This summer I traded in the hot heat of a Washington, D.C. summer for the winter months in Lima, Peru. For my first law school internship I joined EarthRights International and the four-person (plus two interns) team in the Amazon Office.
At the end of two months I had taken a trip to the jungle to interview potential clients, helped plan and coordinate a month-long training for indigenous leaders, learned from other Peruvian attorneys about impact litigation in the region, supported the research needs of the Peru and Washington D.C. office and reinforced my commitment to human rights.
The day-to-day in the life of an ERI Amazon Office Intern is varied. Some days Amanda (my fellow friendly intern) and I were busy coordinating speakers for the Amazon School for Human Rights that was taking place in late August. Other days we were pulled into meetings with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or with Peruvian attorneys who also work on human rights issue.
ERI’s Amazon office in Peru is only a year old, so there is still coalition-building to be done and other advocates to learn from who are already active on human rights issue in the region. In between coordinating speakers and meeting with other advocates, Amanda and I each focused on our individual legal research projects.
While Amanda was researching the legal norms applicable to indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, I was busy exploring limits on civil remedies in U.S. courts for oil contamination in the Amazon. In the process, I was able to learn a lot about the intersection of environmental harms, indigenous peoples’ rights and the relevant applicable laws to bringing a human rights case that protects both the people and the land affected.
For an environmental and human rights-focused NGO, there is no shortage of “tips” about possible projects or actions that threaten a community in the region. It was one of these leads that led to three of us visiting the city of Pucallpa in the Amazon jungle to investigate the possible effects of, and community reactions to, the proposed construction of a highway from Pucallpa to Brazil. As part of our visit we met with NGO groups, indigenous governance groups and reached out to government leadership. Our goal was to meet with the various sectors and learn from them how such a project in the region may or may not affect communities’ way of life.
The fact-finding trip included a canoe excursion up the river to visit with an indigenous community to hear directly from them on the proposed development projects in their region. What I learned is that there are many voices involved in one story, and more than one trip would be required to fully evaluate the proposed project.
Beyond the trip, the meetings, and the substantive work, the Peru office went out of their way to make sure that this was more than just a fleeting internship experience. For example, two attorneys in the office, Marissa and Ben, organized a reading group and each week we would discuss issues important in human rights. We talked about community lawyering, the role of narrative and tips for interviewing clients in the field, among other topics.
At the end of our internship all six of us gathered around the office table to celebrate the office’s first successful round of interns, and we interns celebrated all that we would take from our experience with ERI.