This spring I had the honour to be part of an ELSA delegation and attend the 30 th session of the United Nations Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. As an aspiring human rights lawyer, I went to Geneva expecting to gain more experience on international decision-making at its highest level and learn more about how the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights operates.
But first, what exactly is ELSA delegation? ELSA delegation is a unique opportunity for its members to join sessions at international and intergovernmental organisations and learn more about a specific topic of international law. ELSA partners with a variety of organisations, such as the UN, Council of Europe and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development so you can easily find an interesting topic and session to apply for. The delegation usually consists of 5 people from all over the ELSA member countries. The job of the delegates is to represent ELSA during the session they are chosen for. Reading the material regarding the topics discussed in advance and taking notes during the session is something I highly encourage you to do since it made observing the session easier and helps to get more out of the experience.
My week as a delegate started when I arrived in Geneva on Sunday and met the other members of my delegation. They were from Norway, Poland and two from Italy. These four people were a crucial part of my delegation experience and it would not have been the same without them. We shared a flat together in the city centre, which is something I would recommend to all future delegates. This gave us the opportunity to exchange thoughts and opinions about the session we had attended earlier and really get to know each other. After our sessions, we also got to explore Geneva together, which included visits to some great sights such as the Palais des Nations.
Our days at the High Commissioners office at the Palais Wilson started at 10am and ended around 6pm. During our week in Geneva, we observed interactive dialogue between the Committee and four Member States of the Convention: Albania, Guatemala, Tajikistan and Libya. Our daily schedule was quite uniform. First the States’ representatives presented the Committee their national report. Then, the Committee members had an opportunity to ask the State delegation questions about the reports and raise other issues they were concerned about. Most of the question concerned special groups of migrants, such as children and women. Also, the Committee was concerned about exploitation, ill-treatment and violence that migrants and members of their families often experience especially if they are in an irregular situation. Because of these issues and the growing number of migrants it was eye-opening to get to experience in person of the important work the Committee is doing to improve and raise awareness of the issues regarding migrant workers and their families.
My experience as an ELSA delegate was so much more rewarding than I could have ever expected. I made four incredible life-long friends from the members of my delegation. I gained invaluable legal knowledge on migration issues and had the opportunity to meet leading experts in their fields from different cultures. I now have a better understanding of the UN’s structure and how the different bodies operate. My week in Geneva was unforgettable. I encourage you to apply to become an ELSA delegate. You will not regret it!
-Sofia Aalto-Setälä, ELSA Rovaniemi