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Summer Intern Diary: Working in Human Rights in South Africa

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In August last year I was selected to participate in the UNSW South Africa Human Rights Clinic. The program would involve travelling to South Africa and interning at a public interest legal organisation working on human rights issues.

I was excited but also a bit apprehensive. I had always dreamed of visiting South Africa but I had heard so many things about South Africa that had made me reconsider travelling there. However, the opportunity was too enticing to pass up. Little did I know it would be an experience I would never forget.

For the past five weeks I have been working with SECTION27 (incorporating the Aids Law Project), a South African public interest law centre. The name SECTION27 refers to section 27 of the South African Constitution, which contains all the socio-economic rights such as right to health, education and food. SECTION27 provides legal advice and services to and litigates on behalf of a range of different clients. Each of these clients is directly affected by a breach of their constitutional rights, and the relief that they seek is intended to benefit that client and members of the public in a similar position.

My internship at SECTION27 has allowed me to gain real world experience in public interest and human rights lawyering and make a lasting contribution to important human rights issues in South Africa. The work I have been doing has been very hands-on and I have had the opportunity to go into the field to do research and gather evidence for cases. SECTION27 has a group of amazing attorneys, researchers and interns that are so dedicated to helping others and it has been inspiring to work with such dedicated people.

In addition to the legal experience the overall South African experience has been amazing. Joburg is a vibrant, dynamic and above all else a welcoming city and in my short time here I feel I have become a local. There is so much to do and see and a lot of history to discover and reflect upon. Joburg is a true South African city and with so many public interest and human rights organisations based here it is a beacon of hope for a brighter future for South Africa.

As I come to the end of the experience I am grateful for having had the chance to visit and work in South Africa. My experience has truly been life changing. With such a modern and progressive Constitution, South Africa is the perfect place to learn how human rights law can make a practical difference to people's lives. If you ever have the chance to visit South Africa and intern, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Read more about Shaun’s experiences in South Africa at his blog Something Captivating.

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