An intern’s take on the FXB Intensive Course on Health and Human Rights

As an undergraduate with limited knowledge of health and human rights issues, I joined the FXB Center as a summer intern out of a curiosity to better understand this topic. Attending the FXB Center’s Intensive Course on Health and Human Rights: Concepts, Implementation, and Impact provided me with a full-scale immersion into this field that I couldn’t have expected and have greatly appreciated.

The course began with an introductory primer lecture, designed “for participants with little or no background in international human rights or humanitarian law,” a category which seemed especially fitting for me. Even professionals in the room who had been working in the field for years found it informative, especially as the lecturers discussed the distinction between human rights and humanitarian work, which I had always believed to be synonymous. Learning about the ethical, legal, and social activist side of human rights, as well as key concepts of humanitarian law, I began to appreciate how extensive and pervasive these issues are in the world, historically and currently.

Each faculty member brought his or her own personal expertise and experience to the course, which made for riveting case studies. FXB Director Jennifer Leaning, Program on Human Rights in Development Director Stephen Marks, and FXB’s Director of Research Jacqueline Bhabha, impressed me with how knowledgeable they were, fielding and firing questions with ease. In addition, the variety of issues they discussed, such as the development of human rights and surrounding discourse, the plight of stateless and migratory children, gender and sexual health, and the roles of human rights professionals in instances of crimes against humanity, provided great insight on some of the most pressing issues in health and human rights today. I was bowled over by many of the topics which I had never really given much thought to, but which are so very much relevant to our world.

It was particularly interesting to see the discussion generated during a session on the implementation of new forms of technology for crisis early warnings. Participants were eager to learn about new ways of data collection and implementation, and to ensure the security of their research from pernicious governments. The room buzzed with excitement when panelist Phuong Pham introduced a number of different systems for communication, data analysis, and data sharing. However, when the next panelist, Nathaniel Raymond, warned of the dangers posed by new technology, the mood of the room shifted. The participants, previously keen to jump on board with new technology suddenly found themselves wary, realizing that there was no human rights accountability structure or genuine guarantee of security or privacy. Raymond described this phase of technology as being equal parts promise and peril.

Each day of the course brought a new theme: the first day’s broad overview of health and human rights from participant-familiar domains to looking through the lens of professional norms and interactions on the second day, and finally to the last day’s implementation of this knowledge on problems confronting the world today. This kept the course fresh and exciting every day. In particular, small group sessions on the third day allowed more direct engagement with faculty and their peers.

I believe one of the rewarding aspects of this course was the engagement of the participants who came from such a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. Many had worked as physicians in areas of armed conflict or where resources were severely depleted. Others were advocates for human rights and humanitarian groups and could speak widely about policy issues and outreach efforts.  During the networking breaks, participants sought one another’s advice and swapped stories of their experiences. I felt a sense of excitement about the possibility of social change and hope that a human rights and health agenda could truly impact the world.

I left with a considerably deeper understanding of the issues of the field, the international and regional normative structures that govern humanitarian and human rights efforts, and ways that this knowledge was applicable. It was both informational and inspiring, instilling within me a desire to seriously pursue this field and explore opportunities within it. As the faculty of the “Getting Involved” seminar urged, I hope I will be able to educate others in common discourse about these issues, creating a general recognition for issues of the interdisciplinary realm of health and human rights and encouraging others to develop a restlessness that will urge them towards action.

– Kathy Wang, Health and Human Rights Intern