2L’s passion takes her to Rwanda for the summer
Last summer, at the end of a stint as a summer associate at a Columbus law firm, Amable Bunry ’15’s supervisor, the firm’s hiring partner, sat her down for a frank talk about her future. She told Bunry, “We really enjoyed having you here, but we think you should go pursue your passion. You seem so vested in Africa. Go try it out. If you don’t like it, let us know.”
Then, the supervisor added, “I don’t want you to settle with us. Being here would be settling.”
Those words took Bunry by surprise and inspired her to apply for, and accept, an internship this past summer in Kigali, Rwanda, with the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). While there, she reported to the UN’s senior human rights advisor, Chris Mburu, and worked primarily on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process for Rwanda’s human rights review by the Human Rights Council (HRC) in October 2015.
Bunry grew up in Yaounde, Cameroon, and came to the U.S. in 2006, after graduating from high school. At the time, she was only familiar with one city – Boston – because she occasionally played a team member of the Boston Celtics in a childhood Nintendo video game. And she is a still huge Boston Celtics fan. So that’s where she decided to study. Bunry studied business administration and management for two and half years at Bunker Hill Community College before completing her B.S. in accounting and finance at Northeastern University in 2009. She decided to pursue a law degree, she said, to broaden her knowledge base, and to lay the groundwork for a career in international legal matters.
In Rwanda, Bunry ‘s job was “to help Rwandan officials implementing UPR recommendations,” Bunry said, “which entailed looking at the reports and then, recommending what more could be done to ”check off a mark and that says this recommendation has been completed.”
According to the UN’s website, UPR involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states, and allows each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights conditions in their countries since their past review – and fulfill their remaining human rights obligations. Improvements include access or justice for disabled citizens, access to jobs, clean water, etc.
Bunry also provided support to Rwandan non-governmental organizations and trained them on how to assess human rights conditions in their country, and how the UN human rights approach works. She participated in a lot of conferences and workshops, and taught the organizations how to file reports for the UPR.
“Human rights, to me, is a passion,” Bunry said, “but very few people get to make a career out of their passion.” While talking to locals, government officials, and nonprofit leaders, Bunry was inspired by the tremendous progress she says the previously war-torn country has undergone in recent years. “We all know that Rwanda came out of genocide 20 years ago, in 1994,” she said. “The country itself has since undergone a transformation like none other. You would think the country would have lived at the mercy of international organizations, but that is not the case. These are proud people. These are people who have said, ‘This will never happen again.’ And they’ve invested in the future of their country.”
One important skill Bunry said she honed during her internship was how to be more diplomatic – particularly when it came to explaining what it meant to be a human rights advocate.
“If you say you are a human rights advocate in Africa, people look at you like, ‘Really? What are human rights?’ Bunry said. “And it’s not that they don’t know – there’s just this sense of the West telling Africans what to do without any regard to what the orders and the structures that are in place in their countries.”
Instead of telling people how she personally defined human rights, she asked them to explain to her what human rights meant to them. “I think as human rights advocates, we have not done a good job of communicating to people what that means,” she added. “I had to brainstorm about how I could make human rights sound appealing. To sell human rights to the people, we probably have to rename it.”
After law school, Bunry, who has lived in the US for eight years now, said she hopes to work on international cases at a U.S. law firm for a few years, and then sometime in the future open her own firm one day in Africa.
“The mindset in Africa is different now,” she said. “People want to move past tribalism and corruption… I think African countries are ready to do business.”