Interview with Catherine Fischl, Former Acting Head Human Rights & Rule of Law Department, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Presence in Albania
What does your role involve? What is a typical day for you?
I started at OSCE in the position of Senior Judicial Officer and my main responsibility in that role was to manage a large-scale project designed to improve efficiency in the Albanian District Courts (civil and criminal) by promoting dialogue between the various justice stakeholders (judges, lawyers, police, probation services), identifying changes which could be made to the civil procedure code and advocating for these. I was also responsible for developing new projects and providing comments on draft laws. Albania is currently undergoing a process of justice reform, involving the introduction of a series of new institutions and a vetting process for judges and OSCE played a key role in supporting this reform.
After a couple of months my boss left and so me and a colleague shared the role of Acting Head of Human Rights and Rule of Law Dept for the next year or so. In that role I was responsible for setting the strategy for the team, overseeing various projects relating to human rights and rule of law and approving spending within the department as well as representing the department at various events in country and abroad.
What was your route to your current role?
I worked as a criminal defence lawyer in the UK for five years and completed various trial monitoring projects in my spare time (including monitoring the trial of an Egyptian pro-democracy blogger in Cairo in 2014-15) before moving to Myanmar in mid-2015. Initially I worked as a consultant for a justice focused NGO in Yangon on trial monitoring projects before working as International Legal Specialist for the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. I then applied to OSCE and was employed by their Presence in Albania from September 2016.
What do you enjoy most about your job? What are the challenges?
Most importantly I found the work at OSCE very interesting – it was a chance to work on interesting topics at a time of great change in the justice sector in the country. I was also very lucky to work with motivated and interesting Albanian colleagues and, of course, to feel as though our team was making a difference. Challenges included dealing with the sometimes bureaucratic operation of the OSCE which is a very large organisation and also dealing with funding delays and issues which are frequent in this sector.
Do you have any words of advice for aspiring human rights professionals who want to pursue a similar career path?
These types of careers are really varied and so researching what types of areas you might be interested in is really important. I found voluntary work in my spare time whilst working as a lawyer a good way in as it allowed me to work at the same time, though I was lucky that my firm were supportive of this. I found this type of work (trial observation, online training provision, letter writing in support of those facing unfair trials) through NGOs and lawyers’ organisations. If you’re enthusiastic about an organisation’s work, write to them and see what opportunities they have!