By Shaquana Desiderio/ Gallup Independent Staff writer
GALLUP—Hannah Rodriguez always dreamed of traveling the world, and when the opportunity came to participate in this year’s Model International Criminal Court Mock trials in Krzyzowa, Poland, she jumped on it.
Rodriguez, a junior at Middle College High School, was among eight students in New Mexico to participate in this year’s MICC trials, which Rodriguez said was the best experience of her young life.
“It was a really great experience,” Rodriguez said during an interview Thursday. “I learned a lot about law, but also about human rights, too. The trip taught me a lot about morals – about right and wrong – and that’s something that I personally took away from this trip.”
Each year, for the past five years, the New Mexico Human Rights Projects recruits eight New Mexico students to participate in the MICC trials in Poland. During this trip, students explore professional roles of prosecutors, lawyers, judges, and journalists to learn about contemporary cases of human rights violations.
This year, students immersed themselves in three historical cases that occurred in Germany, Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Rodriguez, who was on the defense team, learned a lot about Rwandan singer/songwriter Simon Bikindi who she found particularly interesting.
“The case we examined that took place in Rwanda was a case about Simon Bikindi and we had to try him (Bikindi) for the songs that he wrote and it was interesting because, Simon Bikindi, himself, never hurt anybody in the Rwandan trial. He just wrote these songs that talked about genocide,” she said, adding, “I mean, you’re basically defending someone who is responsible for genocide so I thought that I was interesting that the trip really pushed you past your boundaries and brought you outside of your comfort zone.”
The Model International Criminal Court is a program that aims to teach core principles of the international criminal court, which according to their website, develops mechanisms for the protection of human rights and rules of warfare.
During this 10-day program – that occurred in November – students are given a case and a role to play. MICC refers to this as “simulations” in which students debate and question issues relating to international criminal law and human rights.
Learning New Skills
For Rodriguez, violations of human rights – particularly of a violation of freedom of speech – is especially prevalent in every country, including the United States.
“I think this problem is prevalent here too, especially with the internet where you can express thoughts clearly and freely, and it speaks. So, do we block certain things? Do we let everyone speak their minds, even if it’s going to be hateful? Do we let people say what they want to say, or do we repress that?” she said, adding, “It’s a very tricky situation and its tricky on both sides.”
These skills, according to Rodriguez, have helped shape her mindset making her more open to other cultures.
“It was interesting listening to students from different cultures and other peoples’ different points of views. I learned a lot about where they come from and how other students interact with one another,” she said. “I learned to always have an open mind and always continue seeing things from different perspectives.”
Each student, according to Rodriguez, also had the opportunity to sight-see, which included a tour of the Holocaust museum.
“It was interesting to see the history of World War II and the people impacted by it. It was definitely a culture change for me,” she said.
Rodriguez plans to take this information she has learned and perhaps pursue a profession in which she can advocate for human rights in the future.
“I definitely want to look for more opportunities to go overseas and meet new people while also discussing things like human rights. I plan to really open up my mind to new things and experiences,” Rodriguez said.
While a career in law is not her first choice, Rodriguez plans to attend college abroad.
“I want to go to college. I’m not sure for what yet, but I definitely want to go overseas and study abroad to learn another language,” she said.
Rodriguez hopes other students at her school will participate in this program in the future.
“The opportunities are there. You just have to look for them and you can get them. I want to tell students that someone from Gallup, like me, can go out there and travel the world,” she said.