Mark Dovich, BA Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies; BA Political Science '18; MA Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies ‘21
Human Rights First
During the summer of 2018, I spent eight weeks as a Foreign Policy Fellow working under Melissa Hooper at Human Rights First in Washington, D.C. I am deeply grateful to the Program in International and Comparative Studies (PICS) and the Donia Human Rights Center (DHRC) at the University of Michigan for providing funding for this experience.
Human Rights First (formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) is one of the oldest, leading human rights organizations in the U.S. It is considered one of the major international human rights organizations operating today. It was founded in 1978 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan, non-governmental organization (NGO). Human Rights First’s main office is located in New York City, with additional offices located in Washington, D.C., Houston, and Los Angeles. The organization’s central mission is to ensure that the U.S. remains a leading voice on human rights issues internationally. In so doing, the organization focuses primarily on conducting independent advocacy work, providing pro bono legal services to asylum seekers in the U.S., and conducting research on human rights developments abroad.
During my time at Human Rights First, I worked under Melissa Hooper on the foreign policy team. Joining Melissa and I on foreign policy issues were Rob Berschinski, Brian Dooley, and Susan Corke, all based in the New York office, as well as several co-interns. Given my Russian language background, my fellowship responsibilities centered on Russia-related work, although I did take advantage of the opportunity to explore and contribute to other aspects of Human Rights First’s foreign policy work as well. My work in general may be summed up as that of a research assistant focusing on foreign policy issues generally, with a specific focus on three Eastern European countries that Human Rights First is monitoring closely: Russia, Poland, and Hungary. In this capacity, I conducted research on democracy, rule of law, and human rights backsliding in these countries, as well as the broader region, and their ramifications for U.S. security and the strength of the transatlantic, NATO alliance.
I also had the opportunity to work on three long-term, Russia-related projects during my time at Human Rights First. First, I worked extensively on the Russia portfolio within Human Rights First’s sanctions work. Beginning in 2017, Human Rights First became the leading U.S.-based NGO working on the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act; in this capacity, the organization coordinates and liaises between U.S. and foreign NGOs, leading law firms providing pro bono services, and the U.S. Government in order to prepare individual sanctions cases against foreign individuals who have committed gross violations of human rights. For my part, I researched Russian and English media, read through and translated Russian legal documents, helped prepare the preliminary cases themselves, and conducted an in-depth impact analysis after the fact. Second, I worked with Human Rights First to begin a new project on Russia’s manipulation of the Interpol Red Notice system internationally. In this capacity, I conducted interviews in Russian and English, and wrote advocacy reports. Finally, I worked to conduct an extensive literature review on the topic of Russian malign influence in the U.S. and the increasing closeness of the U.S. evangelical right with the Russian Orthodox Church, which will be referenced by future Human Rights First researchers.
Reflecting back on my eight weeks at Human Rights First, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have received the Foreign Policy Fellowship position. One can only learn so much in the classroom, and translating my previous coursework on human rights and law in Eastern Europe into day-to-day action proved to be a deeply rewarding experience. It was also very rewarding to see firsthand some of the possible career paths available to those who study what I study and are passionate about what I am passionate about. My fellowship at Human Rights First has also convinced me of the importance both of the NGO sector in U.S. civil society more broadly and of human rights advocacy on the international stage. Regardless of where my career path takes me after graduation, after my time spent working with Human Rights First, I am certain that I will take with me not only a deep respect for the work that NGOs do, but also a better understanding of the critical importance of human rights advocacy in policymaking worldwide.