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UN interns strike over pay, diversity

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United Nations interns at the Khmer Rouge tribunal stage a protest yesterday. Photo supplied

UN interns strike over pay, diversity

United Nations interns at the Khmer Rouge tribunal went on strike yesterday, challenging the fairness of unpaid internships and saying they limit the court’s diversity.

The action was part of a global intern strike, and today’s release of a UN Interns Report from the Fair Internship Initiative, which found 64 percent of the global body’s interns hailed from high-income countries.

An internal survey of 26 interns at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia found similar results, and that 60 percent relied on money from their families to take what is often seen as a crucial first step in their international criminal law careers. One of them, Australian law student and strike participant Rashmi Chary, said she would not have been able to undertake her six-month internship without the financial support of her family.

“Interning at the UN is a privilege, literally,” she said. “I’ve been in a fortunate position to be able to save and have support from family, but there are bright, brilliant students from other parts of the world who don’t even get to be in that position.”

Interns at the tribunal spent an average of $280 on rent each month, and their cost of living was up to $1,000 per month. Relocation costs varied between $300 and $3,000.

Chary said the half-day strike was not about “spoiled interns” asking for money, but was done in solidarity with those who were financially precluded from getting a foot in the door. “There’s a lack of access to opportunity . . . and as a result, there’s a lack of diversity,” she said.

Tribunal spokeswoman Hayat Abu-Saleh declined to comment. International Co-Prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian, however, said “ideally” interns should be paid, and his office relies “heavily” on their work. “They put in long hours and sometimes are asked to work weekends. Without their labor and talents we would not be able to produce filings of the same detail and quality,” he said via email.

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