The Council of Europe
Interning abroad: A Wellesley student’s perspective
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 18:09
Over this past summer, I had a unique and transformative experience as a student interning abroad. I spent my summer months at the Irish diplomatic office or “Mission” in Strasbourg, France, working directly under Ambassador Peter Gunning, the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the Council of Europe.
In light of the violent protests throughout Africa and Europe this autumn, the Council’s work is more vital and relevant than ever. Though the staff of this Mission numbered only five people, its work is truly impressive. Working with the ambassadorial team of Ireland gave me insights into the Council of Europe which, though not as well-known as other international organizations such as the United Nations, is an important diplomatic and peace-building tool for Europe and countries like the United States, one of the official observers to the Council.
The Council of Europe is made up of representatives from all 47 countries of Europe and serves as a public forum for these countries to discuss and address human rights issues, democracy and the rule of law. The Council tackles issues ranging from terrorism to human trafficking to cybercrime. When countries are found to have violated human rights policies, the member states require the violating nations to plan and implement policies that avoid repeating these crimes. The Council focuses on building better countries based on rule of law and, in some cases, forms recommendations for constitutional reforms to achieve this end. In the eyes of many European countries, the Council of Europe is vital to European society due to its work protecting human rights and promoting awareness of European cultural identity. The Council also strengthens democratic stability in Europe by striving to find common solutions to regional challenges.
During my time at the Mission this summer, the Council was addressing a controversy between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two neighboring countries in Eastern Europe. The issue involved an Azerbaijani soldier who had assassinated an Armenian citizen in Hungary. This criminal was sent back to Azerbaijan to serve a life sentence but, upon his return, was not sent to prison. Instead, he was given an apartment, money and other rewards by Azerbaijani government officials. Unsurprisingly, the Armenian government was deeply upset. The Council of Europe has served as the primary forum to address the breach of trust between these two European countries.
While working at the Mission, I specifically worked within the Committee of Ministers, one of the five institutions of the Council of Europe. Considered the Council’s main decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers is comprised of 47 permanent representatives from each of the member states. My job was to attend subcommittee meetings, create and then distribute summaries of the discussions that interested Ireland. One of the most exciting parts of my job was attending the weekly meetings of the Ministers’ Deputies. In attendance at the meetings were the ambassadors from each of the 47 member states, who discussed current events and other issues involving diplomacy, human rights and the rule of law. Being witness to all the different countries’ participation in these meetings has given me a good understanding of the work involved in conflict resolution within in an international diplomatic community.
The skills of delegating, researching and analyzing cases seemed invaluable to countries and their representatives as they hammered out solutions. After my work for the Council of Europe and my coursework as an economics major, I see myself in the near future working for the international institutions such as the European Union.