Julie Thomas talks about working as a volunteer for human rights “here and over there”

 

Julie Thomas

Julie Thomas is one of a number of volunteers who contribute their skills and experience to the work of AEDH. Julie is studying law and political science and has been a volunteer with us for nearly two years. On top of that she worked with one of our partners in Togo, for a month this year.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

JT: I am a third year student in political studies at the University "Lyon 2" in Lyon. At the same time I am doing a degree in law that I expect to finish next year. I am studying these two subjects as I hope to work in the area of international law. In the latter my particular interests are human rights and international criminal law.

What made you decide to become a volunteer at AEDH? What have been your main activities there?

JT: During my first year of university studies, the subject seemed pretty abstract and I had not worked out what my professional aims were. I wanted to find out more about law, and I also wanted to do something useful in my free time. While I was looking for a suitable legal organisation, I was told about AEDH. I got in touch and very quickly started work on urgent appeals coming to AEDH. We receive alerts about human rights abuses from all over the world, many of which come to us from the World Organisation against Torture and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. My job was, and is, to pass on these denunciations to the authorities of the country concerned and to the relevant international bodies. I do a précis of the denunciations and try to make them as telling as possible for the people addressed. I found this work absolutely fascinating while at the same time helping me to have a much clearer understanding of the political and human rights situations in a wide variety of countries.

Where did you get the idea of going to Togo?

JT: Well, it’s really a development of my work in Lyon. I wanted to go and work on the ground to meet the promoters of human rights. I asked the team at AEDH which local partners I could contact, because I wanted to work locally and not with one of the major international NGOs. I contacted CACIT (The Collective of Associations against Impunity in Togo) a partner of AEDH that had already accepted volunteers. CACIT agreed to take me on and I spent August 2014 working with them in Togo.

What does CACIT do?

JT: CACIT was created in 2005 following the seizure of power by Faure Gnassingbe – the son of the previous President Eyadema Gnassingbe. The transfer of power between father and son had resulted in protests that were put down violently by the army, with the deaths of several hundred people, and all with total impunity. CACIT’s activities expanded rapidly to cover the promotion and the protection of human rights, including women’s prisoners’ tights, the fight against torture and the promotion of Transitional Justice. When I arrived in Togo the Director of CACIT explained its activities and I chose to work on transitional Justice and Reconciliation. CACIT was just starting a project on this theme with support from the International Organisation for Francophone Countries (OIF). I took an active part in the organisation of a three day seminar for twenty five representatives of Togolese civil society. The aim of the seminar was for the participants to return to their own organisations with an action plan to set up their own projects for transitional justice. I was also involved in editing documents for secondary school students.

How did you find this experience, and what plans do you have for the future?

JT: I really enjoyed my time in Togo. I got on well with the people at CACIT. I was welcomed and integrated into the team, and I used my free time at the weekends to visit the region and to get to know the other volunteers. It was a great experience and from the professional point of view, it helped me see that what I really wanted to do was to become a lawyer rather than a project manager.

 

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