In Their Own Words

In Their Own Words is a regular feature profiling HRI staff and volunteers who describe, in their own words, their experiences working in the field of human rights.

Sunil R. Varghese, Attorney, Asylum Program

Describe what you do at HRI.
I represent HRI clients who are seeking protection in the U.S. from being forcibly returned to countries where they fear they will be persecuted because of the race, religion, ethnicity, social group, or political opinion. I represent some clients directly, but the majority of my clients have volunteer attorneys that I train and supervise to take on their cases.

When did you join HRI?
June 29, 2009

How did you first become interested in human rights issues?
When I was in high school, I participated in competitive speaking events that focused on current events abroad. Preparing for these competitions exposed me to international human rights issues in depth for the first time. I ended up attending a Jesuit law school, where human rights classes and dedicated professors further developed my interest in the subject.

What do you think is the most pressing human rights issue facing the world today?
Direct and indirect support of oppressive regimes by developed nations through trade, investment, cooperation in the Global War on Terror, turning a blind eye to abuses, etc.

What’s the story behind the picture you chose of yourself?
I rang in the new year this past winter with friends in Berlin; this picture was taken at the Tacheles arthouse. Tacheles is an abandoned and partially demolished building occupied by squatters in East Berlin. The squatters-turned-art collective converted the building into art studios and performances spaces after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I chose this picture after reading a recent article in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/11/world/europe/11berlin.html. The piece discusses the fate of Tacheles (“The artists, meanwhile, without a lease for nearly two years, face eviction to make way for a lavish new development.”) and Berlin’s search for its 21st century identity (“No longer divided by the wall, it is now split between its unique past as a volatile blend of dark history and bright creativity and its status as the capital of a stable, reunified country.”). I was fascinated by Berlin and I am curious to see how the city will define itself in the decades to come.

What do you think? Have your say in the comments!

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