By Lori AthertonOctober 20, 2015
Vishakha Wijenayake, a 2015 Michigan Law LLM graduate, has been selected for a yearlong traineeship in the legal division of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva. She is one of six individuals chosen for the prestigious position.
Trainees in the legal division of the ICRC—a humanitarian organization that protects victims of armed conflict—take on a variety of assignments in both French and English, including carrying out research and writing project briefs on specific legal questions primarily related to international humanitarian law. They also give presentations on international humanitarian law to groups visiting the ICRC.
"The experience is fashioned in such a way that it enables a trainee to get exposure in different fields of international humanitarian law," said Wijenayake, who began her traineeship October 1. "I am certain that it will be a valuable opportunity to acquire a holistic view of international humanitarian law and how it works. I am looking forward to learning much from my colleagues at ICRC and gaining insight into planning a long-term career in humanitarian work."
Wijenayake said hundreds of applicants from around the world applied for an ICRC traineeship. A select number were chosen for telephone interviews, which were conducted in both French and English and tested the candidates' knowledge of international humanitarian law. Six were eventually selected as trainees.
"I was thrilled to find out that I was chosen, mainly because I knew how competitive the process was and the interview itself was quite rigorous. It also felt like I was being called to join a larger community of humanitarian workers and to share their knowledge and experience," said Wijenayake, who was mentored by Steven Ratner, the Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law, while attending Michigan. Ratner served in the legal division of the ICRC from 2008 to 2009, and helped Wijenayake prepare for the interview process.
A graduate of the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka, where she studied humanitarian and human rights law, Wijenayake grew up during Sri Lanka's nearly 30-year civil war between the Sinhalese government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The experience of living in a war-torn country instilled in her a desire to work as a humanitarian in conflict situations. Before earning her LLM degree at Michigan Law, Wijenayake worked as a freelance researcher with local and international NGOs on projects related to human rights and conflict, and was commissioned to publish an impartial report on Sinhala Buddhist riots in Sri Lanka. She also taught international humanitarian law and human rights law to undergraduate law students at the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka.
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