United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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Human Rights Liaison Unit | The Protection Policy and Legal Advice Section

Human Rights Liaison Unit

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems.

UNHCR is an impartial organization, offering protection and assistance to refugees and others on the basis of their needs and irrespective of their race, religion, political opinion, or gender. In its efforts to protect refugees and to promote solutions to their problems, UNHCR works in partnership with governments, regional organizations, international, and nongovernmental organizations.

The Human Rights Liaison Unit is part of the Policy and Law Pillar ("Pillar I") of the Division of International Protection (DIP). The Unit aims at promoting the effective use of international human rights law and UN human rights mechanisms to strengthen the protection of persons of concern to UNHCR.

Nature of the Extern's Work and Supervision

The externs assist in the finalization of UNHCR's confidential comments to the seven human rights treaty bodies, attend the treaty body sessions, and prepare feedback to UNHCR colleagues covering the countries under examination. Externs also follow proceedings at the Human Rights Council, and provide feedback to UNHCR colleagues on discussions of relevance to the work of UNHCR. In addition, externs are required to undertake legal research and analyses on various topics of relevance to UNHCR's work.

While the precise tasks of interns vary, taking into account the schedule of treaty bodies, the regular and special sessions of the Human Rights Council, and the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Reviews, as well as the specific skills, competencies, and areas of interest of the respective intern, the main tasks in which interns at our sections are involved are the following:

  • Contributing to the compilation of information and preparation of UNHCR submissions to the different treaty bodies.
  • Monitoring of sessions of treaty bodies as observers on behalf of UNHCR.
  • Preparation of feedback to the concerned field offices on the deliberation and outcome of the debate on country reports by treaty bodies.
  • Participation as observers in the sessions of the Human Rights Council, as well as in informal meetings organized in parallel to the Council sessions, or any special Council meetings throughout the year and preparation of reports.
  • To contribute to the compilation of information and preparation of UNHCR submissions on countries to be examined under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism.
  • To contribute to the preparation of summaries of UPR submissions to be used for "lobbying" purposes ahead of the UPR sessions.
  • Participation as observers in the sessions of the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Reviews.
  • Legal research tasks on human rights issues relating to refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR.
  • Search for and analysis of documents produced by the UN human rights machinery.
  • Editing position papers and other legal documents.

In addition, where occasions arise, interns may participate in bi- and multilateral meetings of UNHCR with government and other agency partners, as well as in training seminars or briefings offered by UNHCR colleagues.

Interns may occasionally be asked to offer support to other units within the Division of International Protection.

The Protection Policy and Legal Advice Section

PPLA is the core legal section within the Division of International Protection and is at the cutting edge of the progressive development of international refugee law. PPLA works to enhance the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees through legal and policy advice and research, the

production and dissemination of guidelines and position papers, commentaries on national (as well as regional and global) legal and policy frameworks, submission of court interventions (amicus briefs), as well as monitoring and engagement with regional and global processes, human rights and standard-setting mechanisms, and the Executive Committee.

As a member of the Protection Policy and Legal Advice Section (PPLA) in the Division of International Protection (comprising the chief of section, three senior legal officers and two legal officers), interns will be engaged in a range of tasks including discrete legal research projects on various topics of relevance to UNHCR’s work. The intern may also be called upon to assist in the preparation of expert meetings, or to attend and report on various briefings or bilateral or multilateral meetings, to draft or edit policy and legal documents or advice, as required, and other tasks as they arise.

Interns will participate in a range of activities within PPLA, and will become familiar with the daily realities of working in a large humanitarian organization. The overarching objectives of the internship – from the perspective of the intern – are (i) to gain a deeper knowledge of the work of UNHCR and the international legal frameworks governing the organization’s interventions and (ii) to practice and develop ‘professional working skills’, such as project and time management, prioritization, team work, presentation skills, drafting, etc. While we aim to engage the intern in a discrete legal research project, interns may also be called upon to become more directly involved in all the operational aspects of our work. The internship however also includes some elements of routine (e.g. compilation and preparation of seminar folders, other administrative work).

Interns may be asked to offer support to other units within the Division of International Protection.

Statelessness Section, Division of International Protection

UNHCR is a global organisation dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. Every year, millions of men, women and children are forced to flee their homes to escape conflict and persecution. We work in over 130 countries, using our expertise to protect and care for millions.

Organizational Context

To implement UNHCR’s global mandate on statelessness, the Statelessness Section of the Division of International Protection (DIP) supports the development of doctrine, policy, publications, and other resources on statelessness.  It provides guidance and field support on statelessness and nationality-law issues to UNHCR's many country operations around the world. 

Work on statelessness at UNHCR is busy and interesting as UNHCR has entered the second half of the #IBELONG Campaign to End Statelessness within 10 years.

Duties and Responsibilities

The intern will:

  •  Undertake an extended research assignment to be agreed in consultation with the Statelessness Section upon commencement of the internship

  • Conduct research to support the development of new legal and policy papers on statelessness

  • Assist with the preparation of the quarterly #IBelong Campaign Updates

  • Assist with preparations for meetings of the "Friends of the Campaign" Group and other outreach and advocacy efforts

  • Assist with the day-to-day work of the Section (support to the field, drafting of briefing notes and report inputs, distribution of statelessness related news and materials, etc.) post-graduate stud  post-graduate stud   post-graduate stud

Required skills and desirable qualifications:

  • Completion of undergraduate (university) degree and pursuit of post-graduate studies in International Law, or;

  • MA graduate or equivalent in International Law, having completed their studies within one year of applying;

  • Fluency in English (both oral and written).

  • Strong analytical skills;

  • Excellent written and oral communication skills;

  • Creative thinking;

  • Ability to work independently and in a team;

  • Computer literacy (MS Office);

  • Ability to work effectively and harmoniously with colleagues from different cultures and backgrounds.

  • Strong motivation to work on statelessness.

  • The ideal candidate will hold/have: Academic or work experience related to human rights, humanitarian affairs, statelessness, or nationality matters.  Knowledge of a second UN language.

Important Information for Students

UNHCR, is currently facing desk space limitations and out of necessity, a number of interns are currently "hot desking". This has meant that they are not in a position to be able to offer a desk for each intern on a full-time basis for the duration of their internship. Interns are able to use an available desk when staff are away on mission, working remotely, or on leave. However, from time to time, interns will need to work from the UN Library at the Palais des Nations in Geneva (a few hundred meters walk from the office). Interns must be able and willing to work from locations other than the office. 

Externs working with the Human Rights Liaison Unit must have studied transnational law and human rights law. Knowledge and/or experience in the field of refugee law will be highly valued. Fluency in English is a prerequisite, and knowledge of another UN language would be an asset. While not being a formal requirement, any relevant work experience will of course also be taken into account in the selection of interns.

To learn more about the UNHCR, please visit their website.