Feelin’ Like a Hypocrite: Interning for USAID While the U.S. Commits Human Rights Violations Here at Home

Hello/Hallo/Guten Tag,

It’s been too long since we last met. I’ve had a lot of words floating around in my head, but I’ve just really sucked at making myself sit down to write about them. Alas, I’ll do better in the coming weeks, and I promise to blog at least once a week from here on out (and I will plan to write at least three times a week; sometimes life just gets in the way.)

So, this blog is going to be a little different. At times it gets a little heavy, and might make you a little uncomfortable. But, I warned you that sometimes I’d be sharing my political commentary and thoughts about the goings on in the world. That’s what this is.

If you came to this post to learn tips and tricks about law school and legal internships, or just to check in on my activities abroad, this one might not be for you. I won’t be upset if you click off. But, I do hope you’ll stay, and share your thoughts and comments below because this is something that’s been weighing on my soul the last few weeks.

If you’ve been following my blog so far, then you know I am completing my legal internship in Kosovo. I am interning for the United States Agency for International Development’s Justice System Strengthening Program. So, I’m in Kosovo (actually right this second I’m in Germany for my study abroad program, but I’ll be back in Kosovo soon) interning for a project whose goal is to strengthen the justice system and the rule of law in Kosovo. When reflecting on this mission, I am simultaneously very proud to be doing what I believe truly is good work, and quite disgusted that the U.S. government is running around in Kosovo helping to strengthen their justice system when it’s so obvious we are having a moral breakdown over the application of rule of law within our own country.

We’re literally pulling breastfeeding babies away from their mothers at the border and throwing them in separate detention centers that look like internment camps……and yet somehow we’re qualified to aid Kosovo in strengthening its justice system? What a joke.

Now, of course, the rational part of me knows that this is a gross oversimplification. I know that the people on the ground in USAID are good people. The people in my program are good people. They sought out government employment to work in international development because they felt they could promote good and positive change in the world by spreading democratic ideals. I know these people, these individuals, are separate from the institution. I know that even the institution of USAID is separate from the federal government in that its everyday operations are not dictated by President Trump or by Jeff Sessions, and that their immigration decisions and other U.S. justice system failings in reality have nothing to do with the work I’m doing.

But….sometimes it’s extremely difficult to note this separation. I’ve met with various stakeholders in Kosovo while researching my project on judicial responses to domestic violence, and most officials I’ve met with have extreme reverence for the United States. They’ve visited Atlanta, NYC, LA, or even parts of North Carolina in order to attend conferences and trainings relevant to their fields. They were so excited to talk to me about the immense improvements they’ve made since the war, and almost moreso to tell me about the developments they wish to emulate from the United States. They loved sharing what they learned from a city in North Carolina that was doing amazing things to re-integrate DV victims, and that they hoped to implement similar measures in Kosovo. They loved talking about how Kosovo was finally developing something similar to our Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and what a difference that would make in their judicial system.

And while my first reaction is always one of pride, and maybe slight embarrassment at how much some people seem to fan girl over our legal system…..a slow, uneasy feeling always creeps up immediately after, and I can’t help but want to point out all of our failings as well. Yes, that city in North Carolina is doing a spectacular job in handling its domestic violence cases. But, it wouldn’t need to if domestic violence wasn’t such a prevalent issue, and regardless of that, the systems and programs they use are certainly not the norm of the United States as a whole.

In fact, in the United States, the number of American women murdered by a current or ex partner between the years 2001-2012 was 11,766. The number of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during that time was 6,488. That means nearly twice as many women were murdered by their partners on our soil than there were casualties of war abroad during this time.  1 in 4 American women will suffer severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner during her lifetime. 1 in 3 American women will suffer rape, physical violence, or stalking from an intimate partner during her lifetime. These numbers are devastating, and they leave us in a place no better than Kosovo in regards to domestic and gender based violence.

So, domestic violence isn’t just an issue in Kosovo. It’s a huge issue in the United States. Their judicial system glitches aren’t unique to them, either. One huge barrier to proper sentencing in Kosovo is judicial attitudes towards victims of domestic violence/victim blaming. This is also an issue in the U.S. Remember how Brock Turner was only sentenced to 6 months (and released from jail after only serving 3) for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster? Yeah, that was a judicial failing due to judicial attitudes about men and their place in society vs women who suffer violence. Thi case is not a unique one in the United States; men are let off every day with short or suspended sentences even after it’s proven they were physically or sexually abusive. Protective orders are violated in the United States just like in Kosovo. We share many of the same issues in this area.

Knowing this makes its hard to return the smile of captains who say they have far to go, but that they’re striving to catch up with the U.S. I’m damn proud to be an American, and yet, these sentiments don’t fill me with pride. In fact, they often make me cringe. It’s not my hope that they catch up to the U.S. It’s my hope that they do better. Because unfortunately, in this area,  we are not currently in a place to set the standard. I hope that we soon will be. I know that we can be. But I know we must do better, and that it’s not just Kosovo’s justice system that needs to be strengthened.

“Patriotism can be good or bad. Knee-jerk patriotism can be very bad. I’m patriotic almost to the point of self consciousness, but I love my country the way I love a friend or child who I would correct if she was going the wrong way. Who I expect the very best from.”-Emmylou Harris




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