3L Josh Zell records his experiences as Legal Affairs intern at the U.S. Mission in Geneva

Mar 12, 2007

Josh ZellOn January 17, after what Josh Zell recalls as a “long security briefing,” the third-year Vanderbilt law student was handed his identification badge as an intern with the Legal Affairs department at the United States Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Within a day, Zell (pictured right) was hard at work researching how human rights treaties—specifically, protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination All Forms of Racial Discrimination—regulate child soldiers and the sale of children. His assignment: identify questions government officials presenting the United States’ report on compliance with these treaties were likely to face from international experts who review the U.S. report. “Each country submits a report addressing compliance to the protocols, and then receives written questions to which they respond at a public hearing,” Zell explained. “At the end of the process, the U.S. receives concluding observations and recommendations. The head of Legal Affairs at the U.S. Mission wanted me to look at reports from other countries, including countries that actually have problems in these areas, to identify issues of concern to the experts. Unfortunately, none of the States that actually have problems with child soldiers or the sale of children have reported on these protocols.”

Zell identified “several issues that come up at every hearing” that he could recommend the U.S. address in its reports. “A key issue with the child soldiers protocol is whether a country exercises universal jurisdiction over the war crime of conscripting children under 15 years old and whether children in military schools can be considered military recruits,” he wrote in the daily journal he keeps for Professor Michael Newton, who heads Vanderbilt’s international externship program and helped to arrange his internship. “Issues related to the Sale of Children Protocol included whether adoption agencies are closely monitored, how a country regulates child pornography and sex tourism, and how victims of trafficking to a particular country are repatriated to their home country – for example, whether a country gives the victims the choice to stay or return, and whether the country investigates the safety of the victims’ situations in their home country before repatriating them.”

Zell’s journals are full of insights gleaned not only from research assignments, but also from the issues that arise daily in representing United States interests with the myriad U.N. agencies in Geneva.  For example, Zell learned that developing countries accounted for more than 60 percent of complaints to the World Trade Organization dispute settlement body last year. “Trade and development is an issue that really divides industrialized and developing nations,” he said. “This statistic may demonstrate that developing nations are becoming more sophisticated in using the WTO system.”

Zell has also had opportunities to work on research and writing projects related to the U.N. Human Rights Council, cluster munitions, and the Military Commissions Act, and to attend meetings of the Human Rights Council, the Conference on Disarmament, and the Committee on the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Zell, who is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, will return to Vanderbilt for graduation after his internship ends April 25. He plans to serve a one-year clerkship with Judge Lon Farris of the Prince William County, Virginia, Circuit Court, after which he hopes to work for the legal affairs section of the State Department or to join the foreign service.

Externships allow students to gain substantive international legal experience

3L Josh Zell is one of five Vanderbilt law students serving externships in international law during the Spring 2007 semester. The others, all members of the Class of 2008, are serving with The United States Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands; working with The Office of the Prosecutor, Special Court for Sierra Leone, where they are supporting the Charles Taylor trial team; and assisting the United States Department of State, Office of the Assistant Legal Advisor for Private International Law. 

These students follow in the footsteps of other Vanderbilt law students who have taken advantage of substantive international legal externships during 2006, including service with the United States Embassy in Vientiane, Laos; several students who have worked with The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia trial teams; two students who assisted The British Institute of International and Comparative Law in London; and summer externships with the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway, Ireland; The International Trade and Development Agency in Washington D.C., and The International and Operational Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, United States Army.


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