Reflections on Geneva

Over the winter break, I travelled to Geneva with 25 other Melbourne Law School students for the elective Institutions in International Law.This subject gives students the chance to consider the role of international institutions within the international legal order, while gaining valuable practical experience.

Rachel Walters in Geneva

Rachel Walters at the World Health Organization in Geneva

Over two weeks in Geneva we visited major international organisations such as the United Nations (UN), World Trade Organization and World Health Organization (WHO), where we met leading practitioners and diplomats. We also heard from smaller organisations who do fascinating work, such as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue – which mediates with rebel groups in war-torn countries to mitigate conflict – and Geneva Call, which encourages non-state armed actors to respect international humanitarian law.

For me, the most fascinating part of the course was discussing topical issues in international law with the people actually working on them. WHO lawyers told us what it was like dealing with the Ebola outbreak. We heard from staff at the International Organization for Migration handling the current refugee crisis, and from the Australian Permanent Mission to the UN about Australia’s bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council. We discussed Brexit with institutions experiencing its ramifications, and debated the challenges to intellectual property from new technology with Dr Francis Gurry, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

I loved the social aspect of the subject – our group grew close and it was fun getting to know students I hadn’t met previously. In our spare time we hiked up the Salève, a nearby mountain, picnicking at the top with views over Geneva and Mont Blanc. On the last day we caught the boat across Lac Léman to Yvoire, a beautiful little town in France. We lunched beside the lake with fresh crêpes, wine, cheese and ice-cream, and swam in the clear water.

Institutions in International Law provided an opportunity to gain a practical understanding of careers in international law, benefitting from our instructors’ connections in the field. We enjoyed fascinating discussions with international lawyers and diplomats, and each other. I am very grateful to Andrew Mitchell, Bruce Oswald and Tania Voon for creating this opportunity for students. It has been a highlight of my degree.

By Rachel Walters, JD student