Working at the intersection of two pandemics

By Maria Smith ‘22

As a 2020 Chayes International Public Service Fellow, I am spending this summer working at the Digital Freedom Fund (DFF), a Berlin-based NGO dedicated to advancing and protecting digital rights in Europe, to focus on the intersection of technology in two converging pandemics: coronavirus and systemic racism and discrimination. I had the privilege to work at DFF before law school and, albeit from across the Atlantic this time, have been fortunate to hit the ground running this summer.
DFF launched the COVID-19 Litigation Fund to support strategic cases challenging digital rights violations committed in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. From tracking avenues for potential legal challenges against privacy-eroding biosurveillance and contact tracing apps, to defining cross-jurisdictional frameworks for information requests to help expose the discriminatory makeup and application of AI systems, I have had an incredible opportunity to practice and hone my legal research and writing skills in the context of some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Some of my longer-term projects include tracking past and ongoing litigation, globally, on the topic of AI and policing/surveillance. I am also mapping potential opportunities across European jurisdictions for strategic litigation around COVID-19-related topics (privacy, freedom of expression, etc.) that have yet to be commenced. The rights of migrants and refugees, for example, are being infringed in the context of the pandemic but have yet to be tied to digital rights through litigation.

I have also had a chance to collaborate with former colleagues from HLS’s Cyberlaw Clinic around a tech and human rights report released by the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. It continues to be a privilege to learn from the entire team at DFF.

Exploring international trade law

Screen shot of a student's PowerPoint presentation

By Ji Soo Janet Park ’22

I just finished my fifth week as a Chayes International Public Service Fellow, working remotely with the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), located in Vienna, Austria. UNCITRAL is the core legal body of the UN system in the field of private international law, and more specifically, of international trade and investment. As an intern, I conduct legal research, draft memos, research papers, and sections for future incorporation into the UNCITRAL Secretariat’s Working Papers, and perform comparative analyses of national and international laws and regulations against UNCITRAL’s own rules and model laws.

Janet Park When I began my internship on May 21, I immersed myself in the world of international trade law right away, as I received my first assignment right after orientation on the same day. My task involved a comparative analysis of the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation, and the UNCITRAL Conciliation Rules for Working Group II (Arbitration and Conciliation / Dispute Settlement). This project was undertaken in light of India’s new position as a signatory to the UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements as of 2019.

Upon completion of my first project and presentation of my findings to the other interns and my supervisor, I dove right into my second project with Working Group III (Investor-State Dispute Settlement Reform). In light of growing concerns surrounding the size and scale of interest awards in international investment arbitrations, I conducted legal research on various databases to learn about the types of interest that have been awarded by investment tribunals, as well as the rationale behind each approach, which eventually culminated in a 40-page research paper. Throughout the research process, I found it fascinating to learn about the ways in which interest awards are discussed by scholars, arbitrators, and the parties to the dispute, all through a different lens. Also, the more I researched, the more I appreciated the complexity of the issue and the difficulty of balancing the competing interests of the stakeholders. As a student deeply interested in treaty negotiations and bilateral/multilateral trade agreements, I especially found the research and the work incredibly fulfilling and am further inspired to pursue my career goal of international public service.

Despite numerous difficulties associated with COVID-19 and a remote internship (one of which is the time difference, as Vienna is six hours ahead of New Jersey, where I live), I have nonetheless been pleasantly surprised by the amount of meaningful work that I have been able to perform. I truly appreciate the multicultural and diverse environment of an intergovernmental body, which allows me to learn from the other interns about the legal systems and issues related to international trade law of the countries of their citizenship (e.g., Turkey, Canada, Brazil, and China) during the daily interns’ meetings on Skype. I have enjoyed engaging in substantive debates with my supervisor about my proposed revisions to the current treaty language of bilateral investment treaties (BITs) as well.


Meet the 2020 Chayes Fellows

The Chayes International Public Service Fellowships are dedicated to the memory of Professor Abram Chayes ’49, who taught at Harvard Law School for more than 40 years. Professor Chayes was a leading authority on international law, and throughout his career, as a lawyer, arbitrator and legal advisor, he took on notable cases arising from military and paramilitary activities in Nicaragua, boundary disputes in Africa, and the genocide in Kosovo, among many others.

Accordingly, these fellowships provide Harvard Law School students with the opportunity to spend eight weeks during the summer working with governmental or non-governmental organizations concerned with issues of an international scope or relevant to countries in transition. Chayes Fellows’ projects can take a variety of forms, but could focus on the development of legal, political, social, and economic institutions, constitutional and legal issues in emerging democracies, or reconstruction of war-torn societies, among others.

This summer, 24 Chayes Fellows students will work with organizations based in 12 countries. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and limitations on travel, some of the 2020 Fellows are conducting their work in the United States or remotely.

Read biographies submitted by the students.

Finding a new approach to summer work abroad

Every summer, the Chayes International Public Service Fellowships provide a group of HLS students with the opportunity to spend eight weeks working with governmental or non-governmental organizations concerned with issues of an international scope or relevant to countries in transition. In keeping with the Fellowship’s mandate, almost all of their placements take place abroad.

Inevitably, the coronavirus pandemic has led to many changes. In addition to adjusting to remote learning and settling into new living situations, the 2020 Chayes Fellows have all found it necessary to re-examine their summer plans, consider alternatives, and find ways to still engage in substantive legal work with an international focus.

In a Q&A on Harvard Law Today, two of the Fellows — Chetna Beriwala (left) and Krupa Patel (right — discuss the changes, and challenges, in their plans.

(Photos courtesy of Chetna Beriwala and Krupa Patel)