Parisa Pirooz: My work at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

I do not attend law school for the same reasons as most. My legal career is not motivated by big law or corporate firms, like the majority of my colleagues. I, too, strive for success, but a type that is not driven by money, wealth or recognition. What compels me is what my law school career advisor warned would label me as “the 1%,” i.e. the unwise minority student population that pursues a career in international public interest law after accumulating three years of hefty law school debt. 

By definition, this places me in the category of, “the other.” A category that my olive-skin, dark hair, and childhood unibrow landed me years ago in grade-school, since being the only “Middle Easterner” physically distinguished me from my peers. Fast forward to two decades later and my being “the other” persists, yet in a form that transcends beyond my physical appearance and ethnic background. This time, I not only embody “the other,” but I have gained and continue to gain positions that defend the latter category in forms of minority, voiceless and underrepresented groups.

As a legal extern in the Middle East and North Africa department at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (“ICNL”) in Washington, D.C., I spend hours tracking laws in countries that restrict civil society organizations (“CSOs”) from practicing basic freedoms, such as freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly. For example, I recently completed drafting ICNL’s legal review on a Palestinian resolution that limits CSO-establishment and their ability to implement social services. I spotted problematic legal provisions in the regulation, specifically those that were inconsistent with international law standards, and I provided recommended revisions for Palestinian government officials to consider. 

Externing at ICNL this summer is providing me with insight into international law standards and practices. This position has exposed me to the rights that grassroots organizations are entitled to have, as well as the detrimental impacts on social society once these organizations are restricted. Researching various countries’ international laws is preparing me for my upcoming courses in international law, international human rights law, and international criminal law. 

Being selected as an Ansari Fellow provided me hope during a time when I felt the particular hardships of being “the other” – both through my existence as an Iranian American under our nation’s current administration; and in my career, for seeking a field that continues to get lesser aid and funding. This fellowship allowed me to sustain my externship at ICNL and pursue my narrow interest with more confidence. I am thankful that the Ansari Fellowship invested in me and my passion to pursue a field that is increasingly crucial for global stability and the progression of humanity. 

Yassamin Ansari