Anna Yang, I took my first step.

Shaké representing Canada at the United Nations Human Rights Council.