The Leitner Center’s Guide to Finding an Internship in International Human Rights
This guide is intended to help students who are looking for international law internships or careers. It lists useful sources for finding information, and describes ways to find more sources.
Primary kinds of employers for international internships are inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs offer internships, but can rarely afford to pay interns. Despite the lack of pay, internships in fields such as human rights are still very competitive.
In addition, there are often opportunities available with indigenous NGOs that are not as publicly advertised (and sometimes are not advertised at all). It is important to realize that many organizations that are doing great work on the ground in the developing world may not have a large internet presence- do not let this discourage you! Instead, you should reach out to people you know (professors, alumni, L.L.M. students, foreign J.D. students, etc.) who have connections to a specific locations or issues that interest you. They may be able to provide you with contact information for local NGOs/human rights activists.
Because job-hunting in the field of international law is harder than looking for traditional U.S. law firm jobs, you should be creative and persistent in your search. Some strategies include:
- Looking for the websites of organizations that may offer internships.
- Using personal connections (professors, alumni, L.L.M. students, foreign J.D. students, etc.)
There are many useful websites that can aid you in your search. Here are some good places to start:
- Leitner Center
- The American Society of International Law
- This website has a very useful “Career Resources” section that provides a comprehensive list of internships in international law.
- ABA Section of International Law and Practice
- Check out their “Internships” section for a list of opportunities with foreign law firms. Not all placements may be specifically focused on human rights.
- Other Websites
- Here, you can search for internship and volunteer opportunities around the world according to your specific area of interest or location. You can also use the website to find general information on various organizations and nonprofits. If you find an organization that you are interested in working for, you might want to send an introductory email to the contact person with a brief statement about how you feel your interests and experience could benefit their organization.
- University of Minnesota Human Rights Resource Center
- International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts
- International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia Internship Programme
- International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Internship Programme
- Special Court for Sierra Leone Internship Programme
- Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Internship Programme
- International Criminal Court Internship Programme
- Other Resources
- International Public Interest Law: A Guide to Opportunities in the Unties States and Abroad (A Joint Publication of Harvard Law School & Yale Law School)
- Georgetown Law School Human Rights Institute’s Organizations and Jobs Website
- Resources for Researching Careers in International Law (Center for International Law, New York Law School)
You might also consider joining human rights-focused email list-serves. These can provide information about human rights issues and sometimes include internship and employment opportunities. Derechos.org has a comprehensive list of relevant mailing lists. Check it out here.
Here are some useful questions to ask yourself and organizations you would like to work for. Also included below is a list of questions to consider once you have secured an internship and are in the pre-departure stage of your internship.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What do I want to accomplish through this internship experience?
- Am I looking for a structured or unstructured internship program?
- Where do I want/need to work geographically? Do I want to be located in a rural or urban setting? Will I need transportation? Will I need to find my own housing?
- What kind of organization do I want to work for? For example, do I want to work for an indigenous or international human rights organization?
- How much time can I commit to an internship? (total amount of time, how many days per week can I / do I want to work, etc.)
Preliminary Questions to Ask an Organization*
(*You may be able to find out some of this information by doing a basic internet search, or from your initial contact person with the organization.)
- How would you describe the mission of your organization?
- What are some of your organization’s past, present, and planned projects?
- How old is your organization?
- How many full time staff does your organization employ?
- How long have most people been with the organization?
- Do you accept volunteers or interns?
- Is there a minimum time commitment required for a summer internship?
- Where are your offices based? Do you work mainly in the capital city (or other urban environment) or in rural locations?
- Who do you work most closely with? (Community members? Other human rights organizations? Do you have international or government partners? Etc.)
Questions to Ask an Organization (Once they have expressed an interest)
- Can you give me an example of my summer responsibilities? Try to make sure the answer you receive is as specific as possible. It’s important to understand that your internship may not be strictly “legal” in the way a summer associate’s position might be. Nevertheless, you can still ask the organization how you will be utilizing your legal background and skills.
- Does your organization have lawyers on staff?
- Who in the organization will I work most closely with? Who will supervise my work? How will my performance be evaluated?
- Are any language skills necessary? If I don’t speak the native language is there meaningful work I can do in English?
- Has your organization hosted foreign law students before? May I speak to former or current interns? (Ask them what they liked and did not like, what you should pack, etc.)
- Is it difficult to arrange for short term housing? Do they have any suggestions on finding housing?
- What is the office culture like? Do I need to wear professional clothing to work everyday? (In many developing countries, international staff may have the misconceived notion that it is okay to wear casual clothing to work. Depending on the organization and the type of work you’ll be engaged in, casual dress may be appropriate. However, you should first check this with the specific organization).
- Can you recommend background reading or materials to familiarize me with the culture and history of the community I’ll be living in this summer?
- Do I need to fill out an application or provide you with any other documentation? If so, when are they due?