2017 Internship Fellow Spotlight: Melisa Jahic


HRI Summer 2017 Internship Fellow, Melisa Jahic, tell us about her internship experience at the Croatian Mediation Center, in Zagreb, Croatia

My name is Melisa Jahic, and I am a senior majoring in Finance, and minoring in Sociology. I have always had an interest in human rights work, which is how I found myself in this internship. Throughout my Sociology coursework, I found myself learning a lot about human rights, as well. Although I have always been involved with activism, upon completing multiple sociology courses at UConn, I found myself much more equipped to deal with real world issues, as I had much more in my tool belt. This summer I had the opportunity to intern in Zagreb, Croatia at the Croatian Mediation Center (HUM). This wonderful experience taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and I am extremely thankful to the Human Rights Institute for allowing me to travel overseas to expand my knowledge of international human rights.

In the conference room of the Croatian Mediation Association

Before immersing myself in the realm of mediation, I had not even thought twice about mediation being considered a human rights issue. However, throughout my time in Zagreb, I learned that mediation and access to fast and reliable legal help are actually extremely high on the list when discussing human rights issues. Croatia is currently rebuilding its country, along with most other Balkan countries, after the war ended in the early 90’s. Due to the war, their infrastructure was lacking, as well as their ability to promptly deal with legal issues and cases. Today, it takes roughly 10-15 years to solve a case, even employment cases which are usually settled out of court in the United States fairly quickly. Many lawyers and attorneys in Croatia began realizing that this type of legal system was failing its people, and they began working towards something better.

Upon meeting with the president of HUM, as well as my supervisor, Suzana, I was introduced to the world of mediation. I learned that unlike in the United States, mediation is still in its beginning stages in Croatia. Because it is just now becoming a reliable way to deal with legal problems, many people still believe the stigma that it will not actually solve any of their problems. In Croatia, the word for mediation (mirenje) almost directly translates to “peace,” which makes many people stray away from mediation, because they believe some things cannot be settled in a peaceful way. This being said, HUM’s main goal is to educate people on the benefits of mediation, and how it can truly help almost any case.

Throughout my internship, I was blessed to have a supervisor who believed that having the interns meet daily with different mediation organizations was the best way for us to learn about mediation in Croatia. Each day, we walked through the city of Zagreb stopping at multiple organizations and meeting the people who are working daily to create a more peaceful environment in Croatia, whilst at the same time educating people on the use of mediation in legal battles. Because I met with roughly 15 organizations, I will simply discuss a few of my favorites.

The organization that stood out the most to me was the Forum for Freedom and Education. We were able to meet with both the head of the organization, as well as her assistant. The FFE works with children throughout all of the schools in Zagreb, in hopes of spreading mediation through the younger generations so it is less stigmatized as they grow older. They start with children as young as 7 years old, and teach them small ways of implementing mediation in their daily lives, such as talking through disagreements and using their feelings as stepping stones to solve small issues. This organization really struck me because I believe that educating younger generations is the best way to see future results. Not only did they meet with students, they held seminars for teachers so that they themselves could instruct their students, as well. Because it is difficult to keep the attention of multiple children, they also created fun ways for them to get involved, such as creating a film festival that allowed the students to create all-inclusive films that would then be voted on, and the best film would be chosen to represent the FFE each year. We were able to watch a few of the films, and they really took my breath away. The film that really caught my eye was created by a group of 10 year olds, and discussed the increasing need to allow Syrians to seek refuge all over the world. After leaving this organization, I found myself inspired to work with children to push the human rights agenda, as well as teach them to be kind to all.

 

The second meeting that really gave me hope was at an attorney’s office. We were able to meet with two attorneys who work right in the city of Zagreb, and have been pushing for mediation throughout the entire country. Before meeting with these two, I couldn’t really see how a lawyer could do well with mediation, because frankly I found the two things to be opposing each other. Lawyers are more factual, while mediators are more thoughtful and understand that feelings are important in solving issues. After speaking with them, I saw that they each had a little bit of both sides to them. Petar explained to us that it is important to be level headed, as well as understanding in this line of work, because only focusing on one type of work, whether it be mediating or litigating, causes you to lose sight of the fact that this is a legal issue between two real people. They both told us that our best option in this type of field was to start with law and then incorporate mediation as we go. I found speaking to them to be very helpful in light of my future endeavors with legal work.

To say that I had an extremely enriching experience in Zagreb is an understatement. I met with people who changed my beliefs about the scope of human rights work, as well as those who helped me hone in on what I want to do with my future. Not only did I have fun while working, but I learned more than I had anticipated. I was able to meet students from another country and compare experiences with them; I sat in on a mediation and saw exactly how one takes place; I translated multiple legal documents which allowed me to see the differences between American documents and Croatian documents. I simply had the best summer of my life, and I truly do feel like a better person because of it. I was blessed to have gotten an opportunity like this, and I would urge anyone who has the ability to partake in an experience like this to jump right into it!

 

This internship fellowship was made possible with generous funding from the Victor Schachter ’64 Rule of Law Award.