When University of Southern Maine student Mileva Vignjevic of South Portland signed up for Political Science Lecturer Julia Edwards’ class on human rights and international law last spring she had no idea it would take her so far.
In the past few months, Vignjevic, who moved to the U.S. in 1999 from Croatia, has traveled to United Nations headquarters in both New York and Geneva, Switzerland. In Geneva, she attended the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session, Human Rights Council sessions and the Expert Mechanism On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples.
While taking Edward’s class this spring, Vignjevic met Joshua Cooper, a guest speaker in the class and major force in the international human rights world. Cooper offered to host interested students at U.N. headquarters in New York City, and Vignjevic and a classmate were chosen to go. Upon their return from New York, they used their experience to lead 140 high school students in USM's own Model United Nations simulation program.
Following her volunteer work with USM’s Model UN, Vignjevic traveled to Geneva to witness the human rights review of 14 nations. The human rights review process, established in 2006 to protect and promote human rights, reviews the human rights records of all 193 U.N. member states once every four years.
Vignjevic also attended the 60th Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and several side events, including one on “The Internet, Human Rights and the UPR.” She is working on a project with Cooper to make it easier for non-governmental organizations to participate in the UPR process.
“I am learning so much about how the U.N. and the Human Rights Council function, how states interact with each other and how recommendations are made and responded to,” says Vignjevic. She holds a B.S. in international business from USM and recently returned to work on a second bachelor’s degree, possibly in international studies.
Vignjevic will remain in Geneva for the rest of summer while working on an independent study project regarding the UNHRC session for her USM instructor Julia Edwards. Mileva's sister, Bogdana, will visit her and they will travel and explore Europe together. One of Vignjevic's future goals is to work with non-governmental organizations within the human rights sector.