e-CIVICUS 409 - Issued 03 October 2008 

International Human Rights Exchange Programme at CIVICUS: Some Reflections
By Michael Rubin, CIVICUS Civil Society Watch (CSW) programme intern and student of Political Science at Emory University in the United States


My tenure at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation was facilitated through the International Human Rights Exchange (IHRE) Programme, an academic program administered jointly by the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, the host university for the programme and Bard College, the partner institution in the United States, focused on the study of Human Rights in todayís evolving global community. The IHRE programme includes participation in an internship experience with one of the affiliated host organisations. I was drawn to CIVICUS because of its commitment to defending the rights and strengthening the influence of civil society organisations throughout the world. My firm belief in the importance of civil society as a prerequisite for democracy and as an effective agent of holding governments accountable for their policies and practices guided my arrangement to intern in the Civil Society Watch (CSW) programme that works specifically on defending the core civil society rights in international and national affairs -- namely freedom of expression, association and assembly. 

My introduction to CIVICUS was through the Pan-African Campaign for Solidarity with Zimbabwe, a CSW project that kicked off my first weekend working with the organisation. Conducted jointly by CIVICUS, Amnesty International, and the Global Call to Action against Poverty (
GCAP), the press conference and rally aimed to foster a more cohesive response among African civil society to the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. Through this campaign I realised the true magnitude of NGO work; outreach to other organisations all over the African continent and beyond was impressively widespread and demonstrated the true power and vitality of civil society organisations and their contributions to global policy-making. It was very informative and valuable to learn how a large campaign such as this one is organized and executed. Assisting in this campaign opened my eyes to the influence that civil society does and should have in pressuring state leaders and impacting political and policy outcomes. 

My primary role while at CIVICUS involved working on the Compendium of International Legal Instruments and Other Inter-Governmental Commitments Concerning Core Civil Society Rights. I spent most of my time researching and compiling new international agreements and declarations, extracting excerpts relating to civil society and the freedoms of expression, association and assembly to add to the Compendium.  Part of this work also involved reformatting the document to increase its readability and accessibility. This experience served as a great supplement to my studies; I learned a great deal about the language employed by international and inter-governmental institutions in their legislation as well as the extensiveness of their functions, responsibilities and depth of organization. The greater knowledge of the chronology and progression of international and regional human rights law that I have developed working on the Compendium has enhanced my learning in the classroom and offered experience in real world application of the theories I have been studying.

Participating in the CIVICUS Strategic Directions exercise was a fascinating experience. Though largely unfamiliar with the inner-workings of the organisation beforehand, I found the process very enlightening.  I gained a profound insight into the foundational capacity of the NGO and especially CIVICUSí strategies for self-reflection and self-motivated progression. I saw first hand the methods and resources used in promoting self-reviewing mechanisms to ensure a consistency with the foundational principles that legitimize civil society activism and investment in developing concrete goals to direct the organisationís future. The debates concerning the role CIVICUS should play and the level of its partiality were extremely significant questions regarding the future of the organization and contributed to the discussion and conclusion of important developments in the Strategic Directions process. This authentic organisational redefinition afforded insight into the structure and utility of NGOs that could not be truly or effectively conveyed in the classroom. 

Interning with CIVICUS has expanded my knowledge and skills in the areas of international law and advocacy, as well as increased my understanding of the organisation of civil society associations. The interrelated and complementary relationships between different CIVICUS programmes exemplify the complex nature of the successful NGO. Through this diverse set of experiences I have developed an in-depth familiarity of ways to integrate into a working environment and a comprehension of the features of international organisation from a unique perspective supplementary to the classroom learning, affording a broad awareness of civil society and its international influence.

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