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2022 Belgrade Centre for Human Rights Fellow

Isabella Preissle

Isabella Preissle
BA International Studies (International Security, Norms, and Cooperation);
BA Political Science ‘23
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights

“This past summer I spent a month in Belgrade, Serbia working with the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights. As an intern I assisted in three of the four programs at the Belgrade Centre: Asylum and Migration, Criminal Justice, and Rule of Law and Human Rights. Each week I was assigned a different project within the various programs through research and independent case analysis. Additionally, I authored my own report, which was published on Otvorena vrata pravosuđa (Open Doors of the Judiciary), on the repeal of Roe v Wade in the United States and its global implications. Working at the Centre and living in Belgrade was unlike any other experience I have had in my life, and it was an incredibly worthwhile opportunity.

The first project that I worked on happened almost by accident. It took a moment to settle into the internship and for the Centre to assign me projects within a program. Sonja Tošković, the Director of the Belgrade Centre, had asked if I could write a brief report on the environment in the United States after the Supreme Court repealed Roe v Wade. Initially, with no intent to pursue publishing the article, I wrote up a two-page summary of what the repeal meant for various US states, some of the state struggles for reproductive rights, and some of the key players in the decision. I also included some of the larger implications for the United States, such as the establishment of precedent to repeal other previous supreme court decisions and further limit access to reproductive healthcare for women. After sending it to Sonja and Dušan Pokuševski (the head of the Rule of Law Program), I added an additional section to the article highlighting global implications and reactions from international leaders. The article was translated into Serbian for publishing before it was put on the Otvorena Vrata Pravosuđa website. Open Doors of the Judiciary is an independent organization that the Belgrade Centre works closely with on goals and projects.

For my second week at the Belgrade Centre, I worked with the Criminal Justice program. For this project, I conducted research on extradition policy in the EU and compared it to existing policy in the EU. I read multiple human rights documents, extradition policy documents, and extradition cases from the EU and individual EU countries. My goal was to create a write-up on any normative regulations on the extradition within the EU to use as a base for new Serbian law. Extradition issues in relation to human rights was a relatively new project for the Belgrade Centre. While they had represented individuals seeking asylum in the past, in recent years Serbia has had a few high-profile extradition cases which brought this issue to the forefront of the Human Rights conversation in the country.

Research for the Criminal Justice program took a bit longer than expected. Despite taking multiple courses at the University of Michigan on international political relations, I had no experience in Criminal Law, Extradition, or anything close to what the criminal justice team was working on at the Belgrade Centre. However, after spending a few days on general research on extradition and reading case studies the research became much more clear.

During my last week or so in Belgrade I worked with the Asylum and Migration program. For this, I wrote an overview of the EU’s Action plan on Integration and Inclusion. I broke down the plan into the focus areas for inclusion efforts, the timeline included in the plan, and the overarching goals of the document. While Serbia is not a member of the EU, the Belgrade Centre frequently uses EU policy as a base for recommendations to the Serbian government. This work was more within my educational comfort zone, as many of my American courses highlighted refugee integration efforts. However, it was interesting to see the differences between EU policy and Serbian policies. Frequently being a bypass country for refugees, Serbian policies regarding integration tend to be less comprehensive than those of the large EU actors.

I finished up my work at the Belgrade Centre with the Criminal Justice program again. For the last few days, I wrote a brief write-up of an interim measure request. The Belgrade Centre writes many interim requests to stop deportation, and this was just additional practice work for me. This was a brief project to give me experience in what I would do if I chose to pursue international criminal law in the United States.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when traveling to Serbia. In fact, I had more than one moment where I asked myself how I ended up across the world working alone in Belgrade. It took quite a while for me to properly settle in and feel comfortable with the city, despite my previous experience living and traveling abroad. I was a bit frustrated with some of the language limitations and the actual internship work being a bit different than expected. However, I was able to meet with Nataša Gruden-Alajbegovic from the DHRC in my second week which really helped me settle in and relax a bit more. Being the first in-person intern from Michigan to work in Belgrade, it was a learning experience for everyone involved, and it took me a moment to adjust to that atmosphere. It was also my first true experience being completely alone in a city, living in a country where English isn’t the primary language, and where the culture wasn’t completely Western European.

Overall, this summer was unlike any that I had ever experienced. I was able to reevaluate my perception of how the rest of the world views the United States, better understand the implications of American domestic politics, and realize that a separation between international and domestic politics is a luxury reserved for only a few states. All the work that I did for the Belgrade Centre involved acknowledging European or international politics and every recommendation reflected that consideration.

One of the biggest realizations I had while in Serbia was the scope of Human Rights.  Americans tend to use terms like Civil Rights, Social Rights, or Healthcare Rights, instead of Human Rights. However, “Human Rights” shouldn’t be reserved for abuses committed across the ocean, but instead should be applied to everyday politics.

I would like to thank the University of Michigan, the Donia Human Rights Center, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, and everyone involved in this program for making this experience possible. It has shaped my perception of Human Rights, given me a more global perspective on issues, and was pivotal to my understanding of international politics.”