This interview was conducted over email with Jasmeet Kaur Sidhu, Senior Researcher with Amnesty International USA, by Gargi Mahadeshwar, a second-year undergraduate student working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. Sidhu graduated from Duke in 1998 with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and a co-major in Global Health. She will be speaking at Global Ideas, Local Impact, the Duke Human Rights Center’s annual celebration of human rights, on March 31, 2022.
Gargi Mahadeshwar (GM): What has been your path to your current position?
Jasmeet Kaur Sidhu (JKS): After graduating from Duke, I moved to Washington, DC and worked as a Program Associate with Amnesty International. Seeing how important analyzing the law was to obtaining justice for human rights defenders- I decided to go to law school. During law school I worked with the Innocence Project and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights, Special Litigation Section as a summer clerk. After law school I worked for a couple of years in private practice, while maintaining a huge pro bono case load. I then transferred those skills to the advocacy space, working at a number of civil rights groups before joining Amnesty’s research team.
GM: Which human rights issues do you engage with most directly and how?
JKS: Most of my work focuses on gun violence and the right to life, the right to protest, hate speech and extremism, but that is constantly evolving- next it may be something completely different.
GM: How has your study of/passion for human rights influenced your life personally and professionally?
JKS: I became interested in human rights as a child when my family in India faced certain abuses. In high school I was active in my student Amnesty International chapter and in Model UN. I knew I wanted to have a career that touched on human rights and foreign policy. Working in this field is challenging. It can be emotionally draining and as a researcher who often documents atrocities- you can experience second-hand trauma. That being said, I can’t imagine not doing this work. Whenever things feel hopeless with national and global tragedies- I know that in some small way- I am pushing the needle forward and at a minimum monitoring and recording what is happening. As a mother- I am happy to take my daughters along with me to protests and events so that they can better understand civil society and why advocacy is critical.
GM: Do you see room for improvement in your professional field’s engagement with human rights issues?
JKS: I think it ebbs and flows. Amnesty International has been in existence for 60 years. As a Nobel Peace Prize winning movement, we have seen incredible moments like the of liberation of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi who was imprisoned and under house arrest for challenging the ruthless army generals ruling her country. We have also seen moments of absolute horror- such as the recent genocide of Rohingya minority in Myanmar at the hands of the same democratic government led by Suu Kyi. That is the nature of this work. There is always room for improvement, and we must constantly strive toward a world where more people enjoy the same access to human rights- regardless of who they are or where they live.
GM: How has COVID impacted your work?
JKS: It has made it challenging to do field research in some areas- but we still monitored human rights abuses and use of force by law enforcement against protestors, medics, legal observers and journalists during the summer of 2020 when Covid was in full swing. We wore masks and observed safety protocols, but we still showed up. What we could do remotely we did, but in some cases we had to be on the ground documenting first hand what was happening to people- like the conditions faced by migrants being detained at the border.
Sidhu welcomes questions from Duke students at JSidhu@aiusa.org.