University of Minnesota

Amelia Wison

Fellowship Site:
League of Human Rights, Paris, France

I really had no idea what to expect before leaving—I didn’t know what work I’d be doing exactly, what the people would be like, if I’d be capable of actually helping anyone, of fulfilling expectations in another language, etc. I even envisioned myself being totally useless to everyone and they would regret having taken me for the summer.

But none of that happened. My job was clearly defined, the people were excellent, I helped people and could do it in another language. Nobody regretted having taken me for the summer, and many seemed sad I was leaving. Most importantly, I was finally able to do the thing I’ve studied two years to get a chance to do: human rights. I saw the real effects and importance of it, and I finally saw that it could be done. Human rights is not some intangible thing, not some collection of people with a lot of ideas and ideals that amounted to nothing because the forces against them were too great. There are real solutions to human rights problems—not ones that are immediately evident or easily won, but exist. I for however small my role may have been in the grand scheme of it all, I was doing the right thing.

I would say that it was two jurists—Francois Xavier and Matieu—who inspired me the most at the League. Matieu was calm and optimistic, approaching problems like someone who had faith in the human race. Francois Xavier was completely the opposite: he was manic and angry, approaching problems like someone who had no faith whatsoever in the human race. The two together, a sort of “good cop/bad cop” dichotomy, could do anything. Equally passionate and devoted to their particular cause, Matieu would try to be diplomatic with the opposition; then, when diplomacy failed, Francois Xavier would go in guns blazing and kick everyone’s ass. I used to say it was like “releasing the hounds,” which didn’t translate well. But everyone knew what I meant—if the human right objective couldn’t be negotiated, it had to be wrestled with brute force. I would like to master a balance of the two. Because there were times this summer when I knew that the opposition was so unreasonable, there was nothing to do but fight them.

As I mentioned in one of my journal entries, my perspective on the world and on in France in particular changed quite a bit. I had this delusion that France was a human rights utopia. That was before I knew anything about their past effects on underdeveloped countries and their current policies concerning them today. But to shift the focus to my own country, I see how the current administration is utterly disappointing and selfish. I deeply suspected this before, but I see it more clearly now. The US alone, with its money, power and influence, could alleviate so much misery in parts of the world; instead, it generates it.
The only solution I have to this problem is to increase human rights as a priority in this country. That is no small task. But I think it starts locally and fans outward—elections, policy-making, legislation. As Francois Xavier used to say, “Republicans in your country and all that accompanies them need to go. And then those that are left need to stop being so damn lazy.” And I think he’s right.

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