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College sophomore Benjamin Fogel (center left) interned at United Nations Watch this summer in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: Courtesy of the United Nations Webcast

Convened for the United Nations Human Rights Council, dozens of world leaders took their seats as College sophomore Benjamin Fogel took the floor.

“It’s exciting to know that at this moment what you have to say is just as important as what anyone else has to say in that body,” Fogel said. “I put all my energy into making sure I did the best job possible.”

Fogel spent his summer in Geneva as an intern for United Nations Watch, a non-governmental organization that monitors the UN’s performance. During his two-month stay, Fogel had the opportunity to track debates, take notes while the council was in session and attend side meetings where organizations and countries began tackling world issues.

Despite the global nature of the council, Fogel spent much of his time researching the country on which he presented — Belarus.

“[Belarus] doesn’t get a lot of media attention even though it’s the last dictatorship in Europe,” Fogel said. “Oftentimes the president of Belarus is quite open about his brutality and suppressing the political opposition, but it is rarely discussed.”

While in Geneva, Fogel also conducted research funded by the Hassenfeld Foundation’s Social Research Grant through the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships.

The piece, titled “Measured by It’s Own Yardstick: A Critical Look at the Human Rights Council” compares the work of the council to the preceding Commission on Human Rights and analyzes whether the council lived up to the principles of its charter. It will be on display at the CURF research expo on Sept. 9.

“Something that really excited me was performing actual research and being able to experience what went on firsthand,” he said.

Fogel left the council inspired by the importance of learning about world events not through the media, but through real life experiences.

“[Before] I was given the opportunity to read a textbook or watch the news and see what other people have to say on an issue,” Fogel said. “Now I have the opportunity to say I actually lived it and say for myself what’s going on.”

Fogel’s journey to Geneva actually began years before his flight in May. A Philadelphia native, he grew up visiting places that “played a fundamental role in shaping the U.S.,” which ultimately lead to an interest in politics, international affairs and human rights.

As a high school student, he discovered internship opportunities with United Nations Watch, knowing it would provide a less traditional summer experience, but he had to wait until he was a rising sophomore in college to apply.

“I really wanted to do more than make photocopies and run from office to office making phone calls,” Fogel said.

An aspiring psychology and history double major, Fogel hopes to attend law school after graduation and continue using research to create global impact.

“It’s important to get out there, get your hands dirty and see for yourself what’s going on,” he said.

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