Graduate selected as international human rights court intern
A recent graduate who is deeply committed to helping immigrants, women and children is Seattle University School of Law's first intern with Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. Maria Fernanda Parra-Chico, who graduated in May, will be the only American among 23 interns this winter. Others chosen come from throughout Latin America and Europe.
She will work at with the court from October to March. The Inter-American Court is one of only two active international human rights courts in the world. It has binding jurisdiction over states throughout the Americas. There are no appeals from court judgments and decisions.
Parra-Chico is grateful for the opportunity to work closely on cases of human rights violations. Like many public interest internships, the selection process is highly competitive. A bar loan and the support of her family make it possible for her to pursue this invaluable, but unpaid, position.
"When it comes to public interest, we're all out there fighting for the same jobs," she said. "I was sure I wanted to do something in human rights, so I stopped my job search early and started looking for human rights internships."
Professor Tom Antkowiak, who was a senior staff attorney for the Inter-American Court and completed an internship when he was a law student, negotiated an agreement that guarantees a spot for a Spanish-speaking Seattle University law student - a coveted opportunity. Antkowiak, who joined the faculty just a year ago, also took two students to argue before the Inter-American Court this summer.
"It's become a global competition to get these international internships," he said. "I think this will be a great experience for SU law students interested in international law. You get to see up close how a human rights tribunal works, addressing real cases involving human rights violations from all over the hemisphere."
He says Parra-Chico, who volunteered with and was a student in his International Human Rights Clinic, is an outstanding choice to be the law school's first intern.
"She has tremendous energy and a wonderful commitment to human rights," he said.
Born in Mexico, Parra-Chico moved to the United States when she was 3, but has maintained close ties to Central and South America. She is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Portuguese. Her family is from Guanajuato, Mexico, where her grandfather was a federal judge. She will spend a month living with her family in Mexico, auditing a course at the law school in Guanajuato and brushing up on her Spanish "legalese" before beginning her work with the court.
She says she has known all her life what she wanted to do. Many of her family members, including her mother, are attorneys.
"Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a lawyer and do this kind of work," she said. "I was raised with a Jesuit mentality of helping others. I was privileged to spend a lot of time in South America and got an inside view of how many people live. Seeing that kind of poverty and realizing how blessed I was, it didn't feel right to me to not do anything."
She interned at Millar & Smith, an immigration law firm where she hopes to work when she returns from Costa Rica. As a student, she co-founded the Society for Immigrant and Refugee Justice, wrote an article for Seattle Journal for Social Justice and was honored by Hate Free Zone for outstanding leadership in advancing civil and immigrant rights.
She also started a website to showcase stories of women, children and immigrants living in unsatisfactory conditions.