YIDA Intern Shares His Perspectives on 7th COSP
By Daniel Van Sant
Daniel Van Sant is one of eight participants in the 2014 Youth in International Development and Affairs (YIDA) internship program. He and other YIDA interns will be writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with the YIDA program this summer, to be posted at this blog. USICD coordinates the YIDA internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area. Daniel Van Sant is completing his YIDA internship at the DC office of Human Rights Watch. Learn more about the YIDA internship program at http://usicd.org/template/page.cfm?id=257. Read Daniel Van Sant’s biography, and the biography of other YIDA interns in the summer 2014 program, at http://usicd.org/template/page.cfm?id=269. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD.
When my boss at Human Rights Watch emailed me prior to starting my position there and asked me to fill out the security forms for the United Nations, I was so excited to have that opportunity, even though I didn’t know what to expect. The actual experience of participating in the Conference of State Parties (COSP) to the Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was beyond what I could have imagined. It wasn’t just the fact that I was meeting some of the biggest disability law and policy makers from around the world, but I had a chance to speak with them, learn from them, and listen to their ideas and advice.
Some of this advice was theoretical. I was able to hear about the current problems and successes of the disability field in different countries, in different NGOs, from various perspectives. I think one of the strongest impressions that the COSP left on me was this vision of people with all kinds of disabilities from all over the world working together to advance a single cause. Sure, the work everyone is doing in their home countries or in their specific organizations might differ vastly from one another, but the end goal is the same. I felt a powerful connection to the global disability movement that has left an indelible mark on me.
Some of the advice I received was practical. Though everyone I spoke to treated me like a peer, they were still very forthcoming with their practical advice for a young professional who is still finishing law school and participating in internships. Some of the greatest policy and legal minds in the field actually sat down with me and gave me advice on what classes to take, opportunities to look for, organizations to get involved with, and other tidbits to success that they have from years in their careers.
One aspect of the COSP and the Civil Society CRPD Forum that was particularly interesting for me was participating in some of the side events put on by civil society organizations from different countries. During these events, I was able to learn about what projects and issues are going on in various parts of the world. Specifically, I attended a session put on by the Japan Disability Forum, the Permanent Mission of Japan, and the Permanent Mission of Poland that addressed good practices and experience of civil society participation in ratification and implementation to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as well as how civil society can work together with governments on the issue of implementation.
I also attended a forum on Disability–Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience organized by DESA and Co-Sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Japan; UNISDR, UNESCAP; Rehabilitation International; The Nippon Foundation; Japanese Disability Forum; Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES). The organizations from Japan spoke about the 2012 natural disaster in Fukushima, and how a disproportionate amount of deaths caused by the tsunami were people with disabilities. The speakers commented on lessons learned from this experience, what disaster preparedness plans Japan is making to avoid this from happening in the future, and how Japan is helping other countries in the region develop inclusive plans for natural disasters.
As part of my internship, I also publicized, attended, and assisted with three side events that Human Rights Watch either organized or presented at. These events gave Human Rights Watch, as well as other participating organizations, the chance to speak about the work they are doing through certain case studies. I was able to learn about disability and development in Indonesia, Tajikistan, and Ethiopia in one event. And in another side event, I learned about the status of women, children, and youth with disabilities in Uganda, Zambia, India, Japan and Russia. It was really interesting to see how these countries, though very different, were learning from and cooperating with each other to try to improve the lives of people with disabilities in each of their countries.
The opportunity to participate in the COSP at this point in my career was an incredible one. It was really motivating for me to see people who have dedicated their lives to improving the conditions for people with disabilities around the world. My experience at the UN, the contacts that I made, the things I learned, and the memories I have are ones that will be with me the rest of my career.