Isaac van Aelstyn ’21

The Guernica Group, G37 Despacho Internacional, Spain

The Guernica Team in our Madrid office (I’m on the far right).

This summer, I had the great privilege of working with the Guernica 37 International Law Office in Madrid, a law firm focused on international human rights law, accountability and transitional justice. Being a small and relatively young organization, Guernica took me on to work closely with one other summer intern and four junior lawyers on a range of projects and cases. There was no established intern or training program, but in some ways it was more enriching to be dropped into the day-to-day functioning of an organization conducting such a wide range of important work.

On my first day, after observing my director argue a case in court, I was tasked with adding substance to the organization’s web page by writing descriptions of their work in different parts of the world. Before long I was helping with the case of the 1989 Salvadoran Jesuit murders. The work for this monumental prosecution hit the office like a storm, and my job was to help bolster the case against two specific soldiers by looking through documents for information that might have been missed. Much of this work, in addition to communicating with my coworkers, required me to exercise my Spanish and am grateful for the chance to improve my language skills.

Me and my fellow intern, Julián.

The Madrid office (called G37 Despacho Internacional, in Spanish) is one wing of The Guernica Group, which encompasses centers in Madrid, London, and San Francisco. Because I was already going to Edinburgh in July for my sister’s university graduation, I was also able to schedule a week of work at the London office, Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers. Here, I was tasked with research on Sri Lanka: I had to look through UN reports and news stories for things that could help prove the Sri Lankans committed genocide against the Tamil people in 2009—a difficult leap from simply “crimes against humanity.” I also accompanied the director of the London office to a meeting with another law firm regarding transitional justice measures in Rwanda. The practice of law in England is quite different from that in Spain, so I found it very rewarding to get a taste of both.

My final project this summer was on the topic of human trafficking. Spain is a heavy destination for human trafficking from Africa and Eastern Europe, and Guernica is looking for a way in on the prosecution side. I compiled information and sources to create a 20-page preliminary report, under the guidance of my director. Although this was my most independent project and it taught me a great deal about human trafficking and the mechanisms in place to deal with it nationally and internationally; I had more fun with projects that allowed me to work more closely with my coworkers. From the day I arrived, they were all very welcoming, and it was immediately clear that they are passionately dedicated to their work. It inspired me to see that amidst so much darkness in the world, there are good people working behind the scenes to bring light. I carried this feeling throughout the summer, and it constantly encouraged me to work hard in helping the organization accomplish its goals.

Toby Cadman and me having dinner with the London-based team

As a political science major considering law, taking part in this struggle against power and learning about the tension between sovereignty and universal principles was a fascinating experience. I learned a lot through my work, but also just from the incredible people around me who are immersed in this world. This is a big reason to express my gratitude to the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Sustainable Policy Internship Program: it allowed me to work at a place that could offer me the opportunity to take part in far reaching positive change. It was thrilling. I look back on this summer as an invaluable experience of growth and learning that I won’t soon forget. For this I am endlessly grateful.